Photographer: John Wessels/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa Said to Move Qatar Visit to Avoid Shaming Zuma

  • Opposition parties demand Zuma quit as they plan protests
  • Qatar Emir on trip to review bilateral economic relations

South Africa brought forward a meeting between President Jacob Zuma and Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin Al Thani, to avoid embarrassing Zuma as opposition parties prepare to march to his offices in Pretoria to demand he step down, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The meeting was rescheduled to take place Tuesday night rather than Wednesday, the person said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. The change was reported on the website of Johannesburg-based weekly newspaper Mail & Guardian. Zuma visited Qatar in May last year.

Opposition parties including the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters called a protest march to Zuma’s offices at the Union Buildings in the capital city for Wednesday in the wake of the president’s decision to fire Pravin Gordhan as finance minister and make 19 other changes to his administration shortly after midnight on March 31.

The parties have called for a no-confidence vote be held in Parliament after Zuma’s action drew widespread criticism in his ruling party, sparked street protests, and prompted S&P Global Ratings to downgrade the nation’s international credit rating to junk. Fitch Ratings Ltd. followed suit on April 7.

The visit by Al Thani was set for Tuesday and Wednesday and the meeting between the two heads of state is taking place after consultations by both parties, Zuma spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga said by phone. Demonstrations haven’t prevented the president or presidency from executing their duties, he said.

‘Wasted Effort’

“Bringing the meeting forward to avoid the protests is such a waste of an effort,” said Ralph Mathekga, an analyst at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, a Johannesburg-based research group. “International guests and Zuma’s peers abroad read the news and they collect intelligence on South Africa. It doesn’t help rearranging the deck chairs when the whole world can see his legitimacy continues to decline.”

The visit by the emir, who arrived in South African from Kenya, will review progress in bilateral political and economic relations between the two countries and identify “three short-term projects in the fields of trade and investment, agriculture and oceans economy,” the presidency said in an emailed statement. Total trade between South Africa and Qatar increased to 7 billion rand ($506 million) in 2016 from 4 billion rand in 2012, it said.

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