Wed, 08 Jul 2020

The new US ambassador to South Africa, Lana Marks, is expected to arrive in South Africa today.

The ambassador posted an image of herself onboard a Delta Airlines flight with the caption: "And, we're on our way! We can't wait to arrive in South Africa and begin our new journey together!"

The US Senate confirmed Lana Marks's appointment in September after US President Donald Trump nominated her for the diplomatic posting to Pretoria.

Marks has existing ties to South Africa, where her father immigrated to in the 1930s to escape antisemitic sentiment in Lithuania, she said during a statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, following her nomination for the post by Trump.

Marks was born in East London in 1953, where she attended Sterling Primary School and Clarendon High School. She can reportedly speak both isiXhosa and Afrikaans, according to Herald Live.

Marks trained under the Royal Academy of Ballet's South African affiliate in East London, she said during an interview with Business Day.

In 1976 she married psychiatrist Neville Marks, and the couple immigrated to Bermuda.

According to Marks's statement, the couple left Bermuda when her husband was offered a professorship in America.

However, reports from local newspaper the Royal Gazette state that they were found guilty of contravening immigration laws, when hiring a South African nanny illegally. The conviction was later overturned on appeal, but Neville Marks's work permit was not renewed, forcing their relocation to the US.

They live in Palm Beach, Florida, and Marks is a a member of Trump's exclusive Mar-a-Lago club.

However, Marks is best known for an empire built on designer handbags. Her handbag company, Lana Marks, creates designer handbags that retail for between R10000 and R50000, with her iconic Cleopatra Clutch - once toted by Charlize Theron - costing around R1 million.

She has stores in Palm Beach, New York, Beverly Hills and Dubai.

The business was born in 1984, when Marks was unable to find a suitable handbag with which to attend the queen of England's birthday. She described the company as "a small, artisanal handbag business from the kitchen table of our two-bedroom apartment" which has grown into a global brand over the last 15 years.

Marks says her top priority as ambassador will be the "safety and security of all Americans in South Africa". She also plans to focus on trade relations, "the ongoing battle against HIV and AIDS" and women and youth empowerment.

- Compiled by Nicole McCain

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