According to a report in Sunday Times, the reason former president Jacob Zuma didn’t attend former US president Barack Obama’s Mandela centenary speech in Johannesburg and the gala dinner on Tuesday night this week was because he no longer has access to a private jet.
However, an analyst the paper consulted, Mcebisi Ndletyana, said the real reason was probably due to Zuma being unpopular in Gauteng and fearing being booed.
He was the only democratic-era president not to be at the Obama speech. His spokesperson, Vukile Mathabela, said being forced to fly commercial had made the logistics of moving Zuma around too difficult.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation confirmed they had invited Zuma, but Zuma instead attended and spoke at Mvezo village, Nelson Mandela’s birthplace 100 years ago, at an event organised by Chief Mandla Mandela in the Eastern Cape. Ndletyana said Mandla and Zuma had “close ties”.
Mathabela, though, said it had simply been a matter of balancing Zuma’s diary and the difficulties of booking commercial flights.
Zuma made headlines earlier this year for unexpectedly flying aboard budget airline Kulula.
The former president did not respond to the foundation’s invitations and is understood to have a “frosty” relationship with it after facing criticism from the Mandela foundation during his presidency.
Zuma was booed at Mandela’s memorial service at FNB Stadium in 2013, where Obama had also been a speaker.