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31 Mar 2014 13:33
President Jacob Zuma. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)
South African President Jacob Zuma will miss a European Union-Africa summit tinged with controversy in Brussels this week because of "other commitments", the department of international relations and co-operation said on Monday.
Pretoria would not say if Zuma's decision was taken in solidarity with long-time Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose government called for a boycott of the meeting after his wife, Grace, was refused a visa to attend.
The couple have been banned from visiting the EU but as head of state, Mugabe is still allowed to attend international forums.
Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for South Africa's department of international relations and co-operation, said on Monday that "the president has other commitments".
Zuma has been on the receiving end of withering criticism recently for using millions in state funds to upgrade his private family residence in Nkandla. But it has been reported that Zuma on Sunday denied using state funds, following the public protector's findings on his Nkandla homestead.
"I did not use taxpayers' money," he told Gugulethu residents on Sunday, according to a New Age report.
"They put in windows that I don’t even want.
Then they turn around and say this fellow used the government's money."
His address followed public protector Thuli Madonsela's release of a 400-page report titled Secure in Comfort ?on March 19, which found that the president should pay back a portion of the R246-million in state funds that was spent on refurbishments at Nkandla.
Elections are due to take place on May 7 and although the Zuma-led ANC is forecast to win, the vote is expected to be the most competitive since South Africa became a democracy in 1994.
Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane will represent South Africa at the two-day EU-Africa summit, which starts on Wednesday.
South Africa's foreign ministry said the summit will "afford Africa and Europe the opportunity to further strengthen political and socioeconomic co-operation between the two continents".
Mugabe (90) will chair the AU next year in a one-year rotating post.
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