South Africa apologises for Jacob Zuma's Malawi jibe

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Jacob Zuma in Midrand, South Africa (3 October 2013)Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Jacob Zuma's comments have caused huge controversy

South Africa has apologised for controversial remarks President Jacob Zuma made on Monday about Malawi.

Mr Zuma was widely quoted in the media as saying that "this is Johannesburg. It's not some national road in Malawi".

He made the comment as he tried to convince people to accept plans to impose tolls on highways around Johannesburg.

On Wednesday, Malawi summoned South Africa's top diplomat in Lilongwe to protest about the remark.

South African high commissioner Cassandra Mbuyane-Mokone explained to Malawi Foreign Affairs Minister Ephraim Mganda Chiume that Mr Zuma had been quoted out of context, said Malawian foreign ministry spokeswoman Quent Kalichero.

"As far as we are concerned the issue is resolved. It's now water under the bridge. Malawi and South Africa enjoy good relations," Ms Kalichero told the BBC.

'Strong opposition'

Malawi is one of Africa's poorest states, with many of its nationals working in South Africa, the regional power.

Speaking at a meeting organised by the governing African National Congress (ANC) on Monday, Mr Zuma reportedly said: "We can't think like Africans in Africa, generally. This is Johannesburg. It's not some national road in Malawi."

South Africa's public broadcaster, SABC, reports that Mr Zuma's spokesman Mac Maharaj has apologised to those who felt offended by the comments.

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa will never look down on another African country, SABC quotes her as saying.

While South Africa has many toll roads, the government is facing strong public opposition to its plan to introduce, for the first time, electronic tolling for roads between Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

Many commuters, backed by businessmen and unionists, say it will increase travelling costs exorbitantly, something they cannot afford.

The government upgraded existing motorways in and around Johannesburg for the 2010 football World Cup.

It says the work was not free, and it now wants the electronic tolling system to retrospectively finance the roads.

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