Modise: A Picasso of diplomacy

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has described the late Ambassador Billy Modise as a Picasso in the art of diplomacy.

“Ambassador Modise’s personality and character were well-suited to his diplomatic calling. A gentleman par excellence, who combined the rare traits of a skilful negotiator with those of an astute activist. A diligent man with the master's touch,” said Sisulu.

The Minister was paying tribute to Ambassador Modise, who passed away on 20 June 2018, at the official memorial service held in his honour at the DIRCO offices in Pretoria.

The memorial service was graced by the likes of Former President Thabo Mbeki, Former Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad, ANC Stalwart Andrew Mlangeni and the Diplomatic Corps.

They attended the memorial to reminisce and bid their colleague and friend farewell.

With an illustrious career in what was then called the Department of Foreign Affairs, Modise was revered by his former colleagues for his tact and forward thinking mind.

Ambassador Tebogo Seokolo said the progress seen in DIRCO is as a result of some of the work of Modise.

Seokolo said when Modise was reaching retirement, he consolidated a team to take State Protocol forward.

“He outlined his priorities for State Protocol to me and amongst those priorities which he considered pressing was the development of State Protocol policies, the recruitment of young and dynamic people and the revamp of state protocol facilities.

“When Ambassador Modise retired in 2006 he had accomplished all those goals that he had set,” said Seokolo.

A dedicated public servant

Modise, who was affectionately known as “Bra Billy”, was described by President Cyril Ramaphosa as a “selfless” and “diligent” leader.

He was born in the Free State on 18 December 1930 and joined the African National Congress (ANC) on the train while en route to Fort Hare.

While still a student, he worked closely with the veterans of the ANC like Professor Z.K. Matthews and Govan Mbeki.  

He served the ANC while in exile, having left the country in 1960 only to return in 1991.

He worked for the United Nations and later the ANC appointed him as its Chief Representative in Sweden.

He was the first black High Commissioner of South Africa to Sweden from 1995 up until 1999. He then was appointed as the Chief of State Protocol under the Mbeki administration.

Funeral Service

The late Modise will be laid to rest on Thursday at Marks Park Sports Field, across the West Park cemetery in Johannesburg.

The ceremony, which will start at 9am, will be open to members of the public. -