President Jacob Zuma, who was meant to give a keynote address at the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association’s (MKMVA) gala dinner on Thursday night, did not attend due to ill health.

State Security Minister David Mahlobo, who represented Zuma at the event, said the president had been advised by doctors to “just take a small break”.

“He would have loved to join us, unfortunately you know he works so hard and he could not defy doctors when if he was not feeling well,” Mahlobo said.

The gala dinner was held at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park on Thursday night to commemorate the founding of the ANC liberation army 55 years ago.

 President Zuma’s absence came amidst criticism from within the party that the event was factional, linked to the Gupta family and that “special awards” were given to those who allegedly benefited from business dealings with the family.

MKMVA chair Kebby Maphatsoe on Thursday night dismissed as “rumours” speculation that Zuma had been warned not to attend.

“I had a meeting with the president yesterday [Wednesday] and I was explaining the programme to him and how far we are with proceedings and he was excited about addressing this event. It [his absence] has nothing to do with rumours that people are talking about,” Maphatsoe said.

However, Maphatsoe left it to Mahlobo to explain Zuma’s absence to the guests. Zuma is due to lead the government’s commemoration of Reconciliation Day in the North West on Friday.