Charles spoke movingly and with humour about his mother’s long relationship with the Commonwealth nation during a banquet speech to mark South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s two-day state visit to the UK.
The monarch also mentioned the sometimes troubled past relationship between the two nations that “provoke profound sorrow”, but said “we must acknowledge the wrongs which have shaped our past if we are to unlock the power of our common future”.
Strictly star Johannes Radebe, originally from South Africa, was among the 163 guests at the white-tie dinner, joining broadcaster Zeinab Badawi, interior designer Kelly Hoppen and endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh.
Royal glamour was on show with the royal women – Queen Consort, Princess of Wales and Countess of Wessex – wearing lavish banquet gowns and sparkling tiaras.
Leading national figures were also present from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to Lord Hain, the former Northern Ireland secretary and anti-apartheid campaigner, and Andrew Bailey – Governor of the Bank of England.
Charles drew a gasp from the president who said “wow” when the King said “welcome” in six languages spoken in South Africa.
The King went on to say: “The late Queen had the great pleasure of hosting Presidents Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma for State Visits to the United Kingdom, at all of which I was present. On each of those occasions, she expressed her admiration for your country and its people, its vibrancy, natural beauty and diversity.
“And she always talked warmly of her return to your country in 1995, as the guest of President Mandela, after the momentous events – driven from within South Africa and supported by so many around the world, including here in the United Kingdom – that brought democracy to your country.”
When Princess Elizabeth, the Queen famously pledged herself to her future role during a broadcast made in 1947 during a tour of South Africa with her parents and sister.
In the radio address made from Cape Town, she said: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family, to which we all belong.”
The King added: “During one of my own visits to South Africa, in 1997, President Mandela told me that he had conferred on my mother a special name – Motlalepula, meaning ‘to come with rain’.
“I have been reassured that this was a mark of the particular affection President Mandela felt for the Queen… rather than a remark on the British habit of taking our weather with us.”
The South African leader was earlier welcomed with a ceremony of pomp and pageantry at Horse Guards Parade with the King hosting a state visit for the first time as monarch.
The state visit featured other firsts for the royal family, with Charles presiding over his first state banquet, held in honour of the president, as monarch, and William and Kate attending for the first time in their new roles as the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Charles went on to tell the banquet guests: “It is only by working together across our countries and our generations that we will tackle some of the greatest challenges of our times.”
He added: “Perhaps, above all, we must find and implement practical solutions to the twin, existential threats of climate change and biodiversity loss.”
Commenting on the ties between the UK and South Africa the King went on to say: “Of course, that relationship goes back centuries. While there are elements of that history which provoke profound sorrow, it is essential that we seek to understand them.
“As I said to Commonwealth leaders earlier this year, we must acknowledge the wrongs which have shaped our past if we are to unlock the power of our common future.”
Guests dined on grilled brill, a delicate flat fish, followed by pheasant from the Windsor estate and for dessert iced vanilla parfait with caramelised apples.
Before the banquet Charles followed his mother’s tradition of touring the banqueting setting, in the palace’s ballroom, and inspected the huge horseshoe-shaped table which was decorated with flowers from Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.
The King requested sustainable blooms be used and the Queen Consort, who joined her husband, was shown in video footage posted on social media touching the flowers.