The South African government has sought to clarify remarks by President Jacob Zuma that angered dog lovers. The president 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 Jacob Zuma was simply warning against loving animals more than humans beings.
Mac Maharaj said Jacob Zuma’s main message was the need to “decolonize the African mind” in South Africa, where white-minority rule ended in 1994.
South Africa’s Mercury newspaper reports that Jacob 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, Jacob Zuma said.
“Even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair you will never be white,” the president was quoted as saying.
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, Mac 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 decolonize 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.”
Mac 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”, Mac Maharaj said.
“This is not to say that animals should not be loved or cared for,” he added.
“The message [of Jacob Zuma] merely emphasized the need not to elevate our love for our animals above our love for other human beings.”
South Africa remains racially polarized 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 Jacob 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.
Jacob Zuma is now almost certain to lead the ANC into the 2014 national election.