Inside President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 70th birthday celebrations

17 November 2022 - 15:20
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President Cyril Ramaphosa celebrates his 70th birthday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa celebrates his 70th birthday.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa walked into his hotel suite in Bali on Wednesday, he was surprised to find a chocolate cake, side plates and a knife on the table, along with a waiting delegation of formally dressed staff led in song by international relations minister Naledi Pandor.

Ramaphosa, who turned 70 on Thursday, excitedly put his hands together as Happy Birthday degenerated into chants of “How old are you now?”

In a video shared on Twitter a gushing Ramaphosa says, “Oh my God.”

The pre-birthday celebrations began while Ramaphosa was participating in the G20 Leaders Summit held in Bali, Indonesia. He had just finished recording a special message intended for the Eastern Cape Investment Summit when he found people in his room.

Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said: “When he walked back in, he was not expecting to see us. We started singing, and he was blushing slightly.”

Ramaphosa then left the room to the summit venue for the bilateral discussions with other world leaders.

On his way back to South Africa from the summit, the presidential jet Inkwazi made a routine stop in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to refuel. This is where another surprise awaited the president.

“Normally when we travel on flights longer than 10 hours we stop to refuel, so on our way to Bali the president made a routine stop in Sri Lanka, and the ambassador and staff served us tea and coffee,” said Magwenya.

On the flight back, Inkwazi made the same stop in Sri Lanka to refuel, but the team was shocked when they were ushered into another part of the airport controlled by the Sri Lankan Air Force.

“There we were welcomed by a group of bagpipe players, and we thought it was colourful and interesting, but we had no idea what awaited us.

“The president of Sri Lanka and other senior officials from the air force surprised the president with an amazing dinner, hospitality and dance show in honour of his 70th birthday.”

A square traditional Sri Lankan cake was brought onto the table with traditional Sri Lankan music playing in the background.

“Wow, this is unbelievable!” said Ramaphosa with open arms.

The Sri Lankan president and other dignitaries then sang for Ramaphosa while a single green candle was lit. He cut the cake and blew out the light from the candle.

“The president did not know, it was a pleasant surprise and by far the best refuelling experience. He was not expecting such a level of hospitality from the Sri Lankan government,” said Magwenya.

After refuelling, Ramaphosa and his delegation made their way back to South Africa, and when the clock struck midnight on November 17, members of the SA Air Force in the presidential jet brought out another chocolate cake and sang for the president.

“It was fun because the pilots left the plane on autopilot and came out to sing for the president with all the other staff.

“He again took pictures with the crew, and you could see he was blushing, overwhelmed and enjoyed the love and warmth shown from Bali, the people of Sri Lanka and the Inkwazi crew.

“It’s been a lovely celebration thus far, considering the punishing schedule he has had over the past couple of weeks. Today he is at home, and we hope he will have a wonderful rest with his family.”

Despite all the challenges Ramaphosa is juggling, Magwenya said he remains in “good spirits”.

“The president has a manner of just dealing with situations in a way that does not come across as unsettled and unsure. He is in very good spirits, I think he is really going to enjoy his birthday celebration.”

Ramaphosa, who will spend the rest of Thursday with family, will spend Friday in KwaZulu-Natal, and on Saturday he will continue celebrating his birthday at the Adopt-a-School Foundation’s back to school party raising funds to support schools.

As it marks its 20-year milestone, the foundation said it has contributed more than R1.2bn in more than 640 schools nationally, reaching more than 1.5-million pupils and more than 38,000 school pupils and educators.

Reflecting on the programme, Ramaphosa said pupils from Adopt-a-School were guided on bursaries for tertiary study, with some joining the Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust. 

“The trust originates from the days when I was SG [secretary-general] of the ANC and assisted a few students with bursaries. Over the years the trust has assisted more than 370 students and now has 106 students on the programme,” he said.

“I am heartened by these and the many other successful educational support initiatives by civil society and non-governmental organisations and the private sector being implemented across the country. They prove active citizenship and the value of public-private partnerships in the development of basic education.”


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