What do Presidents do during a State Visit, besides the obvious trip to the Palace for a state dinner with the King and a chat with the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street?

In her capacity as Chair of the South African Chamber of Commerce UK, Sharon Constançon was afforded the privilege of attending a number of events organised in honour of the President’s visit.

Her diary of the events below gives a unique insight into some of the events the President attended during his visit to the United Kingdom, addressing various sectors of engagement between South Africa and the UK.

by Sharon Constançon

21 November 2022

Friends of South Africa

This was a gathering of around 200 “Friends of South Africa” at the SA High Commission on 21st November arranged to greet the South African President and the Ministers who accompanied him. There were several speeches before an address by the President, followed by a discussion facilitated by Lord Peter Hain.

The High Commissioner, HE Jeremiah Mamabolo introduced the President by recapping the relationship between the UK and South Africa, and its importance.

Next, Ms Naledi Maite Kekana, a Resident Fellow at The London School of Business and Political Science (LSE) spoke quietly, but held the crowd’s attention – you could have heard a pin drop – following a theme of being ‘proudly South African’, using a recent Jazz performance by South African artist Abdullah Ibrahim to share her feelings about being away from the country but still wanting to represent the country proudly.  Both the audience and the President were very moved by Naledi’s speech, to which the President responded by jokingly berating his staff for timing his visit so that he arrived too late to attend the concert.

Tony Dykes, former Director for Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA), the successor body to the anti-apartheid movement, then spoke about the work against apartheid and the importance of continued solidarity with South Africa. He joked about his disappointment at having not achieved the honour of being arrested outside SA House during the demonstrations. The President responded with regret that despite his upcoming meetings with the Prime Minister, he wouldn’t be able to arrange for Tony’s arrest.

During his address, the President spoke about sectors of the economy that are performing well, the importance of the energy crisis and Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET IP). He talked about the impact of corruption, the need for improved education and for higher employment rates. His purpose, similarly aligned to that of the Chamber’s, was clearly to “improve the lives of the South Africa people”.  Ramaphosa praised the creative “can do” culture of the South African nation.

The President identified the strengths in the financial and legal systems, the Constitution, Equal Rights, the Freedom Charter, being “united in diversity” and “leaving no-one behind”.  He focused on bilateral trade and particularly on the need for investment to make a meaningful difference in economic growth.  He noted the self-interest factions sabotaging power stations and the many areas where people were driving corruption and the various solutions being addressed.

Lord Hain facilitated the conversation thereafter and began by asking eight people he singled out to stand and be introduced to the President. The cohort included anti-apartheid activists, including Jerry Dammers, who wrote the song “Free Nelson Mandela”, the daughters of the late Joe Slovo, two members of the House of Lords and the Chamber, who received recognition.

The President took a number of questions from the floor, some posed by young university graduates asking about the “Brain Drain” and the availability of graduate jobs in South Africa. Lord Bilimoria, who is married to a South African, thereafter referred to by the President as “brother in law”, asked questions about the possibility of reciprocity in visa free travel between the UK and South Africa, including reinstating the Commonwealth Visa Scheme allowing young people a period of two years to work in the respective countries, as are still available to various other Commonwealth nations.

One focus of the discussion was the value of UK education gained by young South Africans in the UK and how their skills can be utilised and their knowledge shared in South Africa. This raised the issue of skills needs and the availability and creation of a corridor for ease of movement for students between the two countries. This structure is in already being used for students from India and Australia, studying in the UK. 

I asked about the steps government would be taking to improve the partnership with business to get the economy growing, rather than wanting control. He suggested greater engagement between our countries – the UK and SA – and having a place to share ideas and support our collective visions. 

Sharon Constançon meets President Cyril Ramaphosa

To this end, we take up the challenge set and the SA Chamber will work with the APPG  (All Party Parliamentary Group for South Africa) and SA UK Council, led in the UK by Andrew Selous, Trade Envoy to South Africa, to find the Chamber’s value in contributing to these initiatives.

22 November 2022

Adopt a School Foundation

I had an opportunity to meet the President twice during an event that followed the next day – a dinner to raise funds for his Adopt a School Foundation – held at the Institute of Directors, across Trafalgar Square from the South African High Commission.

I was extremely honoured to be included in this event and proud that the Chamber has been recognised for its positive contribution towards foreign direct investment (FDI) and bilateral business and trade initiatives, between the UK and South Africa.

23 November 2022

UK-South Africa Business Forum

Lancaster House

Lancaster House, tucked away in the Stable Yard between the Mall and Pall Mall of London, is a place with infinite history of Royal and UK Government related gatherings.

The event was hosted by DIT’s Andrew Selous MP, the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to South Africa. The round table working forum was presided over by The Rt Hon Kemi Badenoch.

The President shared a vision of increased trade and inward bound investment to support the growth of the economy, employment of people and development of a complete supply chain. This being facilitated by the new trade agreement between the two countries.

Many UK companies contributed to the conversation about what they were delivering with regard to trade and investment, which were sizeable amounts.  Many SA companies responded, Discover/Vitality – Adrian Gore, Aspen Pharmacare – Stavros Nicolaou, Gloria Serobe of Wiphold and Martin Kingston of Rothchild were among the SA contributors.

Universally, the conversations covered, green energy, renewable energy, education and ease of doing business.

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This White Tie, Reception and Banquet, was my first white tie event and first State reception at the Guildhall in 5 years.  Everyone looked so smart in “white ties” and tails and ladies in floor-length dresses. 

The rumours in the run up to the event were that 1500 people would be attending, which soon became 700, but a just completed table count audit indicated 550 people in attendance. 

The pomp and ceremony, the ceremonial trumpeters, the Master of Ceremonies all made for a wonderful experience fantastically complemented with a duck starter, a middle course of Rainbow trout and for mains, succulent, pink lamb chops. How that is managed for so large a crowd is remarkable.  Spier and Nederburg wines were amongst those enjoyed with the meal.

The orchestra delivered an amazing rendition of our beautiful anthem, the noise of networking filled the air and the majestic proteas adorned our tables and reached high above the guests in magnificent vases.

The audience included many South African business leaders, past Lord Mayors and many others with links to the country.  It was great to see so many friends.

This was a night of entertainment at its best.

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