Zuma angers Qatari delegation over change in plans due to protest 'embarrassment' - sources

2017-04-11 20:53
President Jacob Zuma walks during a site visit at Westonaria Agri-Park. (Lerato Sejake, News24)

President Jacob Zuma walks during a site visit at Westonaria Agri-Park. (Lerato Sejake, News24)

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Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma has allegedly rearranged a state visit with the Emir of Qatar due to the "embarrassment" of the National Day of Action scheduled for Wednesday - the same day he was meant to host the state leader.

The move has allegedly raised the ire of Qatari delegation members who are frustrated at being treated like "yoyos".

The event, which was initially scheduled for Wednesday evening, was moved up to Tuesday night at the 11th hour instead.

The Presidency has denied that the anti-Zuma protests were the cause, saying the change to the schedule happened "after consultation between the two countries".

"The state visit was always today and tomorrow," Presidency spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga told News24.

"Marches to the Union Buildings have not prevented the president from executing his duties or the Presidency from functioning before."

'Embarrassment'

But highly placed sources say otherwise.

"We were meant to host the Emir of Qatar on a state visit on Wednesday. Yesterday [Monday evening] the president [on the advice of security agencies] moved it to tonight [Tuesday] to avoid the embarrassment of his guest witnessing the protesters," the source said.

"Everything was moved: logistics, protocol, arrangements. The emir and his delegation were informed accordingly. They were not happy but accepted given the domestic political climate. This morning Zuma again changed his mind, saying we should stick to Wednesday. When the emir and his people were told, they blew their tops and refused to be treated like yoyos."

The source said it was eventually decided to host the event on Tuesday evening - "the first ever historic state visit hosted by Zuma at night".

"The Presidency will issue a statement saying this was at the request of the emir. It's a lie. We requested it because we're scared of what will happen tomorrow."

A source close to the Qatari royal family confirmed that the protests were the reason for the change in schedule.

"The Presidency cancelled due to protests. From Wednesday to tonight then back to Wednesday then back to tonight. The Qataris are upset. They feel they are not being taken seriously. They have lots of money and could have closed some investment gaps," the source said.

Changes in schedule

Ngqulunga, however, insisted that the change of plans was not as a result of the protests.

"On Friday last week there was a march to the Union Buildings and yet the work of government continued. In October 2015, the president held a meeting at the Union Buildings while thousands of students were at the south lawns demanding free education. So any march to the Union Buildings will never stop the functioning of government," he said.

In a media statement, the Presidency said His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani was on a two-day state visit to SA.

"The state visit aims to deepen and strengthen the already existing good political, economic and social relations. The visit by the emir will further review progress in South Africa-Qatar bilateral political and economic relations and identify three short-term projects in the fields of trade and investment, agriculture and oceans economy. The emir's visit follows the successful state visit by President Zuma to the State of Qatar in May 2016."

The Presidency did not give an explanation for the change in schedule.

The Department of International Relations and Co-operation referred all queries to the Presidency.

The National Day of Action follows anti-Zuma protests on Friday where thousands of people took to the streets, calling for Zuma to step down.

The protests were sparked by Zuma's recent Cabinet reshuffle which saw former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas fired. The move resulted in the country being downgraded to junk status by two ratings agencies.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  pretoria  |  national day of action  |  protests  |  politics

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