Jean-Jacques Cornish

A diplomatic career spanning both sides of a historic divide

“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.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.