South African President Jacob Zuma has made a last minute decision not to attend this week's European Union (EU) - Africa summit, which is facing a boycott led by Robert Mugabe.
The fourth EU - Africa Summit will take place on Wednesday and Thursday this week in Belgium, and plans to bring together African and EU leaders under the theme 'Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace.'
Some African leaders, including Zambia's Michael Sata, have already started arriving in Brussels ahead of the meeting. But it was announced this weekend that Zuma would not be joining his counterparts. Instead, Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane will represent South Africa at the meeting.
South Africa's Presidency has not said if Zuma's withdrawal from the summit is linked to Mugabe's boycott threat, with the 90 year old ZANU PF leader lashing out at Europe for 'dictating' the makeup of the African delegations. Mugabe was left fuming after his wife Grace was not invited to attend the Brussels gathering and was refused a travel visa.
Mugabe's boycott threat was last week then echoed by an organ of the AU, which recommended that the entire African bloc not attend the summit. Zimbabwe's Foreign Affairs Minister, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, said a meeting of the AU's Peace and Security Council held in Ethiopia Wednesday recommended that Africa boycotts the summit if the EU 'insisted' on determining the composition of country delegations.
Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for South Africa's department of international relations and co-operation, said on Monday that Zuma "has other commitments," and would not elaborate further.
The South African leader however was quoted by the national SABC broadcaster as saying: "I think that time must pass wherein we are looked as subjects; we are told who must come, who must not come, we have not attempted to decide when we meet Europe; who must come and who must not come. It is wrong and causes this unnecessary unpleasantness."
Mugabe has reportedly also been angered by the EU's decision not to invite his Sudanese counterpart, Omar al-Bashir, who faces war crimes and genocide charges before the International Criminal Court. Also left off the invite list is the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, an AU member, with the African bloc accusing the EU of trying to undermine the AU's authority and sovereignty. Eritrea has also been barred from attending because of its human rights record.
Exiled Zimbabwean journalist Tanonoka Whande said Monday that the EU is again facing a credibility crisis, by bending the rules for some "dictators" and not others. Mugabe himself was originally not set to attend the meeting, because he remains targeted with European restrictive measures. These same measures have prevented his wife from travelling to the EU.
"This shows the inconsistency of the EU. Why are the rules being bent to accommodate Mugabe?" Whande questioned, calling the move "sanctions busting."
Meanwhile Rose Benton, the coordinator of the London based protest group, the Zimbabwe Vigil, said that a demonstration will be held at the Brussels meeting this week.
"We felt we should be there. We are protesting about the lack of the rule of law in Zimbabwe and Europe's support of an illegal regime. It seems Europe doesn't care about Zimbabweans and we need to protest this," Benton said.