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Thomas Frederick Wheeler
Thomas Frederick Wheeler retired recently from the South African Institute of International Affairs, Jan Smuts House, Johannesburg. He had been at SAIIA in various capacities since 2003 when he retired from the South African foreign service.
Thomas Frederick Wheeler was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on 27 October 1938.
He graduated from the University of Stellenbosch in 1959, and after a year as a government translator, joined the South African Foreign Service in 1961.
During a forty-two year career he served in Washington (twice 1963/8, 1988/9 – the latter as Minister/Deputy Chief of Mission); Blantyre, Malawi; London; Sydney, Australia; New York (Consul-General); and Ankara, Turkey (1997- 2001) as Ambassador to Turkey, and non-residentially to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. During this time he travelled extensively with his spouse, Donna, in Central Asia and in the Middle East – Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Northern Cyprus. In Africa he has visited Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Madagascar, Kenya, Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, Uganda, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and more recently Sudan and Ghana.
Omitted are numerous other visits to Western European.
In 2006 he visited Germany as a guest of the Foreign Ministry and in 2013 he visited Hungary and Azerbaijan as a guest of the Foreign Ministries, Ireland as a tourist and France to speak at a conference in Paris held as part of the South African Weeks programme last November.
Between 1990 and 1997 he was closely involved in various aspects of the process of transition to democracy, transformation of the South African foreign service, and the return of South Africa to the UN and other multilateral organizations.
He served as Chief Director: Global Security, Disarmament and Arms Control and also other disciplines such as Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, and the Environment, Science and Technology for various periods between 1993 and 1997. He was involved in the process of developing a procedure for the vetting of applications for arms sales abroad and the initial stages of the drafting of a White Paper on peacekeeping policy. Among others, was a member of the South African delegation to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Kyoto, 1994 (leader), the UN Conference on Population and Development, Cairo, 1994, the OAU Special Ministerial Meeting in Cairo in 1995, President Mandela’s delegation to the UN General Assembly in 1994, the NPT Review and Extension Conference in New York in 1995 (de facto leader) and the Central Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Conference in Tashkent in 1997. Visited India (including Bangalore) in November 1996 as a member of Deputy President Mbeki’s delegation and headed the bilateral political discussions as part of the Joint Commission meeting in New Delhi.
After his return from Turkey, he served as Chief Director: Latin America in the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2001-2003 when he retired.
Among the many publications he has written since joining SAIIA are a monograph entitled The Development of Relations between Turkey and South Africa 1860-2005, and a chapter on Central Asia and the Caspian Region: Their significance for South Africa which appeared in the SA Yearbook of International Affairs 2006/7. An article entitled Ankara to Africa: Turkey’s Outreach to Africa since 2005 was published in the South African Journal of International Affairs in April 2011. He has also contributed several short articles on Turkish – South African relations which are available on the website www.saiia.org.za He is currently completing an article on South Africa’s involvement in Antarctica (which he visited in 1983).
In March 2011 a trilogy of books, of which he was a co-compiler and a contributor, were published under the title From Verwoerd to Mandela: South African Diplomats Remember.
He is a weekly columnist on international issues in the South African newspaper, The New Age, and wrote a column on the visit of the Turkish prime minister to South Africa in October 2011 as well as two more about the prime minister in 2014.
He comments regularly on developments in international affairs, including Turkey, Central Asia, Ukraine, Russia and other current issues on radio and television in South Africa and internationally.
He has lectured at the South African National Defence College, Witwatersrand University’s Department of International Relations, and the Foreign Service Institute of the Department of Foreign Affairs and presented a short course to South Sudanese diplomats in training at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth in May 2011.
With his spouse, Dr Donna Wyckoff-Wheeler, he has lectured on The Turkic World: A Geo-Political and Cultural Survey. He has spoken on several occasions on The New Great Game in the Caspian and Central Asia and The New Russia and the Politics of Pipelines. He spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations in Mexico City on Central Asia on 24 July 2007.
He attended the Africa Forums of the Turkish Asia Security Research Centre (TASAM) in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013. He was invited by the Turkish government to attend the Prime Ministerial Media Forum in Ankara in 2102 as one of five South African journalists. He also paid a tourist visit to Turkey in 2006.
He also visited Israel in 2011 to participate in the President’s Conference on Facing Tomorrow.
On 24 August 2014 he was invited by DIRCO to participate in a Panel Discussion before the European heads of mission who were meeting in Pretoria on the role of an ambassador.
He delivered an address on Antarctica and the Blue Economy at a conference jointly hosted by the Institute for Global Dialogue and DIRCO at the Department in Pretoria on 19 November 2014 and spoke on South Africa and Turkey: a long and multifaceted relationship at the International Society for Cultural History at Monash University in Johannesburg in 27 November 2014.
He has belonged to Rotary Clubs in Sydney, Australia, New York, Washington DC, Ankara, Turkey, Pretoria and Johannesburg successively for the past 30 years. He is a Past President of his Rotary Clubs in Pretoria and Johannesburg and currently has the title of Assistant Governor.
He administers the Rotary Peace Fellows bursary scheme applications in the Rotary District that covers Botswana, Gauteng, North-West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Swaziland and southern Mozambique.
17 February 2015