Zuma starts official British visit

2010-03-03 10:17

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma officially kicks off a state visit to Britain

today which will mix lavish pomp and ceremony with sporting trips and talks on


The president and Thobeka Mabhija-Zuma, the newest of his three

wives, flew in to London’s Heathrow Airport yesterday ahead of the official

start of the visit.

Britain will lay on a lavish banquet and state splendour before

getting down to talks about Zimbabwe, climate change and other pressing issues

between the two Commonwealth 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 today on Horse Guards parade ground in central

London where the queen and her husband Prince Philip formally greet their


In a sign the meeting of the major trade partners is considered

important, Prime Minister Gordon Brown will miss the weekly prime minister’s

question time at midday (2pm SA time) in parliament in order to attend the


Zuma – who has had five wives in all, of whom one died and another

he divorced – will later meet opposition Conservative leader David Cameron, who

could soon be prime minister if he wins a forthcoming election.

Queen Elizabeth will also give a glittering state banquet in the

palace ballroom today, when both the sovereign and the president will make their

major speeches.

Tomorrow, 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 South Africa’s neighbour Zimbabwe, which has failed

to make major headway since it was installed a year ago.

His visit comes as South Africa prepares to host the 2010 football

World Cup, and as England readies its own bid for the 2018 World Cup.

Zuma will also visit Wembley Stadium, the home of English football,

and kick a symbolic penalty on the pitch.

On Friday, the queen will formally say farewell to Zuma before he

visits Prince Charles.

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