Fearing the embarrassment of a hostile march on their front lawn, the Presidency in an unprecedented move, is hosting a state visit at night.
And the guest — the Emir of Qatar heading one of the wealthiest nations in the world — is livid.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamid Al Thani, was scheduled for a state visit on Wednesday, ordinarily a pomp and ceremony affair with the singing of national anthems and a photo op before the two leaders retreat for talks. This usually transpires during the day. But with thousands expected to join the Union Buildings march to try and force President Jacob Zuma from power, state security officials recommended the visit be hosted a day early, a senior government source confirmed.
Considerate of the current political climate, the emir and his entourage agreed to the request from the Presidency, creating a whirlwind of logistical rearrangement, a member of the Qatari entourage confirmed.
On Tuesday, Zuma allegedly changed his mind again, informing his Middle Eastern counterpart that the State visit should continue as initially planned, for Wednesday.
“When the emir and his people were told they blew their tops and refused to be treated like yo-yos. They insisted on Tuesday night,” said the government source.
The presidency has denied that the State visit was moved because of the National Day of Action march.
The State visit was scheduled to kick off at 8.00pm on Tuesday.
“What a joke! The leader of the richest country on earth treated like this, unbelievable!” said a member of the Qatari delegation.
The presidency this evening said that because the emir “felt he would be ready for the state visit” today, it was decided to go ahead with the function this evening instead of Wednesday.
“The Emir arrived today from Kenya where he had a meeting. And on his arrival he felt he would be ready for the state visit. So that’s why the visit is happening tonight,” said presidential spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga.
“It’s not about the march. These meetings usually start at 10 o’clock in the morning and by 11 o’ clock they are done. By the time the march started the meeting would have long been over,” he said.
On Friday last week tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets calling for Zuma to step down as president of the country. At least 25 000 people converged on the Union Buildings.
Wednesday’s scheduled National Day of Action march to the Union Buildings organised by the Economic Freedom Fighters, the Democratic Alliance, the United Democratic Movement (UDM), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and the Congress of the People (COPE) is expected to bring an even larger crowd.