* There is a deep and long-term historical/cultural relationship between the UK and South Africa on which the very substantial trade and investment relationship is built.

* That relationship would not have survived 44 years of apartheid without the decision by King George VI and then Queen Elizabeth II to sever all formal communication between Buckingham Palace and the South African government when the National Party came to power in 1948 and for the entire duration of the apartheid years until the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the first democracy elections in 1994. Five State visits took place between the two countries over the next 16 years. (Two with President Mandela, two with Prezsident Mbeki and the last one with President Zuma in 2010.)

* Despite the resumption of relations between the two states at the highest level following democracy elections in 1994, the wounds of the colonial era and collaboration between successive British governments and the apartheid state left some lingering wounds in the side of the bilateral relationship.

* One of those wounds was that the loss of 646 troops of the South African Native Labour Force and crew when the SS Mendi sank 10 miles off the Isle of Wight after colliding with a British Mail cargo ship, the SS Darro on 21st February 1917.

* Not only did the SS Darro, which was travelling full steam ahead, not stop or lower it’s life-boats but the whole episode was air-brushed out of British history until a British commercial diver discovered the wreck in 1974 and began researching the back story. In contrast the dignified death of those who perished on the SS Mendi has become part of legend and folklore in South Africa.

* In a carefully prepared series of commemorative events to coincide with the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi – at Portsmouth, Hollybrook cemetery in Southampton and off rhe Isle of Wight -between February 17th and 21st – senior Ministers of both countries and members of the Royal family laid the ghosts of the SS Mendi to rest by placing wreaths at the base of inscribed plaques at Hollybrook, a Commonwealth Graves Commission cemetery where the British naval hero Lord Kitchener is commemorated.

The British Ministers confessed Britain’s shame at not having recognised the brave black South African troops – among 21 000 who suspended their own national liberation struggle to assist the allies in the battle against global domination.

South African Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said that the acknowledgement of the tragedy of those who died on the SS Mendi provided an opportunity of reconciliation between the two countries which shared a long history and a common set of values.

He said the relationship was of great value to South Africa as Britain was a major driver of foreign direct investment and tourism in the country.

* It is against this background and on this sound platform that the SA-UK two-way trade and investment relationship can be built in the post-Brexit era alongside the already close ties in sport and arts and culture and the strong role of British institutions and development in South Africa.

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