Outcry on social media after South Africa's president says having a pet is part of "white culture"

Saturday 29 December 2012 11.36
South African President Jacob Zuma
South African President Jacob Zuma

South African President Jacob Zuma has made critical remarks about pet care that touch on sensitive race relations in South Africa.

A newspaper cited Mr Zuma as saying in a speech 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 president's remarks triggered a flurry of retorts from animal lovers on Twitter and other social media.

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.

Poverty and economic imbalances remain a source of deep strain in the nation of €50m.

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".

He said that some people are trying in vain to "emulate whiteness, even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair, you will never be white."

In a statement, the South African presidency said Mr Zuma was trying to "decolonise the African mind post-liberation" and enable people 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.

It said he gave examples of people loving animals more than other human beings, letting a dog sit in the cab of a truck while a worker has to sit in the back in the rain, or rushing an animal to the veterinarian while ignoring sick relatives or workers.

President Zuma has often said he seeks to protect South Africa's diversity and unify its disparate groups.

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."