A former diplomat for the apartheid government, Glenn Babb, launched his book, In One Era and Out of The Other, at the Rhodes Cottage Museum, in Muizenberg, last Friday evening.
In conversation with his neighbour and life-long friend, author Joanne Hichens, Mr Babb recounted his time in several countries as a politician and diplomat for the National Party government.
The book consists of his diplomatic memoirs including a visit to Canada’s indigenous people when he was South Africa’s ambassador in Ottawa from 1985 to 1987.
Ms Hichens said his book was “a treat to read”, and she congratulated Mr Babb on what she called a “cornucopia of diplomacy”.
She said: “Sometimes these types of books can be dry and academic. People focus on their time in office and the importance of it, but what I love about it is that Glenn has brought the human touch to it.”
She said it had a “wonderfully gossipy quality to it”.
Mr Babb, who is now the chairman of the Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society, spoke about his visit to a Canadian reserve for indigenous people and how “every single Canadian newspaper” had covered the visit; how he had arrived in a helicopter (“which the police had wanted me to do as they were frightened that I would be shot on the way”); the beginning of his career; and how “diplomacy is often killed by hypocrisy”.
He said he had known from the age of 11 that he had wanted to be a diplomat.
He spoke about his posting in Italy in various capacities and how he loved the genuineness of the people of Italy and the way they talked.
“If you see a man on a telephone he can’t speak because he can’t use his hands,” he said.
He spoke fondly of friends from Italy who visited him to this day, and he talked about how the Italians had great difficulty pronouncing his surname.
“If you think about it, it is the first two letters of the alphabet, one of them three times,” he said, adding that he had found a “trick” to help them pronounce it.
He recalled being stuck in traffic on a bus in France; “intriguing” travels to several African countries; and playing cricket at Ferndale when he heard that Nelson Mandela had been released.
With humour, he described how had only been an ambassador for a few days in Rome, when the administration officer at the embassy told him a human skull had been found behind the garage on the embassy’s property.
He waived diplomatic immunity and the police collected the skull.
He writes about where the skull came from and why it was buried behind the garage in a chapter headlined The Skull and The Bullets.
After the launch, guests enjoyed wine and snacks, which included two hams cooked by Mr Babb. His book is available at www.footprintpress.co.za for R295 or by visiting the Rhodes Cottage Museum.