Daviot Kelly, Staff reporter
Unlike other heads of missions posted in Jamaica, South African High Commissioner Mathu Joyini was fully acclimatised and fit in better than most.
"It's been wonderful. I have personally experienced the warmth of Jamaicans and it ranges from people who don't even know who you are. Before you open your mouth, nobody suspects anything," she laughed. Once they hear the accent, the inevitable questionfollows, "Where are you from?" and when she says South Africa, their interest increases.
"They all want to visit there. It's just amazing," she said. She hails from Bosloorus, a community within the greater Johannesburg area.
"I started off in the mining industry, believe it or not. Then went to the financial industry, then petro-chemicals, then consulting." She joined the foreign ministry at the behest of recently elected president of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
"I thought I would do it for four years, but then 10 years down the line, I was still there." Ironically, her ministry job was to brief high commissioners and ambassadors on what the job entailed, so that helped her transition when she was approached to go overseas. High Commissioner Joyini said she was always interested in coming to Jamaica, citing the bond between nations.
"There is a concept in South Africa, we call it ubuntu. It means I am because you are. For as long as we (Black South Africans) could not be, Jamaicans knew that they couldn't fully be so they took on the struggle." Joyini named national heroes Marcus Garvey and Norman Manley, as well as Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, among those who fought hard for her people. Apartheid was abolished 18 years ago, and Joyini said though the country had achieved much, there is more to be done.
"We can't say we've arrived because we see the challenges on a day-to-day basis," citing poverty, unemployment and education as a few areas. Race relations have also improved and now South Africans are trying to see to what extent they can leverage their diversity to create a national identity.
"There are times when you can still see the gaps though, but it's something that we keep working on." She felt South Africa, like Jamaica gets a bad rap for its crime rate.
"From our perspective, sometimes the crime has to do with poverty and unemployment and if you address those issues, we believe we can bring down levels of crime. The levels have come down but there is always work to do." Jamaica is Joyini's first posting as a head of mission, and said she wished she had more resources and time. But another challenge is the perception. She couldn't hide her disappointment that some persons thought she only attended social events.
"People ask 'So how come we don't hear what South Africa is doing?' Quite frankly, there's nothing reported on the substance. I wish that Jamaicans would know (what we're doing)." She has even invited high-school students to the residence to give them a better understanding on the role of a diplomat.
"I'm here to advance the relations; why can't that be reported on? How does the public get to know? We do it because that's what we're here to do." Not wanting to sound controversial, she was very pleased with the emphasis and effort Jamaicans placed on the recent Nelson Mandela International Day.
She's looking for collaboration in many areas, rural development being a particular passion.
"But I am also big on women and women empowerment and so the whole month of August is dedicated to women," she said, explaining that she will be hosting one event, while partnering with Faith Webster of the Bureau of Women's Affairs and Dr Leith Dunn of the University of the West Indies' Institute for Gender and Development Studies in other events looking at gender issues. There will also be a day focusing on the issues faced by domestic workers and, lastly, there will be a grand celebration of women in Jamaica and South Africa.
She is married to a state law adviser who works in South Africa's administrative capital Pretoria. Joyini is big on family, and most Friday nights are devoted to her eight-year-old son. They've seen much of the island, and Joyini never hesitates to take her visiting countrymen to this place she has grown close to.
"It's amazing the similarities between our countries. You go to Sweetwood for jerk chicken and we just feel at home." No wonder people think she's Jamaican.