Royal pomp and even some rare sunshine welcomed South African President Jacob Zuma to Oslo on Wednesday, and the day’s activities were restricted to ceremony and diplomacy. Politics would follow during Zuma’s official state visit to Norway, but it was unclear whether disagreements between Norway and South Africa over Libya, for example, would be addressed.
Zuma also left political controversy at home to travel to Norway in a reciprocal visit following King Harald’s and Queen Sonja’s official visit to South Africa in 2009. He brought with him one of his five wives, Tobeka Zuma, and both were welcomed in traditional royal style on the plaza in front of the Royal Palace as the canons at the historic Akershus Fortress fired a welcome salute.
The South African president and King Harald inspected the Royal Guards, chatted with children who had been ushered onto the site, and listened to the national anthem of South Africa. From there the entourage headed to the Parliament to make a courtesy call on its president, Dag Terje Andersen, before the royals hosted a lunch back at the palace.
Then it was off to the Akershus Fortress and Castle for wreath-laying at the national monument, and a stop at the Oslo Cathedral, where both Zuma and his wife laid down more flowers in honor of the 77 persons killed in the July 22 attacks by a right-wing extremist.
King Harald and Queen Sonja then took the Zumas to the Nobel Peace Center, which honors Nobel Peace Prize winners like African National Congress (ANC) leader Albert Lutuli in 1960, Bishop Desmond Tutu in 1984 and Nelson Mandela and Fredrik de Klerk in 1993. Norway also provided a lot of support to the ANC during the struggle to end apartheid. The Zumas met representatives of Norwegian anti-apartheid organization at the Nobel Peace Center.
The day ended with a gala dinner at the Royal Palace, where the Zumas are staying during their two-day visit. As guests dined on cured moose from Sikkilsdalen, where the royals have a mountain lodge, roasted veal and vegetables and plums from the garden at the royal estate on Bygdøy, King Harald spoke of the “common values” Norway and South Africa share in the form of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech, human rights and respect for diversity.
“This visit is taking place against the backdrop of the horrendous acts of violence that struck Norway on 22 July,” King Harald said. “The shock and grief we felt when we began to realize the scale of the terror was devastating. Yet we are not frightened. We will fight this message of hate, and we will come out even stronger than before.”
The king thanked the president “and South Africans from all walks of life” for the solidarity and sympathy extended towards Norwegians. “The fact that the world mourns with us has had a tremendous impact and made it less painful for us to absorb the shock and trauma,” the king said.
He also spoke of the “firm platform for our relations,” built on the anti-apartheid movement, and noted that “South Africa has come a long way” since apartheid ended. While challenges remain to “equalize living conditions between the affluent minority and the under-privileged majority,” King Harald congratulated Zuma on the hosting of the Soccer World Cup last year, and said an upcoming UN climate conference in December “will be crucial in the efforts to ascertain iternational measures to fight climate change.”
Disagreements remain: South Africa has criticized the UN-backed and NATO-led bombing of Libya, in which Norway participated, and has indicated unwillingness to criticize dictatorships in Burma and Zimbabwe as well as Libya. South Africa also hasn’t wanted to turn over Libya’s frozen assets to the opposition forces that appear to have toppled longtime leader Moamar Gadhafi, arguing there hasn’t been a democratic election in Libya yet and the world should be careful about to whom it hands the money.
Meanwhile Zuma faces opposition in South Africa, from within the ANC, where younger forces want to replace him. His trip to Norway may have posed a welcome break from the troubles back home, even though Thursday’s agenda called for some political discussions with Norwegian leaders and business meetings as well.
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