Africa / African / Race

The Dangers of an Unthinking African President of South Africa

Part of the title of this post is courtesy of a so-so satirical take from the blog siyandawrites.com by Siyanda Mohutsiwa on the blooper by President Jacob Zuma when he indirectly remarked to Gauteng drivers not to “think like Africans in Africa” and pay their e-tolls.

“Think like Africans in Africa?” Really? I don’t get it. As opposed to Africans in Europe? In South Africa, where, one might infer the black folk don’t think like Africans but more like whites?

Oh, Mr President? Will you please refrain? By the way, how do Africans in Africa think?

Zuma was addressing an African National Congress (ANC)-organised forum at Wits University in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa, yesterday, October 22. The forum was discussing the party’s manifesto and attended by students, academics and businesspeople. 

The matter of e-tolls apparently came up. Or perhaps the issue is so worrying to the ANC that Zuma needed to address it. Zuma said:

“The roads are to be tolled to pay back the money we borrowed to build the freeways to make the economy flow in Johannesburg. The principle of user pay has to be applied to complement the money government spent (to build the roads). This is what all economies in the world do.

Of course the argument is flawed. The economy doesn’t need more freeways in South Africa. It needs an efficient mass public transport system and densely built cities. We need people living close to where they work. But let’s leave that for now.

The problem is Mr President could not just stop there. He had to drag the name of Africa into it. “We can’t think like Africans in Africa generally, we’re in Johannesburg”, he said.

The crowd can be heared lapping it up on the news broadcast. They roared with laughter. I am not sure whether it was with embarrasment, knowing laughter, or in collusion.

But was that enough? No. Zuma seemed to soak in the moment. As if stereotyping Africa and Africans was not bad enough, Zuma went on to add that the tolled roads that the drivers in the metropolitan are being asked to cough up for are “not some national road in Malawi”.

Could this be revenge for the comments made earlier in the year by the vice-president of Malawi?

If you ask me, I think there will be an apology coming, wait and see. Zuma is good at making poo-poo of things and apologising. For now though, the  ANC talking heads are adamant that Zuma is being vilified and quoted out of context. What context? I really don’t get it.

It is true that Zuma also unfavourably comapred Pietermaritzburg – ag shame, poor colony – to Gauteng: “Gauteng is the heart of industry, not like Pietermaritzburg,” he is claimed to have said.

As for me, I am stunned how consistently incautious Zuma is; how, shall I say, ‘unthinking’  he too often is.

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