PRETORIA, International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane will lead the South African delegation to the 29th African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa where she will represent President Jacob Zuma at the meeting of Heads of State and Government to be held on July 3 and 4.

The Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in her capacity as special representative of President Jacob Zuma, will lead South Africa's delegation to the 29th session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, the Department pf International Relations and Co-operation confirmed on Tuesday.

Although no reason was given for President Zuma not attending the summit, it might be because the AU summit dates clash with the crucial policy conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party starting this Friday and ending on July 5.

The AU summit will take place under the theme: Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in the Youth, which is of crucial importance to South Africa and the continent.

The South African government has prioritised youth development and empowerment with the primary objective of ensuring their fullest integration into society so as to ensure that they take charge of their lives and realise their full potential, the department said in a statement.

This is within the context of domesticating the AU's Agenda 2063 through the National Development Plan 2030 and the National Youth Policy 2020.

The summit is also expected to deliberate on key issues related to the implementation of institutional reforms of the pan-African bloc, peace and security, and addressing issues related to migration, among others.

The situations in South Sudan, Libya, Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR), Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the region of Darfur in western Sudan and Somalia are expected to be the hot issues as far as peace and security is concerned on the continent.

The leaders will also reflect on the issue of the early establishment of a Continental Free Trade Area as an essential instrument to promote intra-African trade and continental integration.

Other important agenda items include matters such as the the adoption of the 2018 Budget of the AU and various elections - including for the remaining two positions of AU Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology, and AU Commissioner for Economic Affairs.