Spain, South Africa and the spirit of transition


Spain, South Africa and the spirit of transition

Relations between countries are often meaningfully affected by the attitude, initiatives and engagement of an ambassador. Spain has traditionally not been a serious player in sub-Saharan Africa, but the energetic Raimundo Robredo Rubio, the new ambassador to South Africa, Lesotho, Madagascar and the Comores, is changing that. MAX DU PREEZ spoke to Rubio about Spain in Africa, migration, Ukraine, and Spain’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. And about speaking Afrikaans.

MOST ambassadors prefer to be called Mr or Madam Ambassador and they arrive at interviews dressed formally and almost always with an assistant. “No, call me Raimundo,” was the first thing Rubio, 51, said when he arrived in a tieless shirt and with his motorcycle helmet under his arm. He’s a biker, and shortly after our interview he was on his way to ride up Sani Pass.

A few personal details come out in the conversation. His father is from Mexico, his wife from the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory in Africa. He studied economics in Toulouse in France and once served as the adviser on Africa to the prime minister of Chile. And he speaks Afrikaans: “Dis maklik vir my om dit te verstaan, maar praat is moeiliker, want ek kry nie oefening nie.”

Rubio is what they call an old Africa hand: postings in Ghana and Senegal and then a term as Spain’s director-general for Africa. “I like Africa, it’s exciting. I don’t idealise Africa, though. I like Japanese and Asian food more than African food. I don’t think people are more human because they are poorer. But I love it here.”..

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