British Prime Minister arrives in South Africa

By Tony Ekata, Pretoria

UK Prime Minister Theresa May was welcomed by Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and High Commissioner to the UK Thembi Tambo in Cape Town on Tuesday.

British Prime Minister, Theresa May has arrived in South Africa at the start of a three-day trip to sub-Saharan Africa.

The prime minister touched down in Cape Town on Tuesday morning on a chartered Royal Airforce Voyager with a 29-member trade delegation.

During the visit, the British leader will meet the presidents of South Africa‚ Nigeria and Kenya in a bid to boost Britian’s post-Brexit export prospects.

May’s official schedule in South Africa includes a visit to a school in Cape Town, bilateral talks with host president Cyril Ramaphosa, a meeting with the business delegation and a visit to Robben where Mandela was incarcerated by the apartheid regime for 18 years.

Speaking ahead of her flight to South Africa on Monday evening, the prime minister said: “Africa stands right on the cusp of playing a transformative role in the global economy” and that “a more prosperous, growing and trading Africa is in all of our interests”.

She also signalled that the three-country tour represented an effort to showcase Britain’s standing in the world ahead of Brexit.

“As we prepare to leave the European Union, now is the time for the UK to deepen and strengthen its global partnerships,” she said.

The visit is significant for host president Ramaphosa who is desperate to secure further foreign investment after the controversy and corruption allegations that dominated his predecessor’s tenure.

Bilateral meetings
The Presidency said in a statement on Monday that May’s working visit followed bilateral meetings between the British Prime Minister and Ramaphosa during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April and the G7 in Canada in June.

The two leaders discussed potential partnerships between the United Kingdom and South Africa and efforts to strengthen bilateral trade and investment relations.

The presidency said ”the visit to South Africa would serve to further cement economic relations built up over several decades.”

The UK was South Africa’s 6th largest global trading partner in 2017‚ with total trade at R79.5 billion. The UK also remains the key source of long-haul tourism to South Africa‚ with nearly 448‚000 visitors in 2017.

The South African president is also under pressure to undertake land reform in a country where white farmers still own the majority of the most productive estates, and he has agreed to press ahead with plans to change the constitution to permit land expropriation without compensation.

May is expected to raise concerns about the government’s land appropriation without compensation policy, especially in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s sentiments about the policy, which sparked outrage in South Africa.

Trump had wrongly claimed in a tweet last week that South Africa had commenced land grabs from white land owners and that white farmers were being massacred in South Africa.

“I have asked Secretary of State @SecPompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers,” Trump had tweeted.

SS Mendi Bell
May will also present Ramaphosa with the SS Mendi Bell‚ which was found in the English Channel a year ago. In 1917‚ the SS Mendi and a large cargo steamship‚ Darro‚ collided in the English Channel‚ south of the Isle of Wight. The Mendi sank‚ killing 646 people‚ most of whom were black South African troops.

The Mendi was chartered by the British government as a troop carrier to serve in World War 1‚ carrying 823 members of South Africa’s Fifth Battalion. They had completed 34 days of the voyage from Cape Town to England‚ and were on their way to France to the war when tragedy struck in the English Channel.

Nigeria, Kenya talks
The prime minister will leave for Nigeria from South Africa to meet the Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja before flying to Nairobi for a bilateral meeting with Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta.

In both countries, May is expected to discuss measures to discourage migration to Europe and improve security cooperation against Boko Haram in West Africa and al-Shabaab in Somalia. She will see British troops in Kenya who have been training soldiers in the region to deal with improvised explosives.

It will be the first visit to Kenya by a British prime minister for 30 years.


Mercy Chukwudiebere