Zuma chooses Mugabe over Mandela

HARARE - President Jacob Zuma is too busy to attend a memorial service for Nelson Mandela at Westminster Abbey in London tomorrow — but he has found time to be at a Mugabe family wedding and visit a Free State chicken farm.

Ironically, the date of the memorial had been changed specifically so that Zuma could attend.

The visit to the chicken farm took place in Reitz on Friday, and on Saturday Zuma flew to Harare for the lavish wedding of Robert and Grace Mugabe’s only daughter, Bona.

Zuma’s schedule initially included a “working visit” to the UK from today until tomorrow, which would have included the Westminster service.

But his spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said the president’s diary was “always subject to change”.

He said earlier this week that Zuma was now too busy with domestic issues to attend.

Maharaj denied that the cancellation of the London trip could be seen as a snub.

“He has sent the second-highest office (Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe) and two ministers to London.

“I have seen some articles saying this is a snub. This is not a snub — people are wrong,” he said.

Motlanthe had been scheduled to campaign in Soweto yesterday, but had to change this plan.

Mandela is believed to be the first non-Briton to be honoured with such an event at the 1 000-year-old abbey, where generations of royal family members have been crowned and buried.

About 1 800 people are expected to attend, including British Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Harry.

The date of the service was originally planned for February 11, the anniversary of Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, but it was changed so that Zuma, who was preparing for his annual state of the nation address then, could attend.

Last week, the organisers were told that the president could not attend tomorrow’s event either.

A spokesperson for the abbey, Duncan Jeffrey, confirmed that Zuma had sent his apologies and admitted the organisers were “disappointed”.

It had been reported that Queen Elizabeth might attend the service. This week, however, after Zuma pulled out, Buckingham Palace informed the abbey that Prince Harry would represent her.

Zuma was one of the African heads of state at the wedding of Bona Mugabe, 24, and Simba Chikore in Harare yesterday.


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