South Africa's Jacob Zuma in dog ownership row

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President Jacob Zuma with several people in traditional regalia (January 2010)Image source, AFP
Image caption,
President Jacob Zuma (c) says he wants to promote African culture

The South African government has sought to clarify remarks by President Jacob Zuma that angered dog lovers.

Mr Zuma was quoted as saying at a rally on Wednesday that having pet dogs was part of white - not African - culture.

But presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mr Zuma was simply warning against loving animals more than humans beings.

He said Mr Zuma's main message was the need to "decolonise the African mind" in South Africa, where white-minority rule ended in 1994.

South Africa's Mercury newspaper reports that Mr Zuma told thousands of supporters at a rally in KwaZulu-Natal province that people who spent money on buying a dog, taking it to the vet and for walks belonged to white culture.

There was also a new generation of young Africans who were trying to adopt the lifestyles of other race groups, Mr Zuma said.

"Even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair you will never be white," Mr Zuma was quoted as saying.

Dogs and workers

His comments sparked an angry response on social media, with some pet-lovers accusing him of indifference to animals, while others accused him of racism.

In a statement aimed at diffusing the row, Mr Maharaj said the president's remarks were aimed at ensuring that black people did not behave in a way that was detrimental to creating a "caring African society" in South Africa.

"More than that, the essential message from the president was the need to decolonise the African mind, post-liberation, to enable the previously oppressed African majority to appreciate and love who they are and uphold their own culture," he said.

"They should not feel pressured to be assimilated into the minority cultures."

Mr Maharaj said there were still some South Africans 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".

Some people also 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", Mr Maharaj said.

"This is not to say that animals should not be loved or cared for," he added.

"The message [of Mr Zuma] merely emphasised the need not to elevate our love for our animals above our love for other human beings."

South Africa remains racially polarised more than 18 years after apartheid ended.

It is also one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a huge gap in income levels.

Correspondents say this not the first time Mr Zuma has drawn controversy.

Some of his previous remarks have angered feminists, gay people and black intellectuals.

But his support within the governing African National Congress (ANC), which took power when apartheid ended, remains solid, correspondents say.

Earlier this month, he was re-elected ANC leader, beating off a challenge by his rival, Kgalema Motlanthe.

Mr Zuma is now almost certain to lead the ANC into the 2014 national election.

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