Zuma cancels attendance at Man

Zuma cancels attendance at Mandela Memorial in London

As London prepares for the Nelson Mandela memorial service to be held at Westminster Abbey on Monday, President Jacob Zuma calls another rain-check. The service had been postponed to fit around Zuma’s schedule

Zuma cancels attendance at Man


SOUTH AFRICAN President Jacob Zuma will not make it to a “national thanksgiving service to celebrate the life and work of former South African president Nelson Mandela” scheduled to be held at Westminster Abbey in London at 12 noon on Monday, 3 March 2014.

The A-list event had specifically been moved before in order to accommodate Zuma’s plans for the State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Cape Town in mid-February. The memorial service had originally been intended to take place at the Westminster Abbey on 11 February 2014, but was postponed to fit around Zuma’s schedule.

The 1800 invitees were forced to change their own plans to 3 March 2014, but Westminster Abbey confirmed that there were no financial losses involved in the rescheduling. The reasons for Zuma’s pulling out of the event again are unclear, though government sources have stated a conflict with other work commitments in the president’s diary. Mandela’s memorial service in London is not the only event that Jacob Zuma had to miss because of his obligations back home; earlier in February, the President had also pulled out of attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, citing “work pressure at home”. The President will, however, be attending the wedding of Robert Mugabe’s daughter in Zimbabwe next weekend with apparently no conflicts on his agenda.

The news of Zuma’s changing the arrangements in London again was not greeted with enthusiasm on part of the organisers. Duncan Jeffery, spokesman for Westminster Abbey, said “it’s disappointing that the president cannot attend – but we are not in the business of recrimination.”

Instead of the president, a government delegation consisting of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and two Cabinet members – Performance Monitoring Minister Collins Chabane and International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane – will be sent to stand in for the South African government, alongside members and representatives of the Mandela family.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will also fly in to attend the memorial event and give the address at the service.

“It just means that where the president was supposed to be sitting, the deputy president will sit,” said spokesman Jeffery.

The United Kingdom will be represented by Prime Minister David Cameron as well as by UK opposition leader Ed Miliband. The Royal Family announced that they will be sending Prince Harry as their envoy to the event to represent Queen Elizabeth II. The choice of sending Harry is likely on account of his ongoing charity work for children affected by HIV/AIDS in southern Africa. Charles, Prince of Wales, had represented the Queen at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in Qunu, Eastern Cape, in December. The Queen had paid tribute to Nelson Mandela in statements issued following his death, praising Mandela’s achievements and saying he had “worked tirelessly for the good of his country, and his legacy is the peaceful South Africa we see today”.

Mandela’s memorial event will be held at the same place as where Elizabeth was crowned Queen. The 1000-year-old abbey is therefore a noteworthy choice for the event, as it has been the coronation church for England since 1066, and is also the final resting place of 17 British monarchs. No foreign dignitaries have ever been honoured with a service at Westminster Abbey before, setting a unique precedent for Mandela’s service.

Nelson Mandela had passed away last December, attracting global media attention and news coverage while putting South Africa in the spotlight. Political leaders and heads-of-state from around the world have since paid tribute to the father of the nation, with many leaders attending a memorial service in Johannesburg in December.

You can watch the event live in the UK; the service will be broadcast live on BBC2 from 11.30 am, with David Dimbleby giving the commentary.

By Sertan Sanderson, 2014