Johannesburg — The presidency fired another shot on Friday in support of Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the race for the position of chair of the African Union.
It said this weekend's AU summit in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia -- where the election of a new chair is on the agenda -- would be watched with keen interest.
This was especially true in view of the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) decision to nominate Dlamini-Zuma for the position.
"[She is a] candidate who has the required skills and competence, to lead the AU commission," the presidency said in a statement.
"The SADC candidate... should be afforded this opportunity to lead the AU commission."
The presidency also issued a reminder that the AU had adopted a policy on gender parity in its commission, and said the post had never been occupied by a woman.
"The African heads of state... would be sending a strong continental signal by appointing a woman of an exceptional calibre at the helm..."
There has been much controversy around the elections.
The French news agency Agence France Presse reported on Friday that SADC had accused sitting AU chief Jean Ping, who is Gabon's foreign minister, of abusing AU resources in his election race. The SADC was backing Dlamini-Zuma.
Neither Ping nor Dlamini-Zuma won the two-thirds majority needed at the previous summit, despite several rounds of voting, leaving Ping in the post until a new election could be held.
SADC was "alarmed" that Ping had used the AU's website and letterhead to respond to a South African media report which speculated that he was going to withdraw from the race, Botswana's foreign minister Phandu Skelemani said in a statement.
SADC said the candidates' campaigns should be funded from their personal resources and "we are therefore shocked and appalled by the blatant abuse of his office and resources of the AU commission".
Using AU channels to distribute his statement had made his response "an official statement of the African Union", it said.
Ping denied as "outright fallacy and fabrication" a report by the Sunday Times newspaper that he was pulling out of the race to allow Dlamini-Zuma to stand unopposed.
SADC said: "The conduct by the chairperson of the AU, namely abuse of AU resources... is unprecedented, and can bring disrepute to the integrity of the African Union.
"This therefore calls for an apology on his part."
Intense lobbying continued on Friday ahead of the AU summit.
The assembly of the union sits on Sunday and Monday. It was not immediately clear when the chair would be elected.
If no candidate is elected this time around, Ping, who has held the post since 2008, could legally be asked to continue as interim head until the next summit in January 2013.