King Charles III hosted South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in London on Tuesday for the first state visit of his reign, with climate change, trade and the Commonwealth expected to be on the agenda.
Charles and Queen Camilla joined the heir to the throne, Prince William and his wife Catherine, in greeting Ramaphosa and First Lady Tshepo Motsepe at a welcome ceremony at Horse Guards Parade in central London.
The monarch and Ramaphosa inspected the honor guard together.
The parties then traveled to Buckingham Palace, the route lined with the UK and South African flags, in a carriage procession escorted by mounted soldiers of the Household Cavalry.
The two-day state visit is the first since Charles became king following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September.
It comes more than a decade after the last by a South African leader, when Jacob Zuma arrived in the UK in 2010.
Yet for Ramaphosa, a protégé of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, it also comes amid political difficulties and a threat of impeachment at home.
In the final state visit of Elizabeth’s record 70-year reign, the Queen hosted US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania in June 2019.
Later in the day, Ramaphosa will visit parliament to address the upper and lower houses.
A tour of Westminster Abbey will include the memorial stone for Mandela, who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
In the evening, Ramaphosa will attend a state banquet at Buckingham Palace.
Ramaphosa will also visit Downing Street for talks with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
At the start of the visit, the UK and South African governments announced the launch of the next phase of the UK-South Africa Infrastructure Partnership.
“South Africa is already the UK’s biggest trading partner on the continent, and we have ambitious plans to boost infrastructure investment and economic growth together,” Sunak said.
Trade with South Africa, the continent’s second-largest economy, is worth £10.7 billion ($12.7 billion) a year.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the choice of Ramaphosa for Charles’ first state visit was a sign of Britain’s “enduring commitment” to Africa, even as it contemplates new partners in Asia after Brexit.
But he added: “It’s important… that we also show that it won’t be at the expense of the incredibly important partnerships that we have through the Commonwealth, through international forums, as well as the bilateral relationship (with South Africa).”
In addition to trade, the visit is also expected to discuss climate change and Charles’ vision for the Commonwealth.
But political troubles in South Africa threaten to overshadow the ceremonial pomp and splendor of the state visit.
Ramaphosa is at risk of impeachment for allegedly covering up a crime, accused of concealing a multi-million dollar cash heist.
He faces an allegation that he failed to report a holdup at his luxury cattle farm in which robbers made off with $4 million in cash, and instead arranged for the robbers to be kidnapped and bribed into silence.
He has faced calls to resign and the deeply divided ruling African National Congress (ANC) is due to hold a vote on his leadership in December.
The president acknowledged a robbery but denies kidnapping and bribery and says he reported the raid to police.
South African lawmakers will discuss the findings of a special panel charged with establishing whether Ramaphosa should face impeachment next month.