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Oprah for ambassador?

Mandy Rossouw

According to the diplomatic rumour mill in Pretoria, Obama is looking at Oprah Winfrey as the next United States ambassador to South Africa.

What do you give a woman who has everything—more money than she can ever spend, the world’s most popular TV show and the friendship of US president elect Barack Obama?

How about an ambassadorial posting?

According to the diplomatic rumour mill in Pretoria, Obama is looking at Oprah Winfrey as the next United States ambassador to South Africa. The theory is that Winfrey is being considered as the successor to outgoing US ambassador Eric Bost, a George Bush appointee.

“She’s the only candidate being talked about as coming here. It sounds strange, but that’s what’s being said. We don’t know whether she will take it, as she would need to decide what would happen to her TV show,” a US embassy official told the Mail & Guardian.

Early in Obama’s campaign Winfrey declared her support for the Democrat and joined him on the campaign trail, in her first taste of politics.

Winfrey’s representatives were adamant that she is not interested in the job, but protocol on diplomatic appointments is that appointees remain tight-lipped until the president makes the announcement.

An ambassadorial posting for Winfrey was first mooted in October in the British press, which suggested she might be appointed to lead the US embassy in London.

But South Africa is the more logical option, insiders say.

“She has the school [The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls] here and obviously loves the country,” another US diplomat told the M&G.

The downside is that Winfrey would have to keep her lip under tight rein—a practice for which she shows little talent on the small screen. Some even consider an ambassadorship would be a step down for the first lady of daytime television. But as one of the richest women on earth—her personal fortune is estimated at $200-million—take-home pay is not her overriding concern.

She is said to be looking for a new challenge, with her personal trainer, Bob Greene, reportedly saying she has lost her “zest for life”. And everyone knows nothing puts the zest back like fearing for your life in inner-city Pretoria.

Winfrey would have to tie up her enormous assets in a blind trust if she heads to South Africa, to avoid a conflict of interest between her business dealings and other US companies represented in South Africa.

She would still have access to royalties from the Oprah Winfrey Show and O magazine which would have to be declared to the US government.

Observers also argue that Obama is considering shifting America’s base in Africa to Kenya, both because of his family connection with that country and because US relations with South Africa have become frostier over the years.

One implication of this could be a heavyweight posting to Nairobi and a downgrading of the Pretoria embassy.

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