By Emmanuel Mwamba
We were at a senior Ambassador’s residence for a working dinner in Pretoria.
We were about 10 or so African ambassadors invited to attend dinner and observe Africa Day.
During our time at the dinner table, this old man, from a francophone country, by his actions towards me, seemed to have identified me as the “youngest and probably the most junior Diplomat”.
During our meals, he kept asking me to pass this or that to him.
“Pass me the salt!” “Pass me the pepper!, kindly pour the water for me.”, he barked his instructions directed towards me.
Even in our conversations with many ambassadors reflecting on the role of their own countries in the liberation of South Africa, he appeared keen to interrupt my thoughts and contributions.
On the table, ambassadors were interested in understanding the pivotal role that Zambia and Tanzania played in the liberation of South Africa and the focus and requests for insights, were on us, the ambassadors from these countries.
As we were winding up the dinner, the old man was unrelenting! He asked me “to get him some sweet course and pick the vanilla yoghurt if they had.”
Now the sweet course was set in the corridor (foyer).
I stood up to go and pick his yoghurt.
When I was coming back with his yoghurt, the old man was standing in my way and he began to apologize profusely.
I quickly realised that the other ambassadors had just told him who I was.
He was a Junior Diplomat and this probably aggravated his feeling of remorse.
I quickly saved him from embarrassment and said that in the African culture, he was justified to send me as he was far older than.
Remember, the Diplomatic service and especially a Mission considered senior like Pretoria, has Ambassadors that are former Vice Presidents, former Prime Ministers, former Ministers and other former senior ranking government officials…and in many cases, they are in their 50s, 60s and 70s.
So in his estimation, I probably looked “too young to be an ambassador!”
When we left the dinner, the old man followed me to the car and again profusely tendered his apology.
The following day, his ambassador called me to apologize about the conduct of his staff.
I assured him that I didn’t take the matter seriously and was not offended.
I said this didn’t even warrant for us to discuss the matter. I requested him to accept my assurances.
I told him that in my country, we have Ministers and senior officials that are actually far younger than me and discharge senior duties and responsibilities with remarkable distinction despite their perceived “young age”.
In the days that followed, I met this old man at diplomatic and official functions. He made it a point to approach me and tender his apologies every time.
So on Bastille Day, the national day of France, which is celebrated on 14 July, the Ambassador hosted an event.
He had a reputation of hosting glamorous and well attended luncheons at his residence.
So I arrived at the French ambassador’s residence. I just saw the old man running towards me.
“Stop, Stop!” I shouted!” I am not having this anymore! You have apologised several times and I have accepted your apologies,”! I stopped him in his tracks.
“Can you stop apologising every time you see me!” I said showing open irritation to this patronizing behavior.
The lessons here are profound.
- Humble yourself all the time
- The opinion of others about you does not change who you are.
- Do not assume you are senior or better than others, do not give yourself the important chair in the room, until it is offered to you
- Do not demean others for you may not know fully who they are, and you don’t know who they will be tomorrow.
- You must have read that; “Appearances are often misleading or deceiving”, “Do not Judge a book by its cover”, and therefore respect all and don’t throw your weight around…it maybe too light!