Ottawa Citizen

South African leader sparks pet de­bate

Ja­cob Zuma says peo­ple who love their an­i­mals more than peo­ple have a ‘lack of hu­man­ity’

- CHRISTO­PHER TORCHIA

JO­HAN­NES­BURG, South Africa • South Africa’s pres­i­dent says a dog should not be man’s best friend.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma made crit­i­cal re­marks about pet care that touch on sen­si­tive race re­la­tions in South Africa, which was dom­i­nated by whites un­til apartheid was dis­man­tled al­most two decades ago, The Star news­pa­per re­ported Thurs­day.

The news­pa­per cited Zuma as say­ing in a speech Wed­nes­day that the idea of hav­ing a pet is part of “white cul­ture” and that peo­ple should fo­cus on fam­ily wel­fare.

The pres­i­dent’s of­fice sought to clar­ify his re­marks, say­ing he was en­cour­ag­ing “the pre­vi­ously op­pressed African ma­jor­ity” to up­hold its own cul­ture. It also sug­gested the way in which the com­ments were re­ported, rather than the com­ments them­selves, was di­vi­sive.

The back­drop to the dog de­bate is the legacy of West­ern colo­nial­ism in Africa, as well as the bit­ter strug­gle against apartheid in South Africa that cul­mi­nated in the first demo­cratic elec­tions in 1994.

Dur­ing his speech to an ap­pre­cia­tive crowd in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province, the pres­i­dent said peo­ple who love dogs more than peo­ple have a “lack of hu­man­ity” and that some peo­ple are try­ing in vain to “em­u­late white­ness,” The Star re­ported.

“Even if you ap­ply any kind of lo­tion and straighten your hair, you will never be white,” he re­port­edly said.

In a state­ment, the South African pres­i­dency said Zuma was try­ing to con­vince Africans to take pride in their her­itage and not feel pres­sure to adopt cus­toms of mi­nor­ity cul­tures. An­i­mals can be cared for, was the mes­sage, but not at the ex­pense of peo­ple.

Zuma “re­ferred to what peo­ple should guard against, such as lov­ing an­i­mals more than other hu­man be­ings,” the state­ment said.

“He made the 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 house­holds.”

Zuma has of­ten said he seeks to pro­tect South Africa’s di­ver­sity and unify its dis­parate groups, but he has oc­ca­sion­ally stirred con­tro­versy.

In 2006, as deputy pres­i­dent, he said same-sex mar­riages, which are to­day pro­tected un­der South African law, were “a disgrace to the na­tion and to God.”

 ?? MU­JAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES ?? South African Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma has touched off a de­bate in his coun­try by say­ing keep­ing pets was a part of ‘white cul­ture.’
MU­JAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES South African Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma has touched off a de­bate in his coun­try by say­ing keep­ing pets was a part of ‘white cul­ture.’

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