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Zuma's taste of British protocol

Published Mar 6, 2010


By Moshoeshoe Monare in London

President Jacob Zuma has joined an illustrious group of heads of state across the world and throughout history, becoming an honorary knight grand cross of the Order of the Bath.

The name of the order of chivalry is derived from the medieval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as a symbol of purification. Zuma, though, is more notorious for his advocacy of a shower for cleansing.

He joins US presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush (snr), France's Nicolas Sarkozy and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe however was stripped of his honourary knighthood in 2008 after a protest from Foreign Office against his human rights abuses.

Zuma - who was knighted on Wednesday before the state banquet at Buckingham Palace - responded by bestowing the Order of the Companion of OR Tambo on the queen, the highest South African honour for a foreign national.

The white-tie banquet turned communists such as Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande into noble gentlemen, at least for a night, decked out in full evening dress tails.

Nzimande, who is fonder of windbreakers emblazoned with the hammer and sickle, seemed uncomfortable.

The measured walk, the royal etiquette, the strict protocol-controlled sitting, the upper-class chit-chat and demeanour tamed the so-called Pirates of Polokwane who besieged Buckingham Palace.

One South African radio reporter joked that radical political delinquent, Julius Malema, should have been dragged along for a night of the taming of the shrews.

In deference to her guests and the country she once headed as a dominion, the queen wore the diamond necklace that was presented to her in South Africa in 1947 on her 21st birthday.

She wore a white satin dress with beaded bodice and full chiffon skirt by the royal couturier Stewart Parvin, while South African first lady Thobeka Madiba's wardrobe came from Shaban Creations and African Dust - young designers from KwaZulu-Natal.

Zuma's entourage was treated to the best Victorian splendour - which included the finest of the palace china.

The main course was served on Minton made for Queen Victoria in 1876, while dessert was served on a Rockingham service made for William IV.

The menu included pave de Saumon Glamis and 1963 royal vintage port. For the red-wine loving Nzimande, there was a 1986 Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac.

A presidential aide said the queen had been the epitome of grace, keeping the conversation going as Zuma smiled, nodded and did his usual "absolutely, wonderful".

The queen's repertoire included showing the president her pictures with Nelson Mandela and other South African-related moments.

The South African delegation were impressed by royal protocol, the royal titles and how Her Majesty's family had a role in everything, including briefing the presi- dent on the details of his schedule.

Zuma told South African journalists that he'd been stunned by the experience.

"You felt you were in the royal palace. You are quite careful about what you do... You couldn't just leave as if you were somewhere in Kwa-Mashu, you had to walk within the parameters.

"It was an enjoyable stay, quite something inside, quite huge, quite imposing.

"We had a situation where you couldn't just wake up and walk out and go on to the street and buy sweets... You have to be guided all the time, you have to be given some tips on how to deal with matters inside there," he told journalists yesterday.

The president caused a protocol nightmare on Thursday night when his programme at Wembley stadium took longer than expected, frustrating the royal military minders.

Zuma spent two nights at Buckingham Palace and he was given a farewell breakfast on Friday with Charles, Prince of Wales and held a round table discussion on climate change, the built environment and youth development, hosted by the prince at Clarence House.

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