Durban - President Jacob Zuma rushed to defend his statements about dogs and hair straightening after a frenzied debate – plus a lot of light-hearted banter – erupted among South Africans on social networking sites and radio stations on Thursday.
It was a dog-eat-dog world as people argued over comments he made in a speech in Impendle on Wednesday, and reported in The Mercury.
A photograph posted by Cosatu leader Zwelinzima Vavi with his two dogs, boerboel Superhero and Jack Russell Maradona, was shared widely on Twitter, as was another historic photo of Nelson Mandela with his Rhodesian ridgeback, taken by the late Alf Kumalo.
Zuma said that buying and caring for dogs by walking them and taking them to the vet was part of “white” culture and that “even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair you will never be white”.
He also used his speech to caution young Africans against trying to adopt other lifestyles and said those who loved dogs more than people lacked humanity.
Talking at a function in Nongoma in Zululand on Thursday, Zuma explained that he had not been against dog ownership, but he was raising a concern about people who loved dogs more than other people.
His spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said Zuma had made the statement to promote ubuntu and respect for African culture.
“He made a well-known example of people who sit with their dogs in front in a van or truck with a worker at the back in pouring rain or extremely cold weather. Others do not hesitate to rush their dogs to veterinary surgeons for medical care when they are sick while they ignore workers or relatives who are also sick in the same household,” said Maharaj.
Zuma’s speech had been aimed at decolonising the African mind post-liberation and to encourage the African majority to appreciate and love who they were.
The president did not mean that animals should not be loved or cared for, said Maharaj.
Social network followers, including many Africans, disagreed with the president.
University of the Free State vice-chancellor Professor Jonathan Jansen said on Facebook: “He would knock out gays; pets are unAfrican; and straight hair is white. The leader of Africa’s largest economy.”
Vavi also tweeted that he had given ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe a puppy years ago.
“He keeps dogs too,” he said.
Nevertheless, Vavi said he was not offended by Zuma’s comments.
“As an animal lover & proudly black I don’t feel insulted by that comment – I do have compassion for humans too.”
Internationally renowned author Zakes Mda denied the essentialism behind Zuma’s remarks.
“There are many ways of being African. Of being black even. Those who love animals are not less African than those who don’t.”
In an interview, Makasuhle Gana, the federal youth leader for the DA, said it was unfortunate that the president had chosen to use race to illustrate his point.
“I don’t believe it makes you less of an African to show your love for your animals,” he said.
The ANC Youth League declined to comment.
The Christian Democratic Party said it appeared from his remarks that Zuma’s second term would be “even more sectarian and divisive” than his first.
“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 the party’s leader, Theunis Botha.
Young Communist League spokesman Khaya Xaba tweeted: “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.”
Journalist Reuben Goldberg suggested that South Africans buy Zuma a dog “and name it Nkandla”.
Comedian Marc Lottering tweeted: “Dammit. Just gave my dog water. Sometimes I can be such a colonialist.”
Journalist and author Gus Silber chirped: “Well, that pretty much rules out the photo opportunity with Zuma, the Obamas and their pet dog Bo, in the White House.”