Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and President Jacob Zuma. File photo: Siphiwe Sibeko

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma has joined Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in boycotting this week’s European Union-Africa summit in Brussels because the EU has tried to dictate which African leaders should attend.

South African and EU officials confirmed on Monday that Zuma would not be attending and would be represented by International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

“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,” Zuma told the SABC while election campaigning in Cape Town.

“It is wrong and causes this unnecessary unpleasantness. I thought the AU and EU are equal organisations representing two continents but there is not a single one of them who must decide for others,” he said.

Mugabe announced at the weekend he would not attend because Belgium would not give his wife Grace a visa. The couple are the last people on the EU’s Zimbabwe travel ban, but the EU made an exception for Mugabe to allow him to attend the summit.

However the EU has also set other restrictions on attendance, telling the AU last week that it was only inviting countries recognised by the UN and EU. This left out the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) which is recognised as a state by the AU but not by the UN or EU, which regards it as part of Morocco.

The EU invited Morocco to the summit as well as Egypt, which has been suspended from the AU because of what it regards as the unconstitutional removal of Mohamed Mursi from power last year.

The EU also invited Sudan’s vice-president and not President Omar al Bashir who is a fugitive from the International Criminal Court.

Last week the AU ambassadors to the AU met in Addis Ababa and decided to recommend to their leaders that the EU-Africa summit should be postponed to give the leaders time to consider how to respond to the EU restrictions on who should attend.

They pointed out to the leaders that they had resolved at the AU summit in January that only Africa should decide who represented the continent at inter-regional summits such as the one with the EU.

Official sources in Addis Ababa said it was not certain that there would be time to postpone the summit but that individual leaders might decide not to attend – as Mugabe and Zuma have decided to do.

It was unclear on Monday whether other leaders would follow their example.

EU officials said on Monday that they were confident that there would still be a good turnout of African leaders.

EU ambassador to Zimbabwe Aldo dell’Ariccia had said on Friday that 41 heads of state from 48 African countries had accepted the EU invitation and 22 heads of state from the 28 members of the EU had said they would also be at the summit.

Zuma had told the EU he would be attending and until his remarks to the SABC on Sunday, he was expected in Brussels.

Dell’Ariccia said that Grace Mugabe had not been given a visa because there was no programme for spouses at the summit.

But some South African officials interpreted the ban on Grace Mugabe as an indirect way of insuring that her husband did not attend, saying “no self-respecting leader would accept such conditions”.

Independent Foreign Service