No jet, no booing, so Jacob Zuma snubs Barack Obama for Mvezo

Jacob Zuma skipped the official celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s centenary because he no longer has access to a private jet.

Barack Obama greets Graça Machel at his presentation of the annual Nelson Mandela lecture this week.
Image: Alon Skuy

This was the response from Zuma’s office when asked why the former president did not make it to the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s lecture, delivered by Barack Obama, and the gala dinner, on Tuesday night.

Zuma was the only democratic-era president to snub both events.

Vukile Mathabela, Zuma’s spokesman, said logistical arrangements made it impossible for Zuma to attend the Wanderers Stadium event.

“Remember, things are no longer the same. We no longer have the luxury of a private jet, of moving between places with ease. We now fly commercially, therefore our travelling is no longer an easy one,” said Mathabela.

Luzuko Koti, a spokesman for the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said Zuma had been invited to attend the centenary celebrations.

He instead chose to attend an event organised by Madiba’s grandson Mandla Mandela at Mvezo village in the Eastern Cape.

Koti said Zuma failed to respond to invitations to the lecture and dinner.

According to Koti, this was in contrast with Thabo Mbeki, who told the foundation that he would attend only the dinner.

“President Mbeki, through his office, came back to us and inquired whether it was possible to attend only one of the two events,” said Koti.

“President Zuma’s office did not accept and there was no response to say he is not available or he has got a busy schedule … and we do not interrogate people on why they are not answering our invites.”

Zuma had a frosty relationship with the Nelson Mandela Foundation during his presidency.

The foundation accused him of betraying Mandela’s dream of clean governance and called for Zuma to step down from the presidency.

Political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana said he was “not surprised” that Zuma stayed away from the Obama lecture.

He said the Johannesburg event was the “antithesis” of what the Zuma presidency represented.


“It would have been difficult for Zuma, and I think one could anticipate the kind of things that Obama was going to talk about in commemorating Mandela and what he stood for, and Zuma represents the very opposite of Madiba’s legacy,” said Ndletyana.

“Remember, JZ was booed at Mandela’s memorial service, which ironically was addressed among others by Obama.

“He did not attend [Ahmed] Kathrada’s funeral and was booed at the ANC 108 celebrations early this year, so his bad legacy has begun to haunt him and I doubt he would attend any national events of that nature because he is an iconic representation of unethical and corrupt leadership.”

[Zuma’s] bad legacy has begun to haunt him

Political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana

Ndletyana said he believed Zuma chose to attend the Mvezo celebrations because of his close ties with Mandla Mandela.

“Mandla was very instrumental in getting Nelson Mandela to ANC events and activities ahead of the 2009 elections, when the old man was still alive and Zuma was president of the ANC.

“So Mandla used Mandela to lend legitimacy to the JZ project, so there is that connection between Mandla and Zuma and the latter used that angle to choose Mvezo instead of the Obama lecture.”

But Zuma’s spokesman said Zuma’s decision to skip the Johannesburg events was no big deal because “not all presidents attended the Mvezo celebrations”.

“It is a question of balancing the diary,” said Mathabela.

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