President Jacob Zuma has pulled out of a high-level gathering aimed at marketing South Africa to foreign investors after Britain refused to grant him an official audience with Prime Minister David Cameron.
Instead, the British offered Zuma a meeting with Cameron’s deputy, Nick Clegg, which the president refused.
On Friday, the presidency issued a statement saying Zuma “will no longer attend the 3rd annual innovaBRICS conference in London”, which takes place tomorrow.
The innovaBRICS & Beyond Conference is meant to promote trade in South Africa and other Brics countries in the UK. It also presents many opportunities for networking.
Zuma would have been there from yesterday until Tuesday.
It is the second time this year Zuma has cancelled a visit to the UK at short notice, something which is not likely to go down well in diplomatic circles.
He was to have attended an official memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Westminster Abbey in February, but cancelled at short notice.
“That did damage and a number of people asked whether he would really come this time,” said a source close to diplomatic circles.
“Doing it once was bad enough, but to do it twice? This time he wasn’t invited by Britain though.”
However, South African government officials downplayed the cancellation, saying it was protocol for a visiting head of state to meet and greet the head of state of the host country.
“It wouldn’t look right for the president to go and address a conference without speaking to the prime minister,” said a government official.
The presidency has since denied that Zuma cancelled his trip because of Cameron.
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