SA, UK to cement economic relations

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

President Cyril Ramaphosa is on Tuesday expected to host the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May, who will be in the country for a working visit.

“The working visit by Prime Minister May seeks to further cement economic relations built up over several decades,” the Presidency said in a statement.

During tomorrow’s visit in Cape Town, May will present President Ramaphosa with the SS Mendi Bell, which was found in the English Channel a year ago.

In 1917, the SS Mendi suffered disaster in what has been described as one of the 20th century's worst maritime disasters in UK waters.

On 21 February 1917, a large cargo steamship, Darro, collided with Mendi in the English Channel, south of the Isle of Wight. Mendi sank, killing 646 people, most of whom were black South African troops.

About 616 South Africans, 607 of which were black troops, plus 30 crew members, mostly from Britain, died in the tragedy. About 139 of the soldiers who died were from the Eastern Cape.

The SS Mendi ship was chartered by the British government as a troop carrier to serve in World War 1, carrying 823 members of the fifth battalion.

They had completed 34 days of the voyage from Cape Town to England and were on their way to France to the war when tragedy struck in the English Channel.

In 2017, the South African government commemorated the centenary of the sinking of SS Mendi.

“The handing over of the SS Mendi Bell to the people of South Africa is a mark of respect for the shared history and bilateral friendship between the two countries,” the Presidency said.

The working visit follows bilateral meetings between President Ramaphosa and Prime Minister May during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London earlier this year.

In those talks, the two leaders discussed potential partnerships between the United Kingdom and South Africa and efforts to strengthen bilateral trade and investment relations.

Bilateral relations between South Africa and the United Kingdom are strong, covering a range of areas of cooperation linked to both governments’ priorities.

These relations are managed through a Bilateral Forum at the ministerial level, which meets biennially.

The UK was South Africa’s sixth largest global trading partner in 2017, with total trade at R79.5 billion.

The UK also remains the key source of long-haul tourism to South Africa, with nearly 448 000 visitors in 2017. –