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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Jacob Zuma's Trip to Britain Comes to an End

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, right, bids farewell to South Africa's President Jacob Zuma on the last day of his state visit to the UK at Buckingham Palace in London, 05 Mar 2010
Photo: AP

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, right, bids farewell to South Africa's President Jacob Zuma on the last day of his state visit to the UK at Buckingham Palace in London, 05 Mar 2010

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South African President Jacob Zuma winds up a three-day visit to Britain today - a visit marked by pomp and ceremony as well as substantive political talks, including on the situation in Zimbabwe.

President Zuma was given a royal welcome to Britain from Queen Elizabeth II Wednesday and in the busy three days that followed he met with Britain's Prime Minister, parliamentarians, business leaders, and even made a trip to Wembley Stadium, the home of English football (soccer).

While in Britain, Mr. Zuma repeatedly highlighted the two countries historic economic and cultural ties.

But two issues threatened to overshadow those links.

The first, Mr. Zuma's personal life. His polygamy and the recent revelation of a twentieth child born out of wedlock have led to criticism in some corners of the British media.

And the second, Zimbabwe. Mr. Zuma, who is the regional mediator on Zimbabwe, has called for sanctions against the country to be lifted. But in a joint press conference, Mr. Brown said EU sanctions cannot be lifted until progress on human rights and democracy are made.

But Mr. Zuma said he believed talks with Mr. Brown had led to better understanding on what needs to be done. "I think there has been a greater understanding of what we are trying to do in Zimbabwe and what are the concerns," he said.

While in Britain, Mr. Zuma also visited London's top football stadium where he said he was confident that English football fans visiting South Africa in June for the World Cup will be safe. "As a country we have worked hard to ensure that 2010 comes to South Africa and it is coming," said the South African president.

Addressing business leaders, Mr. Zuma said his country was improving education, reducing crime, and creating stability for foreign investment.

And Mr. Brown said the upcoming World Cup would be a good opportunity to put universal education on the global agenda. "I know it's making great preparations for the World Cup but at the time of the World Cup we can also see progress in achieving one goal that has eluded the world for many years and that is education for every young child in Africa and around the world," he said.

Speaking to British parliamentarians Mr. Zuma sought to allay fears that South Africa would nationalize its mining industry - he said there was no discussion within the South African government to do so. South Africa is the world's largest platinum producer and third largest producer of gold.

Thomas Cargill, from the London-based think tank Chatham House, told VOA Mr. Zuma's trip was an important opportunity to carve out South Africa's place on the world stage.

He says a "post-apartheid celebratory attitude" has characterized international perceptions of South Africa over the past 16 years. "Now we're really into what happens next - South Africa, as an independent state, deciding its future path and its future international relations," said said Cargill.

Sydney Masamvu, a senior South Africa analyst with the research organization International Crisis Group, says the trip was also important for Mr. Zuma domestically.

He says it was a chance for him to shake off negative press at home over his personal life. "He has lost a lot of his moral high ground because of his polygamous marriage and I believe this to a very large extent makes him appear as more of a statesman and to repair his image," said Masamvu.

While in Britain, Mr. Zuma also visited the former residence of anti-apartheid politician and past leader of the African National Congress, Oliver Tambo.

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