President Jacob Zuma has turned down a request by Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille to publicly debate with her on the state of the economy, the presidency said on Monday.
"The presidency sees no need to engage in any exercise that diverts attention from getting stakeholders to work together," presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj said in a statement.
The presidency was responding to media enquiries on the debate as Zuma had not formally received the DA leader's request by Monday afternoon.
"We wish to point out that President Zuma is currently working with key stakeholders on the state of the economy, under the auspices of the presidency high level dialogue on the economy," he said.
As part of the dialogue, meetings would be held between unions and businesses on solving the country's economic problems. The next meeting would be held on Wednesday.
"The president is optimistic that this meeting will find solutions in the same way that a similar meeting assisted the country to cushion the economy and minimise job losses during the 2009 recession," Maharaj said.
Earlier on Monday, Zille said she would write to Zuma to call for a debate.
"All South Africans are presently deeply concerned about the state of our country, and particularly our economy," she said in a statement.
Zille said Zuma had not proved himself worthy of leading the country in the wake of escalating labour protests and the downgrading of the country's credit rating.
"The last few months will be remembered as one of the most trying times in our democratic history and yet President Zuma has not offered the leadership that South Africans expect from a president," she said.
"We cannot continue to muddle through a slow economic decline with more people becoming unemployed and poor people becoming steadily poorer."
Zille said the DA's growth and jobs plan, if implemented, would help the country's economy to grow and create "shared prosperity in a climate of policy certainty".
"The president has not done the same. He is completely silent on economic policy... and we have heard no serious positioning statement from him or his government on the current state of our economy," she said.
"What is his plan to prevent further downgrades and ensure future upgrades to our credit rating? What is his position on the illegal strikes which have killed innocent people and threaten our entire mining industry? Does he have a plan at all?" she asked.