About Isak Heath

Isak Heath was born in June 1946 at Kempton Park, South Africa within walking distance of the runway of the O R Tambo International Airport. His father was attached to the South African Railways and Harbours. From 1951 he attended the Junior School in Kempton Park and in 1956 he went to Kreft Primary School. His father was then transferred to Touws River in the Western Cape late in 1956 and Heath matriculated at the local High School in 1963.

He attended the University of Pretoria where he majored in Anthropology, Archaeology and Afrikaans and completed the B.A Hons. degree in Anthropology in 1968. Whilst still studying, he started a temporary career at the Transvaal Provincial Administration in April 1968, and in April 1969 joined the Department of Information. This Department became part of the Department of Foreign Affairs in the late Seventies.

During his career retired Ambassador Heath met quite a number of prominent people including:

  • Their Majesties Queen Beatrix, King Sobhuza II, King Ronald Mutebi II, King Goodwill Zwelethini, King Mswati III and Ndlovukati Ntombeni
  • Presidents Marais Viljoen, P W Botha, F W de Klerk, and Joachim Chissano
  • Prime Ministers Ruud Lubbers, John Vorster, Obed Dlamini and Prince Mbilini
  • Paramount Chiefs Ndamase and Maxoba Sandile
  • Major-General J Lekhanya Military Leader of Lesotho
  • Countess Van Limburg Stirum Hoeuff Van Velsen in Holland
  • Government ministers, film stars and religious leaders

Career

He started his career as an Information Officer in Boksburg, a sub-office of the Johannesburg Regional Office. Soon he started to move. He married his wife Petra, a nursery school principal, in July 1970.

  • July 1970: Became Regional Representative of the Pretoria Region
  • December 1971: Sent to QwaQwa to establish a regional office for the Eastern Free State
  • December 1973: Became Regional Representative in Nelspruit serving the Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga)
  • January 1982: Transferred to Pretoria as Head of Desk: Transvaal and Natal
  • October 1982: Became Head of Desk: USA an Canada (Overseas Information)
  • June 1984: Transferred to the South African Embassy in The Hague, The Netherlands, as First Secretary for Press and Information. In January 1985 had a battle of words with Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu in the Dutch press. For the first time in his career he served as Charge d’Affaires.
  • Back to Pretoria in August 1988 at the Lesotho Desk.
  • Transferred to the South African Embassy in Bisho as Counsellor. For months Heath served as Charge d’Affaires and had to deal with the Coup d’ Etat and later as part of the Embassy team during the Bisho Massacre.
  • January 1992: Refused a transfer as Counsellor in RSA Embassy in Stockholm, and in October of the same year the Department withdrew his transfer to Nairobi.
  • December 1992: Instead of Nairobi, he was transferred to Mbabane, Swaziland as Trade Representative (with personal rank of Ambassador.) In 1993 he became the first South African Ambassador to the Kingdom of Swaziland and within weeks had to change title to that of High Commissioner when South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth.
  • December 1994: Transferred back to Pretoria as Head of the section: Multilateral Coordination and Macroeconomics.
  • July 1996: Was declared medically unfit for his own or similar professions due to severe loss of hearing.
King Mswati III

Isak and Petra Heath with King Mswati III

The SA elections in Swaziland took place on 26 April 1994 – before the general elections in South Africa. That evening the new South African flag was sent to Heath by DHL courier services. He prides himself on being the first South African ever to hoist the new flag – the following morning at the official residence.

Heath’s speech on the day that President Mandela was inaugurated still bears reference. Under the Heading “Don’t expect too much from SA, Heath cautions” The Swazi Observer reported as follows:

“Southern African countries were yesterday cautioned not to expect too much from a newly democratic South Africa. The South African ambassador to Swaziland, Mr lsak Heath said while South Africa remained committed to assisting with expertise, countries in the region should not relax on their laurels but must recognize that the new government’s reconstruction and development programme of its many people was foremost. The ambassador was speaking yesterday at Mountain Inn hotel during the celebration marking the inauguration of Mr Nelson Mandela as the new president of South Africa. Of the swearing-in of Mr Mandela, Mr Heath said the occasion represented the culmination of a process, which took its cue from the speech of former president Mr FW de Klerk, now second vice president, on February 1992. “The Republic of South Africa is now a true democracy and its citizens can be proud of achieving so much in so short a time. The absence of violence and the spirit of reconciliation which characterized our recent elections bode well for the future.” and “South Africa is now ready to play its rightful role in region and international affairs and we believe that its expertise and economic strength will prove to be an important factor in helping the rest of Africa to reassert itself politically and economically.”

In 1999 he published “The Tourist Guide to Centurion” and “Die Rooi Bul van Krugersdorp” and in 2000 “The man who captured Churchill”.

Heath now spends his time assisting his community in the broader sense, is co-editor of Die Posduif and of ThemNews, Editor of Die Kerkwerf and Dopperkontak, and assists one of his four sons with basic tasks in web designing.