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Durban - Malawians know that most South Africans do not consider themselves African. “But it scares us when such thoughts are shared by the President of the Republic of South Africa.”
That was the view of Stanley Onjezani Kenani, a Malawian writer, about President Jacob Zuma’s disparaging remark about Malawi this week.
Defending the controversial e-toll proposed for the Joburg-Pretoria freeway, Zuma said: “We can’t think like Africans in Africa generally,” Zuma had said. “We’re in Johannesburg. This is Johannesburg. This is not some road in Malawi.”
Foreign Minister Ephraim Mganda Chiume and Permanent Secretary George Mkondiwa summoned South Africa’s High Commissioner Cassandra Mbuyane-Mokone on Wednesday to explain a Zuma remark.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Quent Kalichero - who had earlier said that most Malawians felt insulted by Zuma’s remark, judging by social media - said in an interview on Thursday: “We couldn’t rely on social media reports and so we wanted to hear it through the proper diplomatic channels from the official representative of the government.”
She said Mbuyane-Mokone had given the same explanation as initially given by presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj, that Zuma’s remarks had been taken out of context. Asked if her government accepted the explanation she said “we had to accept it”.
She declined to say if relations between the two countries had been harmed by the remark, but added that “South Africa had always been a good friend to Malawi. I don’t think this will change that. We still have good relations.
“As far as we are concerned the issue is resolved, it’s now water under the bridge.”
However, she said that the high commissioner had not apologised for the remark.
After initially defending the remark, Maharaj later apologised for it in an interview with PowerFM radio on Wednesday.
Many Malawians have meanwhile commented on Zuma’s remark.
The writer Kenani, based in Geneva, wrote to Maharaj, saying Zuma’s remarks were “condescending towards sovereign states”.
“Despite your efforts to clarify this statement, it remains entirely unclear to me why President Zuma mentioned Malawi in his analogy.
“It can only be with one intention, that is, to use, by way of example, what he considers the most backward nation, one that thinks most ‘African’. - Foreign Service