King Charles pays tribute to Queen as he welcomes South African leader to UK

The visit by the president was was the first to be hosted by King Charles, as Chris Ship reports

The King paid tribute to the late Queen and her ties with South Africa as he hosted the nation’s president, saying she admired “its people, its vibrancy, natural beauty and diversity”.

Charles spoke about his mother’s long relationship with the Commonwealth nation during a banquet speech to mark South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s two-day state visit to the UK.

The King said: “The late Queen had the great pleasure of hosting Presidents Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma for State Visits to the United Kingdom, at all of which I was present.

"On each of those occasions, she expressed her admiration for your country and its people, its vibrancy, natural beauty and diversity.

“And she always talked warmly of her return to your country in 1995, as the guest of President Mandela, after the momentous events – driven from within South Africa and supported by so many around the world, including here in the United Kingdom – that brought democracy to your country.”

Charles also drew a gasp from the president who said “wow” when the King said “welcome” in six languages spoken in South Africa.

The meeting marked another milestone for Charles, as he welcomed a foreign leader for an official state visit for the first time as monarch.

National figures had gathered in the royal pavilion for the pomp and pageantry of the ceremonial welcome with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak joined by senior members of the Cabinet, as well as the Lord Mayor of London, Nicholas Lyons, and the Defence Chiefs of Staff.

The Prince and Princess of Wales were part of events for the first time, travelling to Mr Ramaphosa’s luxury hotel in nearby central London and accompanying him to Horse Guards Parade for the start of the ceremonial welcome.

More than 1,000 soldiers and over 230 horses took part in the ceremonial event and waiting on the parade ground were two immaculate lines of Foot Guards from Number 7 Company The Coldstream Guards.

Nearby in their gleaming breast plates and plumed helmets were the Sovereign’s Escort of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment – Life Guards and Blues and Royals, commanded by Major Robert Perera of the Blues and Royals.

Former US president Donald Trump’s state visit in 2019 was the most recent by a world leader but his welcome was staged in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, so the official visit by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands in 2019 was the last time a full ceremonial welcome was staged on Horse Guards Parade.

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Lieutenant Colonel James Shaw, Brigade Major of Headquarters Household Division, who delivered the military ceremonial spectacle, said: “The state visit is a historic first: our first state visit for His Majesty the King and the President of South Africa, the first state visit in London since 2019, the first processional state visit on Horse Guards since 2018, and the first for almost everyone on parade.”

He added: “A huge amount of work has gone into preparing for the visit and we are very proud to support such an important national occasion.”

The visit was marked by the prime minister announcing the UK and South Africa will join forces to “turbocharge infrastructure investment and economic growth together”.

The next phase of the UK-South Africa Infrastructure Partnership is being launched on Tuesday, supporting South Africa’s economic growth through major infrastructure developments and offering increased access to UK companies to projects worth up to £5.37 billion over the next three years, said Downing Street.

Mr Sunak said: “South Africa is already the UK’s biggest trading partner on the continent, and we have ambitious plans to turbocharge infrastructure investment and economic growth together.

“I look forward to welcoming President Ramaphosa to London this week to discuss how we can deepen the partnership between our two great nations and capitalise on shared opportunities, from trade and tourism and security and defence.” There is said to be much excitement and anticipation at Buckingham Palace as the royal household prepares for the first state visit since 2019 but the reservicing work at the royal residence has meant the South African leader could not stay at the London landmark.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, King Charles III and the Queen Consort, ride in the State Carriage to Buckingham Palace. Credit: PA

Work for the South African state visit began during the late Queen’s reign and the King was said to have been delighted to continue with the plans. The pomp and ceremony began as soon as the president’s motorcade first arrived at Horse Guards Parade with the King’s Life Guard, positioned on Whitehall, giving a salute.

Mr Ramaphosa’s limousine crossed the open space overlooked by Wellington’s former office and as he stepped onto the royal pavilion to be greeted by the King, gun salutes were fired across London.

In nearby Green Park, 41 volleys were fired by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and 62 were fired at the Tower of London by the Honourable Artillery Company – an extra 21 for the City of London.

The Captain of the Guard of Honour, Major Andrew Dickinson of Number 7 Company The Coldstream Guards, marched forward and asked the South African President: “The Guard of Honour from Number 7 Company Coldstream Guards is formed up and awaiting your inspection. May I have your permission to accompany you, Sir, please?”

Mr Ramaphosa was joined by the King as he cast his eye over the troops walking a few steps behind his guest as he inspected the soldiers.