Belgium royal couple visits South Africa to cement trade ties

King Phillippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium are in the country for a five-day visit, their first state to an African country since 1979.

During their stay in the country, they will visit Gauteng and Cape Town.

In 1994, as crown prince, Phillippe attended Nelson Mandela’s swearing-in as the country’s first black president, and in 2006 he led a trade mission with Mathilde.

He came back to the country as king during the funeral of Mandela in 2013.

The king and queen’s official programme kicks off on Thursday with a reception hosted by President Cyril Ramaphosa and a state banquet in Pretoria.

The programme includes a series of political, economic, academic and cultural events, as well as visits to the townships. 

Belgium ambassador to South Africa Paul Jansen said: “The state visit is a reflection of the strength of the relationship that exists between Belgium and South Africa.

“The warm friendship that the two nations enjoy and the status of both countries as strong trade partners.” 

Belgium is listed as the fifth-largest exporter and third-largest European Union importer of goods to and from South Africa.

Chemical products, machinery and minerals are among the chief exports of Belgium to South Africa. The country’s imports from South Africa include precious stones, transport equipment and chemical products. 

“South Africa is an attractive investment destination for Belgian companies and an alluring business and leisure tourism destination,” Jansen said, noting that South Africa is the largest economy on the African continent with significant growth potential.

“It is no surprise that several Belgian companies have recently made significant South African investments and are in partnership with South African companies in sectors as diverse as food processing and mining.”

A total of 140 people are travelling with the royal couple, including Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, Walloon minister-president Elio Di Rupo, his Brussels counterpart Rudi Vervoort and Flemish finance minister Matthias Diependaele.

Business leaders and academics also form part of the entourage. The delegation will visit Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town and is due to return to Belgium on Monday.

The aim of the visit is to strengthen ties between Belgium and South Africa, which is Africa’s second-largest economy and plays a leading role on the continent.

Alongside Russia, China, India and Brazil, South Africa is one of the Brics countries, identified as rising economic global powers.

Despite this, it faces a number of challenges including a high debt burden amid slowing economic growth, and daily power cuts as electricity.

As well as being an important trading partner, South Africa is home to the largest Belgian community on the continent, with an estimated 10 000 Belgians living in the country.

“Their Majesties look forward to meeting South Africans from all walks of life: people who represent the immense cultural diversity and texture of the country and who validate Belgium’s investment and friendship with South Africa.”

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