• Staff Report


Mohau Pheko, South Africa’s ambassador to Japan since January 2012, said Japan is a “technologically blessed” country that has been an important international trend-setter but now “faces the big challenge of elevating itself to the next level.”

Citing growing competition with emerging powers, including China and South Korea, Pheko said Japan has to think of “what cost it is willing to pay — to move to the next level, and bring new innovations and ideas to the market.”

“Japan needs to find its niche again. You need to open up and collaborate more and reinvent yourself,” she said during a visit to The Japan Times on Tuesday.

Pheko said Japan and South Africa can benefit from each other through further exchanges and collaboration in various fields — including pharmaceuticals, agriculture, nano- and biotechnology, and new and green energy as well as nuclear power.

Pheko’s career before she became an ambassador was remarkably varied: She was an economic and political analyst, a social entrepreneur and an expert on gender issues.

Citing the small number of female lawmakers in the Diet, Pheko said intelligent Japanese women could be a wonderful resource for the country.

“Why not use this amazing resource of women who are all over the place, to really inspire the nation — to give the nation a new vigor? I think that women can do that. We (can) bring a different set of thinking and ideas to the table. I think Japan is at a point where this might benefit the country,” she said.

Pointing out that she had to fight for the position she now holds in a patriarchal society like South Africa, Pheko said women have to be willing to demand their rights.

“No one just hands you power. You have to claim your rights. And when you occupy these positions that you do, you have to really occupy the table. Otherwise, people don’t take you seriously,” she said.

“We have to work 10 times harder (than men) as women diplomats. You do your research, be more prepared and bring new ideas to the table,” she said.