King Philippe and Queen Mathilde left today for South Africa for a state visit between March 22 and 27, at the invitation of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. It marks the first Belgian state visit ever to South Africa.
The Belgian Royal Family will discuss with the South African leadership, among others, climate, migration, diamonds and vaccines, VRT reports. It was originally planned for 2021 but was postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis.
South Africa is Belgium's largest African trading partner, and Belgium is the country's third-largest. South Africa has been a growing regional superpower in Africa since the end of the apartheid era and is the only African country to be a member of the G20 group and BRICS – a group of new economic powers comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
South Africa's relationship with Russia has been scrutinised since the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. To date, Pretoria has still not explicitly condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, choosing to push for open and active diplomatic channels despite Ukraine facing daily Russian bombardments.
Biggest Belgian population in Africa
Curiously, South Africa is also home to the largest Belgian population on the African continent, with 10,000 Belgians living there.
The country is one of the largest diamond-producing countries in the world, with diamonds accounting for over 40% of the total export value to Belgium.
"The programme of the monarchs will include official engagements with President Ramaphosa and members of the government as well as visits to Johannesburg and Cape Town where they will engage with academia, business, and civil society, and visit historical and cultural sites," the Presidency said.
The King and Queen will visit and discuss projects that are running in the country, such as the operations biotech company Afrigen, which – in collaboration with Belgian scientists – develops its own vaccines to lessen dependency on third countries, a need which was also highlighted during the Covid-19 crisis.
Another item high on the royals' agenda is climate change. South Africa is among the most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change, with temperatures in the region at risk of rising by 4 degrees in the coming decades. Together with South African partners, Belgian companies are helping to find solutions.
While there are many economic interests on the royal couples' itinerary, King Phillipe also finds the themes of apartheid, racism, and reconciliation of great importance. The couple will visit historical sites in South Africa where they will reflect on the painful history of apartheid.
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Four politicians are also travelling along, including the Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, Wallonia Minister-President Elio Di Rupo, Brussels Minister-President Rudi Vervoort and, Flemish Finance Minister Matthias Diependaele will be replacing Flanders Minister-President Jan Jambon.
While this is the first-ever Belgian state visit to South Africa, it is not King Phillipe's first time in the country, having attended key historical moments such as when Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president in 1994, as well as at his funeral in 2013.