By Patrick Burgess
Controversial former Bermuda resident Lana Marks has been confirmed as the American ambassador to South Africa by the US Senate almost a year after President Donald Trump appointed her to the post.
The one-time Bermuda tennis champion was confirmed on October 4 and the appointment is the completion of a circle for the businesswoman, as she will return to the land of her birth.
Ms Marks, 65, and her 80-year-old husband, Neville, a British psychiatrist, left Bermuda after lengthy court battles, moved to the United States and became American citizens.
The couple were convicted in the Supreme Court in 1982 of employing without Immigration approval, Lucia King, a black South African nanny and of keeping her under slave-like conditions.
They were cleared on appeal in July 1983 — after just ten minutes of deliberation by the Court of Appeal — the next year.
Ms Marks was also cleared of two counts of submitting false immigration documents.
Both were given 12-month conditional discharges.
The couple were represented by then Opposition leader, the future Dame Lois Browne-Evans, who eventually withdrew from the case.
Dr Marks was ordered to leave the country just a week before the appeal was heard after his work permit was not renewed. He later took legal action but in July 1995, the Privy Council refused to grant permission to appeal the ruling that upheld the Government’s decision to not renew his work permit.
The couple lived at “Silver Dollar”, on Knapton Hill, Smith’s, for almost a decade and now live in Palm Beach, Florida.
The last ambassador in South Africa left his post in January 2017. Ms Marks told the Senate committee in July that her Lithuanian-Jewish father, Alec Bank, emigrated to South Africa in the 1930s, but was angered at the launch of apartheid laws on racial segregation in 1948.
She added: “He realised that the values of his adopted country did not match the values he held dear.”
She told Congress she began making luxury handbags — which now sell for thousands of dollars each — on the kitchen table in her two-bedroom apartment in Miami and built it into a global business.
When Lindsay Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina, asked Mrs Marks why she should get the Pretoria posting, since she had no government experience, she highlighted her inside knowledge of South Africa, as well as her business acumen.
She argued her business experience would help her to boost commerce and added that she could speak three of South Africa’s official languages fluently — English, Afrikaans and Xhosa.
Ms Marks earned praise from Democrats Tim Kaine, of Virginia, and Chris Coons, of Maryland, particularly on land reform.
She told Congress: “In 1994, I became an American citizen. By coincidence this was also the year that Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa.
“In just 25 years, the country of my birth has undergone a miraculous transformation, through its peaceful transition away from the brutal apartheid regime and now stand as a pillar of democracy. It fills me with great personal pride to witness the legacy of Nelson Mandela in this remarkable evolution of South Africa.”
Ms Marks also highlighted extensive business ties between the two countries and the battle against HIV/Aids and said it was “heartening” to see Cyril Ramaphosa as president.
Ms Marks was born in East London, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
The former Mid-Ocean News tennis correspondent’s website says she studied with the Royal Academy of Ballet.
People magazine once reported that Ms Marks was a “close” friend of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Of her friendship with the Princess, Marks said she felt guilt over having indirectly participated in the circumstances surrounding her tragic death on August 31, 1997.
She had intended to travel with the Princess to Milan on a short vacation, but cancelled those plans after her father’s illness and death. Ms Marks said that she believed that was what led to the Princess’s decision to instead travel with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, to Sardinia and Paris, where she died in a car crash.
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