Doggygate bites Zuma
(Editor: Alex Smit-Stachowski is speaking in her column about life as a South African now living in Germany. The South African journalist lives in Krefeld, in North Rhine-Westphalia/ Germany).
President Jacob Zuma has caused a furore in South Africa after his speech in Impendle, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Midlands on Wednesday, where he spoke of people who loved dogs more than people as “having a lack of humanity”.
The press wrote that he said, there was a new generation of young Africans who were trying to adopt other lifestyles and even trying to look like others. Instead, a person lost dignity and ubuntu, and was also likely to lose respect and love for his fellow human beings. He said black people should stop adopting the habits of other cultures.
“Even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair you will never be white,” Zuma said. However, the ‘coconut’ comments (common parlance for blacks trying to be white) didn’t get the people up in arms, it was the talk about it being not African to own a dog.
In a statement released by presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj, on December 27 2012 he clarified, saying The President, “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“.
“This is not to say that animals should not be loved or cared for. The message merely emphasised the need not to elevate our love for our animals above our love for other human beings. He emphasised the need is to preserve that which is good in certain cultures and avoid adopting practices that are detrimental to building a caring African society”.
In my Facebook feed, following the report I saw many media friends reiterate how badly President Zuma needs a scriptwriter – many were furious because they saw it as a personal attack on their four-legged friends and others fumed as they consider themselves African and were insulted to be called otherwise. One or two recognized that within the foot-in-mouth speech, the President touched on a very sore topic.
In the days of Apartheid and to some part still now, dogs were brought into the family as savage watch dogs, to protect properties and to ensure the people within are kept safe. The police and defence force would cultivate dog breeds and train their sleek friends to patrol the townships, aid during raids and attack suspected insurgents, terrorists or criminals. Pretty pooches were not part of the landscape – rather it was pitbulls, Rotweilers and large beasts to instill fear in whoever passed by.
So the issues here are two-fold – one is the past history of whites with dogs which they would treat better than their black fellow humans – and the second is the worldwide phenomenon that most people prefer animals to people.
The third, yet not as highlighted topic is that of blacks wanting to be white. I believe while the President was trying to encourage youngsters to be proud to be black – he missed the point – if the stars wear specific shoes and wear their hair one way, then the kids will follow them. As soon as it is ‘cool’ to be black again – it will be. I can already say with pride that SA already has a strong African pride in its young, designer clothing, music and TV – so that will grow further.
Some people had dogs and did not use them to patrol houses or specifically bite black people but the point is, most dogs were brought into homes for that purpose. We should acknowledge it and say this is in the past – now in the here and now, it is time to focus on other important matters. We who have had dogs in our lives know how much joy they give, how easy they view the world and how they provide comfort.
In the spirit of ubuntu, someone should perhaps give Mr President his own four-legged friend and then they can go walking through the garden while YFM radio station plays good local pop – so he can know that we’re not in 1985 anymore, it’s a hopeful 2012/2013.