, LONDON, Mar 4 – South African President Jacob Zuma is expected to discuss the thorny issue of Zimbabwe with Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Thursday, during a state visit to Britain clouded by a polygamy row.
The head of state started his three-day trip on Wednesday with colour and pomp, and was greeted by Queen Elizabeth II on London\’s Horse Guards parade ground before heading to Buckingham Palace in a horse-drawn carriage.
Brown skipped his weekly grilling in parliament to attend the ceremony, before 67-year-old Zuma undertook a packed day of events including a state banquet attended by the royals and leading politicians.
But controversy has overshadowed his trip after sections of the British press criticised the president over his polygamy and a lovechild scandal, and the president hit back accusing the papers of colonial attitudes.
Thursday\’s agenda focuses on matters of politics and cooperation between Britain and South Africa, as Zuma and Brown hold discussions in Downing Street.
The main focus of the talks is expected to be Zimbabwe and the way ahead for the fragile unity government in Harare.
On the eve of his state visit Zuma repeated his call for international sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle to be lifted, saying they were not helping the beleaguered administration.
"If they could lift sanctions, that would give Zimbabwe an opportunity to move forward," the president said, quoted by the Daily Telegraph.
Other issues expected to form part of discussions are trade, climate change and an upcoming global non-proliferation conference in the United States.
Sporting events will also be on the agenda, ahead of the football World Cup in South Africa, which starts in June.
But attention has been distracted from the serious side of the trip, with Zuma unable to leave recent controversy back at home.
The president left South Africa embroiled in a major scandal over an out-of-wedlock daughter born in October to the daughter of a top World Cup organiser that has sparked questions about his fitness for office.
She is the 20th child for the polygamist leader, whose latest wife, Thobeka Madiba Zuma, is accompanying him on the trip. In all, the president has had five wives, although one died and he divorced another.
An opinion piece in the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper on the eve of the visit blasted the president as "a sex-obsessed bigot."
An angry Zuma hit back in an interview with the Johannesburg-based Star newspaper, saying the coverage was disrespectful of his Zulu culture and echoed the attitudes of the colonial era, when Britain ruled South Africa.
"When the British came to our country they said everything we are doing was barbaric, was wrong, inferior in whatever way…. I don\’t know why they are continuing thinking that their culture is more superior than others," he said.