JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump intends to nominate luxury handbag designer Lana Marks as the new ambassador to South Africa, the White House said, almost two years after the last ambassador left under Barack Obama.
The nomination comes at a time of frayed relations between the two countries after a tweet in August in which Trump asked his secretary of state to study South African “land and farm seizures”.
South Africa accused Trump of stoking racial divisions with the comments, which it called “misinformed”.
African politicians also labeled Trump a racist in January after he was reported to have described some immigrants from Africa and Haiti as coming from “shithole” countries.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters this month that he had met Trump since the tweets on “farm seizures” but that the U.S. president mainly talked to him about golf.
Ramaphosa has said repeatedly that plans to accelerate the pace of land reform to address racial disparities in land ownership will follow a parliamentary process and that “land grabs” will not be tolerated.
“President Donald J. Trump announced his intent to nominate … Lana J. Marks of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to South Africa,” the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.
The United States has not had an ambassador in South Africa since Patrick Gaspard vacated his post in December 2016, with its mission being overseen by a chargé d’affaires.
The Trump administration has dedicated relatively little attention to ties with African countries, focusing its foreign policy instead on issues like North Korea.
Incoming Ambassador Marks was born in South Africa and attended Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand. She speaks Afrikaans and Xhosa, the White House said. She is now based in Florida.
The website for her premium handbag firm, Lana Marks, offers handbags selling for as much as $20,000 and says they have become favorites for celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Kate Winslet and Madonna.
Her biography did not mention any previous diplomatic postings.
Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by James Macharia and Angus MacSwan