PM Theresa May to hand over SS Mendi Bell in UK’s first SA working visit since 2011

Presidency media statement

President Cyril Ramaphosa will tomorrowTuesday, 28 August 2018, host Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on a working visit to South Africa.

The working visit follows bilateral meetings between President Ramaphosa and Prime Minister May during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London from 19 to 20 April 2018 and at the G7 in Canada on 08 to 09 June 2018.

During the bilateral engagements the two leaders discussed potential partnerships between the United Kingdom and South Africa and efforts to strengthen bilateral trade and investment relations.

The Working Visit by Prime Minister May seeks to further cement economic relations built up over several decades.

The last official visit to South Africa by a sitting UK Prime Minister was in 2011.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May at number 10 Downing Street. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Bilateral relations between South Africa and the United Kingdom are strong, covering a range of areas of cooperation linked to both governments’ priorities.

These relations are managed through a Bilateral Forum at Ministerial level which meets biennially.

The UK was South Africa’s 6th largest global trading partner in 2017, with total trade at R79.5 billion. The UK also remains the key source of long-haul tourism to South Africa, with nearly 448,000 visitors in 2017.

During tomorrow’s visit Prime Minister May will also present President Ramaphosa with the SS Mendi Bell which was found in the English Channel a year ago.

In 1917, the SS Mendi suffered disaster in what has been described as one of the 20th century’s worst maritime disasters in UK waters. On 21 February 1917, a large cargo steamship, Darro, collided with the Mendi in the English Channel, south of the Isle of Wight. 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 South Africa’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.

In 2017, the South African government commemorated the centenary of the sinking of SS Mendi which resulted in the loss of over 800 lives who were mainly South Africans.

The handing over of the SS Mendi Bell to the people of South Africa is a mark of respect for the shared history and bilateral friendship between the two countries.

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