Johannesburg - Deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe will attend a memorial service for Nelson Mandela at the Westminster Abbey in London amid criticism over President Jacob Zuma's decision not to go.
“The deputy president is accompanied by the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and the Minister in the Presidency Mr Collins Chabane and senior officials,” said presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj in a statement.
ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte would represent the party at the service, scheduled to take place on Monday.
Various Mandela family members were also due to attend.
In the statement, Zuma was quoted as saying that the service “demonstrates how this global icon that is Madiba touched many lives and hearts”.
The presidency's statement came on the same day that the Sunday Times reported that a previous schedule of Zuma had indicated he would have been in the United Kingdom from Sunday until Tuesday for a “working visit” - which would have included the memorial service.
However, instead Zuma was in Zimbabwe at the weekend, where he attended the wedding of president Robert Mugabe's daughter.
Maharaj told the newspaper that Zuma's schedule was “always subject to change” and denied that the altered plans for the president were a snub.
“This is not a snub - people are wrong.”
About 1800 people are expected attend the service - which is believed to be the first one held for a non-Briton at the abbey.
The Sunday Times reported that the memorial organisers had changed the date of the memorial from February 11 to March 3 to accommodate Zuma - who at the time of the former date would have been busy with preparations for his State of the Nation Address.
Abbey spokesman Duncan Jeffrey told the newspaper that Zuma had sent apologies. He said organisers were “disappointed” about the president not attending.
The opposition Democratic Alliance described developments as “an affront” to Mandela's legacy and vowed to ask questions in Parliament about the matter.
“Last month when riots erupted over registration weekend in Sebokeng, Gauteng, the President reneged on his promise to visit the province and chose to 'relax' at his R200 million home in Nkandla instead,” DA MP Wilmot James said.
“The President’s recent itinerary is a clear indication of his administration’s skewed priorities, sinister practices and deserves serious scrutiny.” - Sapa