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South Africa

Donald Trump reportedly picks handbag designer Lana Marks as ambassador to South Africa

Lana Marks, whose products retail for up to US$400,000, was born in South Africa but has not lived there for more than 40 years

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 10:40am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 10:08pm

A luxury handbag designer in Palm Beach, Florida, has reportedly been chosen by Donald Trump as the next US ambassador to South Africa.

The appointment of Lana Marks, whose products sell for between US$10,000 and US$400,000, would be likely to cause some surprise: Marks was born in South Africa but has not lived there for more than 40 years.

Relations between South Africa and the US have soured in recent weeks following a tweet by the president inaccurately describing “large-scale killing” of white farmers in the country.

Trump’s statement prompted outrage and a firm rebuttal from the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

But the post of US ambassador to South Africa has been vacant since the former ambassador, Patrick Gaspard, resigned in 2016.

Trump’s choice will still have to be approved by the US Senate.

News reports in South Africa appear to be based on an unusual leak from within the ministry of foreign relations. Before the nomination of an ambassador is announced it is common that the host country is informally consulted.

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Marks was born in the coastal city of East London and educated locally. A biography on the designer’s website makes no mention of her South African origins, and describes her studying ballet with the Royal Ballet.

In an interview with South African newspaper Business Day, Marks said this had been with the Royal Ballet’s local affiliate in her hometown.

After spending time in Bermuda, she settled in Palm Beach in 1987, where she founded her luxury handbag business.

Her company website says her name “has become synonymous with the most luxurious, fashion forward handbags in the world, crafted from such exotic leathers as alligator, crocodile, ostrich and lizard”.

Marks has repeatedly described her friendship with the late Diana, Princess of Wales in the media. She has also said she played tennis in “Wimbledon, the French and South African Open”.

In 2006, a report in Business Day cast doubt on this claim, saying their reporters had been unable to find any record of her playing in the French Open.

The Trump administration has been accused of ignoring Africa. Melania Trump, the first lady, is travelling to Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt this week, on her first extended solo international mission.

In January Trump reportedly described African nations as “shithole” countries and questioned why so many of their citizens had ever been permitted to enter America.

His remarks caused significant anger.