President Jacob Zuma tried to intervene in the execution of a South African woman in China, the department of international relations said on Monday.
"He [Zuma] did intervene. All the necessary interventions were done at every possible level, even the highest ones," department spokesman Clayson Monyela said.
"Everything had to happen through diplomatic processes and there is very little that can be done around that."
Janice Bronwyn Linden, 35, from KwaZulu-Natal, was executed by lethal injection in China on Monday for drug smuggling.
She was arrested in Guangzhou in November 2008 after she was caught with three kilograms of crystal methamphetamine (tik) in her luggage.
She was convicted of drug smuggling in 2009.
Monyela said members of Linden's family were present for the execution.
"We have been working very closely with the family, and our embassy officials are there to provide the family with consular support," he said.
One of Linden's relatives told The Mercury newspaper: "We communicated with letters. She said she didn't know how the drugs got into her luggage. She thought she was being framed," he said.
"Her sentence is not justified. How can you take a person's life for three kg's of methamphetamine?"
Chinese officials would cremate her body and return her ashes to the family, he said.
An eNews' correspondent in Asia said her execution could have been commuted to a life sentence if Linden had confessed to the smuggling, but she had maintained her innocence.
Monyela said the department could not comment on the report because it was not aware of the Chinese government's reasons for going through with the execution.
The execution would also not impact South Africa's trade relationship with China, he said.
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama cancelled an intended trip to South Africa to attend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday on October 7 after not receiving a visa on time.
Earlier this month Home affairs director general Mkuseli Apleni said South Africa's BRICS membership, and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe's recent visit to China were all taken into account when deciding whether to grant the visa.