- King Philippe and Queen Mathilde began their first-ever state visit to South Africa on Thursday as President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomed them to the country.
- The president spoke of improving the relationship between the two countries at the Business Forum.
- The visit began with an awkward exchange, however, as Ramaphosa was quizzed on the country's non-aligned foreign policy on Ukraine.
- Following a brief response, an uncomfortable Ramaphosa proceeded to ask the media to leave.
Pomp and ceremony was the order of the day as President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomed the king and queen of the Belgians on Thursday.
King Philippe and Queen Mathilde are on their first-ever state visit to South Africa, and from 22 to 27 March 2023, they will undertake various royal engagements in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Their official visit began at the Union Buildings in Pretoria with discussions between the king, queen, President Ramaphosa and accompanying ministers, but not before a warm welcome from SA.
WELCOME CEREMONY: President @CyrilRamaphosa hosts His Majesty Prince Philippe and Her Majesty Queen Mathilda of the Kingdom of Belgium on a State Visit. #BelgiumInSA ???????? pic.twitter.com/qVjcYMecri— Presidency | South Africa ???? (@PresidencyZA) March 23, 2023
The queen then headed to the University of Pretoria, where she spoke with entrepreneurs and academics about the importance of social entrepreneurship, while the king laid a wreath in honour of those who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom at Freedom Park and visited CSIR South Africa, one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa.
The royals concluded their day with a state dinner.
Day one was not without a few blunders, however.
Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib threw a few veiled jabs at South Africa's non-aligned foreign policy on Ukraine.
Belgium has "always looked up to SA as a key partner for peace and the defence of human rights and basic international principles, so given your strong historical links with Russia, we would be delighted if you consider using your channels of communication to advance on a path towards peace based on the international principles," Lahbib said.
Ramaphosa responded, visibly uncomfortable, before asking the media to leave the briefing room.
READ MORE | Belgium had President Cyril Ramaphosa squirming with jabs about Russia during a royal visit
On Friday, the king will visit the Industrial Development Zone at Kempton Park as the queen reads to children at the Emuseni Day Care Centre in Orlando East.
The royals will also visit the Hector Pieterson Memorial, the Skateistan's Skate School, and the Beka Schréder factory, before heading to Cape Town.
MORE ON THEIR ROYAL VISIT HERE.