King Charles welcomed the President of South Africa to the UK on Tuesday for the first state visit of his reign with Queen Consort Camilla and the Prince and Princess of Wales by his side. Prince William and Princess Kate were given the honor of greeting the president at his London hotel and accompanying him by car to Horse Guards Parade for the official welcome ceremony.
The king looked delighted to welcome Cyril Ramaphosa in the crisp winter sunshine while the South African president looked equally impressed as he inspected a guard of honor and took the royal salute. He will later be guest of honor at a lavish state banquet at Buckingham Palace, the first King Charles has hosted. Both the King and the President will deliver an address which is expected to focus on Britain’s relationship with South Africa and other issues such as climate change and the economy.
The state visit is the first to take place in Britain since the pandemic and President Donald Trump’s controversial visit in June 2019 and there is said to be much excitement at the palace as it prepares for tonight’s state banquet.
The visit comes after months of planning and was being organized when Queen Elizabeth II was still alive. It was agreed that the visit would go ahead following her death and the protocol will follow the template of previous state visits.
According to constitutional expert, Dr. Ed Owens, “State visits like the one being made by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa act as a key reminder of Britain’s overseas relationships. The king plays host to foreign dignitaries because, as Head of State, he embodies Britain’s enduring link to its international partners. British governments and prime ministers come and go (with increasing frequency, it seems!) but the crown is the symbol that links Britain permanently to the global community.”
As well as pomp and pageantry which included the president and the royal family riding in a carriage procession to Buckingham Palace after this morning’s official welcome, the South African president will address MPs at the Palace of Westminster later today.
The trip, at the request of the British government, particularly important because of Britain’s trade links with South Africa, which amounts to £11 billion a year. As the UK faces a cost of living crisis, trade relations between the two countries will be a popular topic of discussion during the visit.
While the President is unable to stay at the Palace because of ongoing construction, the flags were out on the Mall along with processionals and hospitality unique to Britain and the royal family.
The King was said to be looking forward to today’s visit which has a distinctly personal feel for a state visit. Queen Elizabeth II had a close bond and affection for the country and it was in South Africa that the then Princess Elizabeth made her debut broadcast to the Commonwealth pledging to serve its people for her whole life.
The Queen received the South African president in 2010. She also welcomed the late Nelson Mandela to Buckingham Palace for a memorable state visit when the two were photographed in a carriage procession together. The Queen enjoyed a close relationship with Mandela, the only world leader who was allowed to address her on first name terms.
King Charles is due to show the president an exhibition in the Picture Gallery of items from the Royal Collection relating to South Africa before the president visits Westminster Abbey, where he will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, before taking a tour, which will include the memorial stone for Nelson Mandela, the South African President between 1994 and 1999.
Ramaphosa will then visit the Palace of Westminster, where he will be welcomed by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker, before delivering an address in the Royal Gallery to MPs and other guests.
While it is set to be a success, the visit is not without controversy. Ramaphosa is fighting for his political life and facing calls to resign ahead of the leadership contest of the African National Congress (ANC) in December. Additionally, Ramaphosa is at the centre of a scandal in which he is accused of concealing a multi-million dollar cash theft at his luxury home.
Tuesday’s state banquet will be the highlight of the visit with the Queen Consort and the Princess of Wales and other female members of the royal family wearing tiaras and jewels from the private family collection.
While the focus of the state visit will be on Ramaphosa, King and Queen Consort and the Prince and Princess of Wales, other working members of the Royal Family will also be on duty with Anne, Princess Royal and Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex attending Tuesday’s state banquet.