Cyril Ramaphosa, when he was still deputy president, meets British Prime Minister Theresa May at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE
Cyril Ramaphosa, when he was still deputy president, meets British Prime Minister Theresa May at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE

London — British Prime Minister Theresa May will be in SA on Tuesday, when she will meet President Cyril Ramaphosa in Cape Town.

This is part of a three-country African tour she undertakes this week, on which she will emphasise the trading opportunities open to the UK as it leaves the European Union.

It is the first visit by a UK premier to Sub-Saharan Africa since 2013, and the first to Kenya — a British protectorate until 1962 — in more than 30 years. The last official visit to SA by a sitting UK Prime Minister was in 2011.

Weather permitting‚ May will also visit Robben Island when she is in Cape Town.

The presidency said on Monday that May’s working visit followed bilateral meetings between her and Ramaphosa during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April and the G7 in Canada in June.

The two leaders discussed potential partnerships between the UK and SA, and efforts to strengthen bilateral trade and investment relations.

The presidency said May's visit would serve to further cement economic relations built up over several decades.

The UK was SA’s sixth-largest global trading partner in 2017‚ with total trade at R79.5bn. The UK also remains the key source of long-haul tourism to SA‚ with nearly 448‚000 visitors in 2017.

May will present Ramaphosa with the SS Mendi Bell‚ which was found in the English Channel a year ago.

In 1917‚ the SS Mendi and a large cargo steamship‚ Darro‚ collided in the English Channel‚ south of the Isle of Wight. The Mendi sank‚ killing 646 people‚ most of whom were black South African troops.

The Mendi was chartered by the British government as a troop carrier to serve in World War 1‚ carrying 823 members of SA’s 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.

Brexit looms

May will also visit Kenya and Nigeria on the five-day tour.

She will emphasise the importance to Europe of investing in stability and security in Africa in order to stem the flow of migrants seeking refuge on European shores.

"It is in the world’s interest to help secure African stability, jobs and growth because conflict, poor work prospects and economic instability will continue to encourage migration and dangerous journeys to Europe," her office said.

She will be accompanied by 29 business executives from companies including FTSE 100 bank Standard Chartered and London-based start-up Farm.ink, which has created an information-sharing mobile platform for farmers.

May is also trying to strengthen ties with economies outside the EU as the clock ticks down towards Britain’s scheduled departure from the world’s largest trade bloc in March.

The UK sees potential in a continent with a young and growing population — currently 16% of the world’s total — but which attracts just 3% of foreign direct investment and accounts for just 3% of global goods trade.

"As we prepare to leave the European Union, now is the time for the UK to deepen and strengthen its global partnerships," May said. "A more prosperous, growing and trading Africa is in all of our interests."

May departs as hardened eurosceptics in her ruling Conservative party are pressing to rip up her blueprint for keeping close ties to the EU goods market after Brexit.

With just seven months left before the March 29 exit, concern is growing in the financial markets that negotiations could break down without an agreement.

The prime minister has ordered her top officials to attend a special cabinet meeting on September 13, with a focus on contingency planning for a departure without an agreement, according to The Sunday Times.

The meeting, first reported by Bloomberg News, will take stock of preparations so far and plan what further actions are needed.

UK ministers are split on the impact of a no-deal Brexit. Last week, chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond warned Britain would be £80bn worse off without an agreement.

But in an interview with The Sunday Times, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said such forecasts should be treated with "a measure of caution" because they’ve been "wrong" in the past.

While it is May’s first visit to the region as premier, she visited Tunisia as home secretary.

Business chiefs

After her meeting with Ramaphosa on Tuesday, she flies to Abuja on Wednesday to see Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, and then to Nairobi on Thursday for a meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The business delegation includes Standard Chartered CEO Bill Winters, London Stock Exchange Group CEO David Schwimmer and Scotch Whisky Association CEO Karen Betts.

Other companies and organisations represented include Bechtel UK, CDC Group, the City of London Corporation, the Financial Conduct Authority, JCB, Mabey Bridge, and Mott Macdonald.

Bloomberg and staff writers