South African President Ramaphosa visits the UK
A procession leading a state carriage containing Britain's King Charles, Queen Consort Camilla and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa back to Buckingham Palace in London, Britain, November 22, 2022. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Pool

LONDON (Reuters) – As South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa became the first world leader to be hosted on a State Visit to the UK by King Charles, he has some important items on his agenda – namely asking Britain to allow more South African students to be able to study in the UK, a call for a rekindling of the fight against apartheid and discrimination that divides the world and stifles progress… and cooperation in the restructuring of South Africa’s energy market.

Charles, 74, rolled out the traditional pomp and ceremony as Britain sought to bolster its relations with its biggest trading partner in Africa. As the new monarch welcomed Ramaphosa to Buckingham Palace, the South African president invoked Mandela as he paid tribute to the close relationship between the two countries.

Addressing lawmakers in parliament, Ramaphosa lauded the two nations’ close ties, forged in the wake of a difficult legacy of colonialism and apartheid.

South African President Ramaphosa visits the UK
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks at the Houses of Parliament during a state visit, in London, Britain, November 22, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Pool

He later said he had discussed “initiatives that can be embarked upon by the Commonwealth under the leadership of his majesty the king” over lunch at Buckingham Palace.

Ramaphosa said he would raise the idea of allowing more South African students to study in Britain when he meets Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday, and added the restructuring of South Africa’s energy market to battle power shortages could provide opportunities for British companies.

“By pursuing these and other avenues for cooperation, I believe that we will define the relationship between South Africa and the United Kingdom in new and exciting ways,” Ramaphosa said.

The president was shown an exhibition of Royal Collection artworks related to South Africa as well as photographs of royal visits to the country, including one of the late Queen Elizabeth meeting Nelson Mandela.

Britain hopes the visit, which had been planned before the death of Queen Elizabeth in September, will strengthen trade and investment ties between the two nations, and show the importance of links with the Commonwealth of Nations, the international organisation which Charles now heads.

“This is a reinforcement of the strong bilateral relationship that we have with South Africa, a real opportunity to build on that close working relationship and discuss some of the issues that affect us all,” British foreign minister James Cleverly told Reuters.


Ramaphosa was officially greeted by Charles’s eldest son and heir Prince William and his wife Kate at a central London hotel to mark the start of his two-day trip, the first state visit to the UK by a world leader since that of then-U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania in 2019.

The last state visit to Britain by a South African leader was that of President Jacob Zuma in 2010.

Gun salutes and a ceremonial welcome from the king and his wife Camilla, the queen consort, followed before a grand carriage procession along The Mall to Buckingham Palace, where a banquet will be held later in the president’s honour.

Ramaphosa then visited Westminster Abbey to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and see the memorial stone for former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Ramaphosa said that Britain had stood with South Africa to help free Mandela and end apartheid, and now called on Britain to support the calls of lower income countries for a reformed global institutional order and climate justice. He said:

“Let us rekindle the moral purpose of the global fight against apartheid to confront the discrimination, inequality and injustice that divides humanity and that stifles the progress of all.”

(Reporting by Michael Holden and Alistair Smout, Editing by William Maclean and Bernadette Baum)

View photos of the first day of President Ramaphosa’s State Visit to the UK