Durban - President Cyril Ramaphosa joined a list of world leaders in paying tribute to one of the richest monarchs in the world, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed AI Nahyan, who died on Friday.
Sheikh Khalifa, who was also the ruler of Abu Dhabi, had been ill for a long time after suffering a stroke in 2014. The cause of his death has not been confirmed yet.
As per Islamic tradition, he was interred on the same day at the AI Bateen Cemetery in Abu Dhabi in the presence of his loved ones.
Ramaphosa said in a statement: “We offer our deepest condolences to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al -Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and acting president of the United Arab Emirates, as well as to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
“We extend our sympathies to the rulers and royal family as well as the government and people of the United Arab Emirates. We mourn with them and share their loss,” he said.
Ramaphosa recalled that Sheikh Khalifa had presided over major political reforms and made significant contributions to the socio-economic relations between the democratic South Africa and the UAE and in promoting the interests of the South African government and people.
Sheikh Khalifa was born in 1948 and came to power as the 16th ruler of Abu Dhabi after the passing of his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, in 2004.
The UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs said it would be undertaking a 40-day official mourning period with flags at half-mast, and three days of closure of ministries and official entities at the federal and local levels and the private sector.
News Agency Wam announced that Sheikh Khalifa has been succeeded by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The announcement was made following a meeting in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
Sheikh Mohammed had been working alongside his brother, who had been battling with poor health.
Sheikh Khalifa will be remembered for the world’s tallest man-made structure, which was initially called Burj Dubai but later renamed Burj Khalifa to honour him after he donated billions of dollars to pay off its debt in 2020.
He also controlled barrels of oil reserves and chaired the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
Other leaders who paid tribute to Sheikh Khalifa included US President Joe Biden.
“Sheik Khalifa was a true partner and friend of the United States throughout his decades-long tenure as president of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and in his earlier role as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi,” Biden said.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed their condolences, while vice-president Venkaiah Naidu will visit the UAE on Sunday to offer condolences to the UAE leadership on behalf of the government of India.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will also travel to the UAE on Sunday to pay his country’s respects.
A statement from his office said Johnson who was deeply saddened to learn of Sheikh Khalifa’s death. He will also use the visit "to reinforce the close bond between the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates, which will continue under the presidency of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan".
French President Emmanuel Macron will also travel to Abu Dhabi on Sunday to express his condolences, according to his office.