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Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma's reported comments regarding e-tolling in Gauteng were taken out of context, the presidency said on Tuesday.
"The presidency has noted reports in certain media, suggesting that President Jacob Zuma insinuated that Africans were backward and that they should stop thinking like 'Africans in Africa and accept that Gauteng roads were not like some national road in Malawi or Pietermaritzburg or Rustenburg'," spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement.
"The words have regrettably been taken out of context and blown completely out of proportion."
Zuma was speaking at the Gauteng African National Congress's manifesto forum in Johannesburg on Monday night.
In a clip on the EyeWitness News website Zuma is heard saying: "We can’t think like Africans, in Africa, generally. We are in Johannesburg, this is Johannesburg. It's not some national road in Malawi."
Maharaj said Zuma was explaining that it was not fair to make the whole country pay for Gauteng's roads.
He said Zuma used an example by saying it was not fair to compare Gauteng roads to roads in other towns such as "Pietermaritzburg, Rustenburg, Polokwane or any other town or national road in Malawi as this was Gauteng, the heartbeat of South Africa's economy and an international city of commerce and business".
"The remarks were made in the broader context of South Africa achieving more in the past 19 years of freedom and democracy," Maharaj said.
The ANC on Tuesday agreed with the presidency that Zuma's comments had been taken out of context.
"The African National Congress welcomes the role played by traditional and social media in our national discourse," spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.
"It is important therefore that those privileged to form opinion on these networks do so with the intention of promoting fair and balanced reporting, a call we believe would not have arisen had the president's comments been placed in context."
The Christian Democratic Party said Zuma's remark about Africans was derogatory.
"The only positive aspect of this whole farce is that Zuma is not white," CDP leader Theunis Botha said in a statement.
"If he had been, he would have immediately been sacrificed on the stake of political expediency and racial relations would have been even further undermined."
He asked how many times Zuma would be allowed to make "damaging" comments before the ANC realised it should remove him for the good of the country.