President Ramaphosa to press Sunak on tripling of South African students

President Cyril Ramaphosa is urging Rishi Sunak to triple the number of South Africans studying in the UK as he seeks to foster closer business ties.

In an address during his state visit on Tuesday, Mr Ramaphosa argued for greater trade and investment opportunities including to help his nation deal with power blackouts.

He said he would press the Prime Minister for a three-fold increase of South African PHD students in the UK when they meet for lunch in Downing Street on Wednesday.

Mr Ramaphosa made the remarks in a speech in Parliament’s Royal Gallery, becoming the first South African president to address MPs and Peers since Nelson Mandela in 1996.

He said more than 800 South Africans have benefited from the Chevening scholarship programme, and there are over 130 South African PhD candidates studying in the UK.

“I would like to see these numbers being increased threefold. And when I meet the Prime Minister tomorrow that’s particularly the message I’m going to pass on to him,” the president said.

“I hope he’s here and he’s listening ahead of my discussions with him tomorrow.”

Mr Sunak, who attended a guard of honour for the president and will join him at a Buckingham Palace banquet, was not in the audience, but former prime minister Boris Johnson was, as were Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who wants to cut immigration, and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Ramaphosa spoke of “new and exciting ways” for British businesses to build closer ties as he rebuilds South Africa from the coronavirus pandemic and years of “grand corruption”.

“There are few countries that have the depth of experience and knowledge of the South African economy than Britain. British companies need to use this advantage to greater effect to seek out opportunities in our country for investment and trade,” he said.

The president said economic reforms including a major restructuring of the energy market to “address severe power shortages” make for “great opportunities for foreign investment, for innovation and partnership”.

Mr Ramaphosa said the UK-South Africa relationship has “had its ups and downs”, with his nation having won independence from the British Empire.

“But I want to capitalise on its ups because it’s through capitalising on the positive sides of our relationship that we’re able to have a mutually beneficial future,” he said.

He urged the UK to “raise its voice in favour of more representative and more inclusive international bodies”, including the UN security council and global financial institutions.

And he called for industrialised nations to pay significant compensation to developing nations to help them tackle the climate crisis.

“This should not be seen as charity. It is compensation for the harm done – and the harm yet to be done – to people in developing economies as a consequence of the industrialisation that wealthy countries have had over many years,” he said.

Mr Ramaphosa, who was addressed by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and his Lords counterpart Lord McFall, became the first foreign leader to get a state visit under the new King.

The Prime Minister said he wants to “turbocharge infrastructure investment and economic growth together” with South Africa ahead of meeting the president.

They were launching an infrastructure partnership to support South Africa’s economic growth through major infrastructure developments and offering increased access to UK companies to projects worth up to £5.37 billion over the next three years.

Mr Sunak said: “South Africa is already the UK’s biggest trading partner on the continent, and we have ambitious plans to turbocharge infrastructure investment and economic growth together.”