South African President Jacob Zuma has declared such popular pursuits as owning a pet dog or straightening one's hair are part of "white culture" and should be shunned by black citizens.
Emboldened after winning a second term as president this month in voting by the African National Congress, Zuma warned young blacks that they would lose the respect of their fellows if they tried to emulate whites. He said that taking dogs for walks or spending money on vets were white behaviours. He delivered his remarks in a speech on Wednesday in Impendle, in KwaZulu-Natal, according to a report in The Star newspaper.
Zuma accused some pet owners of caring more for their dogs than for people. His remarks, which ignited a storm in the media and on Twitter, came in spite of ANC policy to support a non-racial, non-sexist democracy.
He said young black women who straightened their hair were simply trying to be like whites. "Even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair you will never be white," Zuma said.
One South African newspaper, the Mail and Guardian, ran a column under the headline "Zuma goes barking mad".
Some black South Africans, including a trade union council leader and Zuma critic, Zwelinzima Vavi, reacted by posting photos of themselves with their dogs. Award-winning South African novelist, poet and playwright Zakes Mda posted an old photo on Twitter of beloved former president Nelson Mandela grinning happily as a Rhodesian ridgeback dog jumped on him.
"There are many different ways of being African. Of being black even. Those who love animals are not less African/black than those who don't," Mda said.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Zuma's speech was a message to blacks to uphold and promote their own culture.