The new King experienced yet another set of firsts this past week. This time, Charles III welcomed South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to the UK and hosted the first state visit of his reign.
The monarch pulled out all the stops for a diplomatic tour de force meant to strengthen the relationship between the two countries despite the brief two-day visit.
The trip had been planned before Queen Elizabeth II passed away, and even though state visits typically follow a well-known schedule of activities, King Charles still found a way to personalize the occasion.
He began by welcoming everyone in a grand processional full of British pomp and pageantry. At the Royal Pavilion at Horse Guards Parade in the heart of London, Charles was joined by others as he cordially welcomed Ramaphosa. The Prince and Princess of Wales, who had been sent to Ramaphosa’s hotel earlier in the day to greet the head of state, as well as the Queen Consort were also present.
200 horses and more than 1,000 soldiers took part in the ceremonial military display. The Number 7 Company Coldstream Guards saluted the South African President with a royal salute as he inspected a guard of honor in the crisp winter sunshine.
Lt Col James Shaw, Brigade Major of the Household Division and the person in charge of major ceremonial events, acknowledged that the Tuesday welcome had required “a huge amount of work” but added that everyone involved was “very proud to support such an important national occasion.”
According to the military organizer quoted by the UK’s PA Media news agency, “The state visit is a historic first: our first state visit for His Majesty the King and the President of South Africa, the first state visit in London since 2019, the first processional state visit on Horse Guards since 2018, and the first for almost everyone on parade.”
The group returned to Buckingham Palace in a carriage after the formal welcome, where Ramaphosa was met by a second honor guard. A private lunch hosted by the King was followed by a tour of South African-themed items from the Royal Collection, which was followed by an elaborate white-tie state banquet in the evening.
Banquets at Buckingham Palace are typically held in the ballroom on the first night of a state visit and are open to about 160 guests who have “cultural, diplomatic, or economic links to the country being hosted.”
Charles dazzled Ramaphosa by beginning his speech with the word “welcome” in a variety of South African languages. The King praised the countries’ ties in business, science, and culture after making a few jokes. All of these were expected remarks for a speech at a banquet, but Charles also didn’t back down from more difficult topics, bringing up the problematic colonial legacy of the UK.
The King was eager to reflect on his late mother’s relationship with South Africa, recalling her visits to the nation, the times she hosted Ramaphosa’s predecessors in London, and the friendship she shared with esteemed statesman Nelson Mandela, as this first visit from a foreign leader came just two months into his reign.
Kate wore a bracelet that belonged to the family matriarch, and Camilla wore the late Queen’s stunning sapphire and diamond tiara, complete with matching necklace and bracelet. Other royals were also eager to honor Elizabeth II.
Charles’ first significant diplomatic test came with the state visit to South Africa. He admitted that while he would draw on his mother’s precedents, he also wanted to shake things up and take on issues that were important to both him and his subjects.
It’s saying that he plans to do it with Camilla, William, and Kate by his side and support from other Windsor family members for his plays. In the final years of his mother’s rule, Charles frequently supported and filled in for her. However, this week’s state visit highlighted the Prince and Princess of Wales, showing that they have been elevated to important central roles. All four will work together, front and center, sharing duties as they seek to secure the future of the dynasty.