Former KSG Professor Discusses New Role as Ambassador to South Africa

January 13, 2005
Rob Meyer

Although she began her talk joking about the perks of international diplomacy, Jendayi Frazer wasted no time getting serious, especially on the topic of HIV/AIDS, when she visited the Kennedy School today to discuss her new role as U.S. ambassador to the Republic of South Africa.

Frazer, a former Kennedy School professor who left Harvard in 2001 to work for Condoleezza Rice as senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council, outlined the Bush administration’s priorities for South Africa, a country she described as the “most important on the continent.”

First and foremost, she said, was dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis that has left more than 5.6 million people infected.

“South Africa has more people living with HIV and AIDS than any other place. It’s the most affected country in the world,” she said. “Almost 25 percent of women of childbearing age are thought to be affected. It also disproportionately affects the poorer communities. Overall, the population of South Africa is projected to decline by 25 percent in the next five to 10 years. It’s unbelievable the impact that HIV/AIDS is having.”

However, she said that in the shadow of such despair, she does see hope.

“The stigma of the disease is still an issue, but the truth is, quietly, South Africa has developed the best strategy for overcoming this on the continent,” she said. “It’s a model for other countries. How they implement it is another issue.”

One of her main goals is to have 500,000 South Africans who are infected with the virus in treatment within the next five years, she said. “That’s more than are in treatment now all over the world.”

Frazer also touched on general U.S. aid to the continent, the conflict with neighboring Zimbabwe, the growing problem of violence against girls in South African schools, and debt relief, which she said would be a “major priority” in the second Bush term.

“Now we’re saying, let’s not only stop future debt to the highly indebted poor countries, but let’s also end the debt that’s already on the books,” she said.

Although South Africa is not considered one of the highly indebted poor countries and is seen as inching its way into a middle class standard of living, Frazer said it is misleading to think the economy is not an issue for the country.

“The problem is, there are two economies operating in South Africa. For whites, the per capita income is about $7,000. For blacks, it’s $1,000. A full 60 percent of South Africans are living below the poverty level, including 30 percent of people of color. Unemployment is running at 28 percent officially, but we think it’s more like 32 or 34 percent. A lot more needs to be done. One of my major priorities is to grow this economy.”

Frazer’s talk was co-sponsored by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Women and Public Policy Program.

Photos of Jendayi Frazer by Martha Stewart

Jendayi Frazer image

Jendayi Frazer

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