British Prime Minister Theresa May kicked off a visit to South Africa likely to centre on how trade relations might be impacted by Brexit. File picture: Supplied/Dirco/Yandisa Monakali

Johannesburg -  British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday kicked off a visit to South Africa likely to centre on how trade relations might be impacted by her country's imminent exit from the European Union.

May's visit, her first to Africa as Prime Minister, will also take her to Kenya and Nigeria, making her the first British leader to visit the sub-Saharan region since 2013.

May's office said at the weekend the tour was a unique opportunity "as the UK moves towards Brexit, for a truly Global Britain to invest in and work alongside African nations, with mutual benefits".

It said her central message would focus on a renewed partnership between the UK and Africa to maximise shared opportunities and tackle common challenges in a continent that is growing at a rapid pace. Africa accounts for 16 percent of the world’s population but attracts just three percent of foreign direct investment and three percent of global goods trade.

The UK was South Africa’s 6th largest global trading partner in 2017, with total trade at R79.5 billion. Britain was South Africa’s 8th largest global export market for SA goods at R46.3 billion, while the UK also remained the largest importer for Africa's most advanced economy at R33.2 billion.

In addition, the UK is the key source of long-haul tourism to South Africa, with nearly 448 000 visitors recorded last year.

May is due on Tuesday to meet with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who secured a deal of over R800 million to help South Africa boost its struggling economy during a visit to the UK earlier this year to attend the Commonwealth heads of government meeting.

She is expected to announce further support to tackle instability across the sub-Saharan Africa region.

May is accompanied by a business delegation made up of 29 representatives from UK business, half of them small and medium enterprises.

In Nigeria, the British prime minister will meet President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja and spend time in Lagos meeting victims of modern slavery.

In Nairobi, she will meet Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and see British soldiers training troops from Kenya and other African countries in the techniques needed to identify and destroy improvised explosive devices before they go to fight Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

African News Agency (ANA)