United Kingom State Visit a nod to S.A’s role on the global stage

The United Kingdom rolling out the red carpet to host South Africa for a State Visit for the first time under a new monarch, is testament that the country on the southernmost tip of the African continent is still an important player on the international stage.

Today, President Cyril Ramaphosa will participate in the first State Visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) at the invitation of His Majesty King Charles III.

President Ramaphosa is the first Head of State to be hosted for a State Visit by His Majesty King Charles III, who assumed the throne, following the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in September.

“It is an honour for President Ramaphosa to be the first invited by the new King, and it sends a signal that South Africa remains an important country, worthy of engaging with, and playing a critical role on the world stage again,” said Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), Steven Gruzd.

According to the Presidency, Royal State Visits are in the furtherance of bilateral relations and a symbol of respect and of the importance the UK ascribes to its relations with a particular country.

According to the UK in South Africa Twitter handle, South Africa is the UK’s largest trading partner in Africa while the UK is the number one investor in South Africa.

Relations are extremely important between both countries.

“There have been ties with Britain for centuries, and it was one of the countries that colonised South Africa. There are deep ties on the levels of government, business, media, sport, civil society and many others,” Gruzd told SAnews.gov.za, ahead of the start of the two-day State Visit.

With relations already at a high level between the two nations, a change in relations is not anticipated.

“King Charles III is the Head of State, not the Head of Government. So if changes come they would be through Prime Minister Rushi Sunak’s government. However, relations may get closer on issues such as the environment, where King Charles III has long been a champion,” he said.

President Ramaphosa arrived in the UK on Monday and will officially be welcomed by His Majesty the King at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace today. Later in the day, the President is expected to address a Joint Sitting of the Houses of Parliament, before being hosted in a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace.

According to Gruzd, the environment, COVID-19 and vaccine manufacture and distribution, trade links and travel bans, the G20, food security and the war in Ukraine are likely some of the issues that will be discussed by the King and President.

Furthering relations

On the challenges and opportunities that exist between the two countries, Gruzd said that while South Africa was upset at the travel ban imposed by the UK when South African scientists discovered the COVID-19 Omicron variant last year, leaders may talk about preventing a re-occurrence.

“There is always room to increase trade and investment, desperately needed by both countries,” he noted.

During the course of the visit, the President will also hold official talks with Prime Minister Sunak to review a range of issues of a bilateral, continental and global nature.

“Key sectors under consideration for mutual benefit and to support economic growth and development in South Africa include infrastructure development, mining, energy, manufacturing, agro-processing, business process outsourcing and tourism,” the Presidency said in a statement.

Asked about the value of State Visits in a post-COVID-19 world, Gruzd said that this is a sign that the world is getting back to normal following the pandemic.

“They are a sign that the world is getting back to normal after the pandemic. This visit shows that South Africa remains an important country,” he said, adding that the visit provides an opportunity for South Africa to regain favour following challenges such as state capture and tackling corruption.

“So while South Africa remains a tarnished country, this is a chance to rebrand its image. It also serves to balance South Africa’s relations with the West and those with BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa] and the Global South.”

The Presidency said that the State Visit follows visits at this level to the United Kingdom by Presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma since the advent of democracy and follows visits by King Charles III and the Queen Consort to South Africa.

Prime Minister welcomes SA President

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office ahead of the start of the Visit said that the UK and South Africa will join forces to drive economic growth and turbocharge infrastructure investment.

“South Africa is already the UK’s biggest trading partner on the [African] continent, and we have ambitious plans to turbocharge infrastructure investment and economic growth together.

“I look forward to welcoming President Ramaphosa to London this week to discuss how we can deepen the partnership between our two great nations and capitalise on shared opportunities, from trade and tourism and security and defence,” said Prime Minister Sunak.

The Prime Minister further added that a new education and skills partnership between the UK and the South African governments will also promote shared learning in technical and vocational education, driving youth employment.

The State Visit will conclude on Wednesday.