Polygamy row clouds UK welcome for Zuma

2010-03-03 15:44

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma received a royal welcome today as he began a

state visit to Britain with colour and pomp, although a row over his polygamy

threatened to cloud the trip from the start.

Queen Elizabeth II greeted Zuma on London’s Horse Guards parade

ground before accompanying him in a black-and-gold horse-drawn carriage to

Buckingham Palace, where he is staying for the three-day trip.

In an indication of the importance attached to the visit, Prime

Minister Gordon Brown skipped his weekly grilling in parliament to attend the

ceremony, which launched a packed agenda including a state banquet this


Zuma will tomorrow hold talks with Brown in Downing Street,

expected to focus on Zimbabwe. His trip also includes sporting events, ahead of

the football World Cup in South Africa, which starts in June.

Zuma, 67, left South Africa embroiled in a major scandal over an

out-of-wedlock daughter born in October to the daughter of a top World Cup


She is the 20th child for the polygamist leader, whose latest wife,

Thobeka Mabhija-Zuma, is accompanying him on the trip. In all, the president has

had five wives, although one died and he divorced another.

Zuma’s ascent to power had been marked by a lengthy corruption

investigation that was ultimately dropped, but the uproar that erupted last

month over the baby, reignited public criticism and doubts about the


Analysts say he will use the visit to try to present himself as a

statesman, and Britain is certainly rolling out the red carpet.

But controversy hit Zuma even before the formal part of his visit

began, after sharp criticism from some of the British media.

An opinion piece in the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper on the eve

of the visit questioned: “Jacob Zuma is a sex-obsessed bigot . . . So why is

Britain fawning over this buffoon?”

An angry Zuma hit back in an interview with the Johannesburg-based

Star newspaper, saying the coverage was disrespectful of his Zulu culture and

echoed the attitudes of the colonial era, when Britain ruled South Africa.

“When the British came to our country they said everything we are

doing was barbaric, was wrong, inferior in whatever way . . . I don’t know why

they are continuing thinking that their culture is more superior than others,”

he said.

Watching Zuma’s arrival in chilly spring sunshine in London, South

African Adrian Sturgess, who has lived in Britain for 10 years, said: “I don’t

think Zuma sets a very good example with his behaviour.

“South Africa is a country extremely affected by AIDS so his

behaviour could have implications,” the 33-year-old, wearing a green and gold

Springboks rugby jacket, told AFP.

After a private lunch at the palace, the queen will show Zuma South

Africa-related items in the royal art collection.

The president will then visit the former home of South African

anti-apartheid figure Oliver Tambo in north London, before the state banquet in

the evening.

Zuma will tomorrow get down to business with talks with Brown on

Zimbabwe, climate change and an upcoming global non-proliferation conference in

the United States.

Trade is also likely to feature in the talks. Britain is South

Africa’s fourth largest export partner, with two-way trade at R74.9 billion in

2008, South African statistics show.

It will not all be work and no play, however. Zuma will visit the

2012 London Olympics site and Wembley Stadium, the home of English


South Africa is hosting the football World Cup this year, England

is bidding to host the tournament in 2018, and Zuma and Brown are likely to

compare notes.

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