Zuma arrives in UK for state visit

South African President Jacob Zuma flew into London on Tuesday for a state visit to Britain, which will mix lavish pomp and ceremony with sporting trips and talks on Zimbabwe.

The president and Tobeka Madiba Zuma, the newest of his three wives, arrived at London Heathrow Airport before the three-day visit officially begins on Wednesday.

Zuma (67) is escaping a damaging scandal at home over his 20th child—a love child born to the daughter of soccer supremo Irvin Khoza.

“This is his opportunity to present himself as a statesman, leading Africa’s most powerful nation,” said South African political analyst Dirk Kotze.

Britain will lay on a lavish banquet and state spledour before getting down to talks about Zimbabwe, climate change and other pressing issues between the two Commonweath countries.

Queen Elizabeth II (83) usually hosts one or two visiting heads of state each year, when British pageantry goes on full display.

Zuma and his latest wife—whom he married in January—will receive a ceremonial welcome on Horse Guards parade ground in central London where the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, formally greet their guests.

Zuma—who has had five wives in all, of whom one died and another he divorced—will review a guard of honour with the prince on Wednesday before a state carriage procession along The Mall.

The ceremonial route to the monarch’s Buckingham Palace official residence is already lined with British and South African flags in preparation.

Glittering state banquet
In a sign of the visit’s importance, Brown will miss the weekly prime minister’s question time in Parliament in order to attend the ceremony.

“State visits always have a key role for the prime minister in the ceremony,” said Brown’s spokesperson.

“The prime minister will be expected—and would expect—to be on Horse Guards as the state visit ceremony starts,” he added.

After a private lunch at the palace, the queen will take Zuma to the picture gallery to show Zuma South Africa-related items in the royal collection.

He will then visit South African anti-apartheid figure Oliver Tambo’s house in north London.

Later he will meet opposition Conservative leader David Cameron, who could become prime minister within weeks should his party triumph at the election.

Then Queen Elizabeth will give a glittering state banquet in the palace ballroom, when both the sovereign and the president will make their major speeches.

On Thursday, Zuma visits Brown for political talks and will address members of Parliament.

Zuma’s office said the president and Brown would discuss the fragile unity government in Zimbabwe, which has failed to make major headway since it was installed a year ago.

Then the president will visit the site of the 2012 London Olympics and Wembley Stadium, the home of English football, where he will kick a symbolic penalty on the pitch.

Zuma will then attend a banquet given by the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London.

On Friday, the queen will formally say farewell to Zuma before he visits Prince Charles, when he will meet the representatives from the heir to the throne’s charities that are involved in South Africa.

Britain is South Africa’s fourth-largest export partner, with two-way trade at R74,9-billion in 2008, according to government statistics.—AFP


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