Durban lawyer David Warmback entered the new year on a high after receiving the royal seal of approval for his “services to British nationals in South Africa”.
On December 1, he received a call from London informing him that his name would be forwarded to His Majesty King Charles III to approve his appointment as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). This means that his name would be included in the King’s New Year’s Honours List.
Warmback, a South African-British dual national, is the Honorary Consul in Durban and works with UK High Commission consular teams in Pretoria and Cape Town in a voluntary capacity.
He told the Independent on Saturday that the call from the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Antony Phillipson, was totally unexpected.
“I was obviously surprised and very proud. They do check beforehand that you are happy to receive it which obviously I was; it seems that some people aren’t. So, very surprised and quite sort of overwhelmed when the High Commissioner phoned me,” he said.
Warmback had to keep the news under wraps for the entire month until the embargo was lifted on December 30. But he said he did “in strict confidence” share it with his wife, Ashley, who was delighted.
As honorary consul you are not in the full-time employ of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and you don’t need to be a British citizen.
Warmback said his main role was to assist distressed British nationals, generally out here on holiday, who get into difficulty and need consular assistance. He assists when they are in accidents, lose passports or need help with emergency travel documents.
“There were a few British prisoners in Westville Prison, and for quite a few years I used to visit them fairly regularly, providing consular assistance.
“So that’s the main function, to be on the ground to immediately provide assistance to distressed visitors. And it’s promoting the UK from a business point of view or social point of view, so I’m effectively a link through to the High Commission for KZN.”
Warmback said that since Covid-19 there had been a drop in the number of British citizens coming to Durban because most of them go to Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria.
He said 12 years ago he was approached to take over the role by the previous honorary consul, Margie Smith, who also officiated at his British citizenship ceremony.
At the time he was “somewhat cautious” about whether he should apply for the position, given his involvement in a busy legal practice in Durban. But she convinced him it could be done, and, after an interview, he was appointed and then underwent a week-long consular services training course in London.
“Among the benefits for me, and why I took it on in a way, is that there are many good networking opportunities. There are lots of functions that one is invited to, political functions or business functions, so there is some profiling from that point of view, and I’ve found that interesting.
“And once a year I lay a wreath on Remembrance Day. There are also trade missions that come to Durban from time to time,” he added.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, he was involved in organising repatriation flights for British Citizens from KwaZulu-Natal back to the United Kingdom.
One of the functions he enjoys is officiating at citizenship ceremonies on behalf of the UK Home Office.
“All new British Citizens are required to attend a ceremony at which candidates are required to swear an oath of allegiance to His Royal Majesty King Charles III, after which they receive their certificates of registration from me, the final document required before being able to apply for a British passport.”
Warmback said there were many South African citizens in KwaZulu-Natal with familial connections to the UK which enabled some of them to become citizens of the UK.
High Commissioner Phillipson said Warmback’s recognition was a truly well-deserved honour.
“We rely hugely on support from individuals like David with the skills, experience and enthusiasm to help those in need while in South Africa. I am delighted that his contribution has been recognised in this way,” said Phillipson.
Warmback will travel to London to receive the award on a date still to be set.
Independent on Saturday