South Africa

LONDON CALLING

Ramaphosa to pay first state visit to Britain by any foreign leader since Charles became king

Ramaphosa to pay first state visit to Britain by any foreign leader since Charles became king
From left: Britain’s King Charles III. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Neil Hall) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Thomas Lohnes / Getty Images)

Britain’s invitation to Cyril Ramaphosa so soon in the new king’s reign may reflect, in part, Britain’s desire to boost the SA President’s flagging leadership.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will visit Britain next month on the first state visit by any foreign leader to the country since King Charles III succeeded his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on her death last month. 

Like US President Joe Biden’s hosting of Ramaphosa at the White House on 16 September, Britain’s invitation to him so soon in the new king’s reign seems to reflect, in part, Britain’s desire to boost his flagging leadership. It may also reflect London’s ambivalence about South Africa’s controversial non-aligned position on Russia’s war against Ukraine.

“This will be the first state visit hosted by His Majesty,” the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Antony Phillipson, said on Monday.

“It reflects the importance of the relationship with South Africa. The visit will offer a chance to celebrate our modern-day partnerships delivering prosperity and security for both countries, as well as to set out how we can work together bilaterally and globally to strengthen those links for the future.”

Trade and investment

Trade and investment will feature strongly in the visit, observers said, though Ramaphosa will be visiting Britain at a time when its economy has been rocked by the cumulative effects of Brexit, Covid, the war in Ukraine, rising inflation and a messy transfer in the leadership of the Conservative Party from Boris Johnson to Liz Truss.

Truss is battling to find her feet and has just been forced to make an embarrassing and politically damaging U-turn on her proposal last week to scrap the top 45% rate of income tax paid on earnings above £150,000 a year. This had roiled financial markets and slashed the value of the pound.

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Another very likely topic of discussion between Ramaphosa and Truss will be the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), through which the UK, European Union, US, Germany and France have pledged $8.5-billion in financing to help South Africa transition from its almost total dependence on coal-fired electricity towards renewables — while protecting the livelihoods of coal workers and communities.

Britain is known to be concerned that almost a year after the JETP was signed, South Africa has not yet managed to draft a comprehensive programme of bankable projects.

London may also have invited Ramaphosa to boost his political stature at home as he faces strong headwinds before seeking a second term as ANC president at the party’s elective conference in December.

Like most South Africans, Britain has been disappointed by Ramaphosa’s failure to get a firm grip on the ANC and the country, but also believes he is the only ANC leader who has any hope of salvaging South Africa.  

Russian invasion

Russia’s war against Ukraine is also sure to feature in Ramaphosa’s discussions with Truss.  

Britain and the US — like other Western countries — have been concerned by South Africa’s “non-aligned” stance on the war and its failure to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression outright. 

These concerns appear, however, to have drawn the US and Britain closer to South Africa rather than pushing them further apart. Washington and London both seem to have invited Ramaphosa to meet Biden and Truss, respectively, in part to whisper some quiet advice in his ear about the need to be more critical of Russia before Putin does something truly catastrophic like detonating a nuclear weapon. 

But the courting of the South African president may also reflect British and American concern that if they are too critical of him, South Africa may move even further from the West into Russia’s, and also China’s, camp.

South Africa is already a member — with these two states — of the BRICS bloc, together with India and Brazil.

When Ramaphosa and Biden met in the Oval Office, each apparently urged the other to use his influence to seek a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine conflict.

Though Ramaphosa is probably unlikely to be chided too sharply by the British government, some observers believe that Truss is known for her forthright views on foreign issues and could give Ramaphosa a piece of her mind for his failure to condemn Putin.

Royal formalities

On the formalities, Phillipson said King Charles and the queen consort would host Ramaphosa and his wife, Dr Tshepo Motsepe, at Buckingham Palace during the state visit from Tuesday, 22 November to Thursday, 24 November.  

The High Commissioner noted that the king (when he was still Prince Charles) had first visited South Africa in 1997, travelling to Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town from 31 October to 5 November. Charles and the queen consort had also visited Pretoria and Johannesburg from 2 to 6 November 2011 and attended the funeral of Nelson Mandela on 15 December 2013.

Queen Elizabeth had invited three former South African presidents on state visits to the UK: Mandela in July 1996, Thabo Mbeki in June 2001 and Jacob Zuma in March 2010.

Buckingham Palace also noted in its announcement of Ramaphosa’s state visit that Charles had attended the state banquet in Buckingham Palace during Mandela’s state visit on 9 July 1996.

During Mbeki’s state visit in 2001, Charles hosted a lunch for Mbeki with Scottish business leaders at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Charles and the queen consort welcomed Zuma at the beginning of his state visit in 2010. DM

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  • virginia crawford says:

    A list of autocrats, dictators and tyrants that have been invited to dinner by the UK royal family will be very revealing. This country is in crisis caused largely by corruption in the ruling party, but this means nothing if it means trade and a closer relationship. The last five decades of trade should prove one thing, Africa provides cheap fruit, coffee and cocoa but remains poor, while a small elite grows rich. It is really not helpful for CR to swan off and be feted as the country crumbles.

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