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South Africa will close its Consulate in Sydney and staff numbers are to be reduced at the Embassy in Canberra in a move to rationalise resources

PETER THOMPSON: In Canberra, South Africa is winding back its diplomatic representation in Australia by moving some staff to other countries which, it says, have a higher priority. To explain the move, on the line is the South African Ambassador, David Tothill, and he's talking, now, to Marius Benson.

MARIUS BENSON: Dr Tothill, how big a staff cut are you planning?

DAVID TOTHILL: We are rationalising our resources. We are closing the consulate in Sydney; we are reducing staff in Canberra, primarily because our resources are required elsewhere. We are opening up missions all over Africa, in Eastern Europe, and something has to give somewhere. So we feel that we can cope very well in Australia with fewer staff. There won't be a reduction of facilities for the public. Visas that were issued in Sydney will, henceforth, be issued in Canberra.

MARIUS BENSON: It does seem to imply, though, some lowering of Australia's priorities in South Africa's estimation.

DAVID TOTHILL: Well, the media have put a certain gloss on this. I've heard reports to the effect that it's because Australia was not particularly supportive of the De Klerk reform program - that may have been a factor - but our primary consideration is to rationalise our resources. Our foreign service, like all foreign services - including Australia's - have been under considerable financial pressure and we have to rationalise our situation.

MARIUS BENSON: But you say Australia's attitude to the De Klerk reforms may have been a factor in this staff reduction.

DAVID TOTHILL: Well, the media have put that gloss on it.

MARIUS BENSON: But you, yourself, just said it may have been a factor.

DAVID TOTHILL: .... that angle of depth because I don't know that it's a primary consideration.

MARIUS BENSON: But a consideration, nonetheless.

DAVID TOTHILL: I would think so. There is a perception in South Africa that Australia could have been more supportive, could have been more enthusiastic in respect of the De Klerk reforms. But, as I say, we are under financial pressure and we have to do the same job with fewer staff.

MARIUS BENSON: But, in part, it's an expression of diplomatic dissatisfaction?

DAVID TOTHILL: Well, I suppose, you could see it that way.

MARIUS BENSON: What other countries have had their staff cut back by South Africa?

DAVID TOTHILL: Well, so far, we are closing certain missions in - we've closed one mission in Latin America; we've closed another mission in the Indian Ocean. Scaling down might very well occur in other places as well.

MARIUS BENSON: Would you anticipate any retaliatory gesture on Australia's part by reducing staff in South Africa?

DAVID TOTHILL: I think you'd have to direct that question at the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

MARIUS BENSON: But was that anticipated as a possible result when this staff-cut decision was taken?

DAVID TOTHILL: Oh, I don't know that we really gave consideration to how this would be received in Australia. Each country decides for itself what its diplomatic priorities are.

MARIUS BENSON: And if Australia was to take a warmer attitude to the changes in your country, do you think the staff would be restored?

DAVID TOTHILL: I don't think so, because I believe we have, to some extent, been overstaffed in Australia, and I believe we can deliver exactly the same service - consular service, anyway - with fewer staff.

MARIUS BENSON: Dr Tothill, thanks very much.