African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma withdrew Wednesday from a charity fundraising banquet honoring former boxer Mike Tyson after being criticized by South African women’s groups.
Reporters arriving at the event were handed a statement from organizers saying Zuma “had been called away on urgent ANC business.” The banquet featured an auction of Tyson items to benefit children’s organizations.
Women’s groups had called on Zuma to withdraw from the event. Earlier in the day, the One in Nine Campaign, a group of women’s rights organizations, called “the pairing of Zuma and Tyson . . . particularly distasteful and abhorrent.”
In a country with one of the highest rates of rape, Zuma was acquitted in May 2006 of charges that he had raped a family friend. Tyson served a three-year sentence for the 1991 rape of an 18-year-old woman in Indiana.
Organizers had promised that Tyson would make a statement at the banquet denouncing violence against women, but though he spoke briefly, he did not address the issue. He sat next to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon and ex-wife of former President Nelson Mandela.