SA Govt Downplays Zuma’s Absence At Mandela London Memorial

Pretoria, March 2, 2014 -The  South African Presidency has downplayed claims that the absence of President Jacob Zuma at the memorial service of former President Nelson Mandela in London is a lost opportunity to boost diplomatic ties between South Africa and its former colonial master Britain.  

President Zuma’s last minute decision to pull-out from attending the royal event was met with “disappointment” and “scepticism” by some prominent British politicians and anti-Apartheid Movement activists.  

Newly appointed South Africa’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Obed Mlaba, has however rebuffed reports that President Zuma’s absence was a deliberate snub to British authorities. 

 “We all do appreciate how busy we are as South Africans.  We are aware how busy our President is right now. Besides the elections, there are so many demands of his time and there is nothing different from the president…  Where he can’t make it we go and close those gaps.”

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was instead expected to lead a government delegation to the service. He will be accompanied by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, and Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Collins Chabane.   

The historic service in honour of Madiba will be held at the Westminster Abbey on Monday. The service is believed to be the first major event to be staged in honour of a non-Briton. The 1000 year old Abbey is where generations of royal family members have been crowned and buried. 

Research Director at the British think-tank Chatham House, Alex Vines, explains the significance of Madiba’s royal memorial service.

“This is highly significant.  It’s extremely rare for a non-British person to be honoured with the state memorial service at Westminster Abbey.” 

“This is where the Queen of the United Kingdom is enthroned; it’s where the big funerals of state take place.  It’s an important statement that Nelson Mandela is recognised in living memory. There is nothing like that where somebody so significant as Nelson Mandela is honoured at Westminster Abbey.”

Chatham House’ Alex Vines says Madiba’s royal honour at Westminster Abbey should inspire South African leaders to emulate the former statesman’s moral values. 

The memorial event has been over-subscribed. About 1 800 people, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, will attend the ceremony. Prince Harry will stand in for his grand-mother Queen Elizabeth The Second.  

Chatham House’ Alex Vines says Madiba’s royal honour at Westminster Abbey should inspire South African leaders to emulate the former statesman’s moral values.

 “I hope that the honouring of him at West Minster Abbey reflects just how global and important he is. South Africans should not lose that vision, that South Africa’s new leadership post Mandela should reconnect with those values because that’s what makes South Africa truly special and unique.  That’s why Mandela is remembered in this massive ceremony in Westminster Abbey.”

SABC