JOHANNESBURG--South Africa’s often controversial president, Jacob Zuma, emboldened after being strongly voted in for a second term as president this month, told black South Africans they should never try to behave like whites.
Buying a pet dog is part of “white culture,” said Zuma, a staunch traditionalist, wading into South Africa’s often tense debate on race in his first speech after being reelected by the African National Congress. So are taking dogs for walks and spending money on veterinarians when the animals are sick, he said Wednesday in a speech in Impendle, in KwaZulu-Natal, according to a report in the Star newspaper.
Zuma accused some people of caring more for their dogs than people and said they lacked humanity.
The South African president’s remarks were controversial because the ANC policy is supposed to support a nonracial, nonsexist democracy.
He warned young blacks not to try to emulate whites, telling them they would lose the respect of fellow black South Africans.
He said young black women who straightened their hair were also trying to be like whites. Hair straightening is common in South Africa, and many other parts of the continent, and most South African supermarkets sell many varieties of hair relaxers designed to straighten hair.
“Even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair you will never be white,” Zuma said in the speech, which ignited a storm in the media and on Twitter.
He said the African way was to concentrate on family and not pets. When there were marital problems, couples should turn to their families and not to religious leaders, he said.
Some black South Africans, including a trade union council boss and Zuma critic, Zwelinzima Vavi, reacted by posting photographs of themselves with their dogs, or tweeted how much they loved their canine best friends.
Some posted photographs of President Barack Obama with his dog.
Award-winning South African novelist, poet and playwright Zakes Mda posted an old photograph on Twitter of revered former president Nelson Mandela grinning happily as a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog jumped on him, saying that according to Zuma, Mandela was “un-African.”
“There are many different ways of being African. Of being black even. Those who love animals are not less African/black than those who don’t,” Mda said in another tweet. “Africanness is diverse and varied. It cannot be universalized from one perspective of a tribal man from one small corner of Africa.”
It’s not the first time Zuma has made controversial comments. In August he said in a TV interview that it was important women get married and have children, to give them “training.”
“I wouldn’t want to stay with daughters who are not getting married. You’ve got to have kids. Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother,” he said at the time, referring to his daughter’s marriage.
In 2006, when he went on trial for allegedly raping a family friend, he said he could tell she wanted sex because she was wearing a short skirt. He was acquitted, but was criticized for having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj released a statement Wednesday saying Zuma’s speech was a message to black people to uphold and promote their own culture.
“The essential message from the president was the need to decolonize the African mind post-liberation to enable the previously oppressed African majority to appreciate and love who they are and uphold their own culture. They should not feel pressured to be assimilated into the minority cultures,” Maharaj said.
A small opposition party, the Christian Democratic party, issued a statement warning Zuma’s second term would be “even more sectarian and divisive” than his first, the South African Press Assn. reported. “This playing up of one culture against another, describing them, not as different, but rather that one has superior moral values to the other, is totally unacceptable and counterproductive,” said party leader Theunis Botha.
But Zuma also had some supporters. Young Communist League spokesman Khaya Xaba said in a tweet that a “rich man’s dog gets more in the way of vaccination, medicine and medical care than do the workers upon whom the rich man’s wealth is built.”