Mr Zuma was out of the country for the first day of Mrs Obama’s second solo trip abroad on Tuesday and although he returned on Monday night, aides said he was “not available” to meet her.
Instead, he arranged for Corrective Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to greet her on her arrival in Pretoria on Monday night, and one of his three wives, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, to meet her briefly on Tuesday.
Her visit to South Africa is aimed at advancing her international youth engagement agenda as well as highlighting Mr Obama’s support for “democracy, development and economic opportunities across Africa”.
But it coincides with a cooling in relations between South Africa and the United States. Last week, President Jacob Zuma issued a sharp riposte to an appeal by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, to African leaders to help remove Libya’s Col Muammar Gaddafi.
“We strongly believe that the (UN Security Council) resolution is being abused for regime change, political assassinations and foreign military occupation,” he told parliament the day after Mrs Clinton’s speech.