Jacob Zuma withdrew from Saturday’s launch of the 16 Days of Activism, shortly after it became clear the event was going to be poorly attended.
By 10:30 (CAT), when the president was meant to take to the podium at the Nelson Mandela University, the 4,000-seater hall was less than a quarter full.
An estimated 500 people were in attendance, including officials, journalists and performers, despite 30 buses and taxis collecting people in the area.
T-shirts promoting Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential campaign were handed out to those patiently waiting for the government to launch this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.
Finally, it was announced that the president had withdrawn.
“We received notification that the president is no longer able to come and be with us, we largely I think we’re to blame apparently he had today a session that required of him to have been here and immediately from here rush into that our being late, our starting time contributed to the review of his schedule,” said Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle.
Speculation was rife about why Zuma failed to show.
“Zuma didn’t come today because of one thing: he did know people won’t come. Eastern Cape is fully behind Cyril Ramaphosa. Zuma is campaigning for his wife. We don’t want that as Eastern Cape; we are fully behind Cyril Ramaphosa,” said one attendee.
“No, we are not disappointed. We’re very glad because the President didn’t come. Even this programme is very poor is because they heard the President is coming. He knows himself the people don’t want him here,” said another.
Others were slightly more sympathetic, saying that the event was running late and the president could not be expected to be kept waiting.
After hours of waiting, and with the hall remaining three-quarters empty, Minister of Women in the Presidency Susan Shabangu finally took to the stage to represent the president.
“This is a continuous campaign simply because the problem of violence against women and children continues in a society almost every day. This year we have witnessed the worst and most shocking incidents against women and children.”
It was in this same venue, two years ago, that Zuma addressed a half-empty hall on Reconciliation Day in December.