Staff announcement: will the President come to Checkout One

Tom Peck joins Jacob Zuma on his historic visit – to Sainsbury's in Greenwich

Sandwiched between a morning at Downing Street and an afternoon at Wembley, this was to be just a normal, everyday trip to the supermarket: send the surveillance helicopter on ahead, park the high commission's Bentley out front, nip past the screaming primary-school children and all of a sudden you find yourself in the ready-meals aisle.

Much has been made of the state visit of the South African President Jacob Zuma, a man whose leadership of the Rainbow Nation has rarely passed without incident. This, though – the first ever trip to a UK supermarket by a visiting head of state – would surely be an innocuous enough affair?

Zuma's people, we were told, had specifically requested a trip to Sainsbury's flagship green supermarket in south-east London, which had been packed chock-full – for the day at least – of Fairtrade produce from the Cape. "South Africa is a land with lots of wind and sunlight," explained Sainsbury's chief executive, Justin King. The President was apparently keen to learn all about the pioneering solar-sensitive lighting and cold air recycling at the store in north Greenwich.

If the husband of three and father of 20 (that's Zuma, not King) was disappointed when his guide for the day, Hilary Benn, turned out to be a chap, he did not show it as the Environment Secretary guided him deftly past the shelves of prophylactics, and towards the hake fillets. Mr Zuma's wife, Thobeka Madiba, and entourage followed behind.

"The fish is sustainably sourced from a fishery in South Africa," King explained to the President. "It's certified by the Marine Stewardship Council." It did not perhaps look as appetising as the Pavé de Saumon Glamis served at the previous evening's state banquet – but it was still the Be Good To Yourself range.

Benn, meanwhile, had spotted a young mother and child oblivious to the growing fuss, and he sloped off for a quick gladhand by the chilled dairy. "Hello, how are you?" he asked.

"I'm Susan. Who are you?"

"Erm, I'm with the err... Sorry, you'll have to excuse me." Benn fled to join the touring party, leaving Susan to focus again on the yoghurts.

Zuma, King, Benn et al disappeared out the back doors to see the store's very own nature reserve. The President paused, utterly bemused, to inspect two old men in waders who were dredging the bottom of a pond. "The rainwater is recycled for use in the carwash!" chuntered King.

Tour complete, it was time for that most perilous stage of any diplomatic visit: the offering of a gift. Commemorative Jacob's Cream Crackers perhaps? A limited-edition Fairtrade "satzuma"? No. A Sport Relief T-shirt, with Beckham on the front and "PRESIDENT ZUMA" in block capitals on the back. They hoped he would wear it at Wembley, where Mr President was booked in to take a penalty in front of the assembled snappers.

And that was that.

Twenty-five minutes from start to finish, there hadn't even been time to use the presidential Nectar card.

Zuma hopped back in the Bentley – leaving Hilary Benn inside explaining to a bemused store manager the finer points of the effects of warmer winters on the Cape microclimate – and the security helicopter banked left over the Millennium Dome.

Next stop, the Olympic building site, where somebody would have to broach the topic of this alpha male consenting to wear a protective hard hat.

Zuma left quite an impression on the schoolchildren of south-east London. "It was amazing! He was amazing!" beamed Amira, eight, from the local Millennium Primary School. Her friend Mataya added: "You know he has 20 children. If I was a Zuma I would never be able to look after so much kids."

A downbeat Jessica, also eight, had other things on her mind. "When is the Jamie Oliver food coming? They said we could try Jamie Oliver food. My mum had to sign a permission slip and everything."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map