“African Viking,”by Pierre Dietrichsen.
Dietrichsen is one of that dwindling band of diplomats who represented both the apartheid regime and South Africa’s new democracy led by President Nelson Mandela.
His memoir contains gems of a unique history that includes the complex and often exasperating transition between the two.
Dietrichsen writes in a detailed, discursive manner that reminds one of the procedural style adopted by writers of the increasingly popular Nordic Noir genre.
Presumably he owes this either to the kilometers of diplomatic drafts he was required to write in a 35 year career in the foreign service or to his Danish heritage, which explains the puzzling title of the book.
Full disclosure, I did military service with the author in D company of the Army Gymnasium in 1967.
He went on to graduate from the Military Academy in Saldhana Bay. He hung up is uniform in 1972 to join the foreign service.
Over the years, we met up a receptions and foreign affairs events – he as a diplomat and public servant, me as a journalist.
This book puts meat on the bones of what I learned about his rather stellar career.
More importantly, it is a concise and well constructed history of the demise of apartheid and the birth of South Africa’s democracy.
Apart from experiences abroad, he played a role driving the rapprochement with neighbouring Mozambique through the Nkomati Accord; in the eventual inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president; and in the formation of the diverse new Department of International Relations.
The book is elaborately embroidered with his personal experiences and family tales.
His three daughters, who have personally distinguished themselves thanks to or perhaps despite his unsettled diplomatic wanderings, add a colourful tailpiece to the book.
They were clearly inspired by their father’s sense of curiosity and adventure and took full advantage of the opportunities provided by his peripatetic lifestyle.
Dietrichsen overcame the disappointment at being pushed aside to make way for an “affirmative” appointment , having been named as ambassador to Indonesia and received agrement from the host government.
He went on to become ambassador to Switzerland Liechtenstein and Ireland.
He left the department in 2007 to accompany his wife on her posting to Hanoi.
Never one to put up his feet, he has embarked on an academic career training the leaders of tomorrow.