Lana Marks. Image: LANAMARKS.COM
Lana Marks. Image: LANAMARKS.COM

US President Donald Trump intends to nominate luxury handbag designer Lana Marks as the new ambassador to SA, the White House said, almost two years after the last ambassador left under Barack Obama.

The nomination comes at a time of frayed relations between the two countries after a tweet in August in which Trump asked his secretary of state to study SA “land and farm seizures”.

SA accused Trump of stoking racial divisions with the comments, which it called “misinformed”.

African politicians also labelled Trump a racist in January after he was reported to have described some immigrants from Africa and Haiti as coming from “shithole” countries.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters  earlier in November that he had met Trump since the tweets on “farm seizures” but that the US president mainly talked to him about golf.

Ramaphosa has said repeatedly that plans to accelerate the pace of land reform to tackle racial disparities in ownership will follow a parliamentary process and that “land grabs” will not be tolerated.

“President Donald J Trump announced his intent to nominate …  Lana J Marks of Florida to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the US to SA,” the White House said in a statement.

The US has not had an ambassador in SA since Patrick Gaspard vacated his post in December 2016. The Trump administration has dedicated relatively little attention to ties with African countries, focusing its foreign policy instead on issues such as North Korea.

Marks was born in SA and attended the University of the Witwatersrand. She speaks Afrikaans and Xhosa, the White House said. She is now based in Florida.

The website for her premium handbag firm, Lana Marks, offers handbags for as much as $20,000 and says they have become favourites for celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Kate Winslet and Madonna.