It’s not about dogs | Why Zuma thinks you’re ‘un-African’

Hot on the heels of his re-election ANC president, Jacob Zuma went back to his real job—providing an entertaining distraction from what many of his critics call “South Africa’s Serious Socio-Economic Inequalities.

Well, I say, pish-posh –let the man do his job! And boy, has he done it. Less than a month after Mangaung, Zuma’s got Africans in heated debate yet again.Image

And this time it’s about dogs. Yes, you read that right—dogs. We’re not talking metaphoric dogs like one would imagine he’d use to refer to CIA agents, here. No, he means dogs as in ‘woof, woof’.

The South African president has been quoted as saying spending money on buying a dog, taking it to the vet and for walks belong[s] to white culture and [is] not the African way, which [is] to focus on the family.

When I first caught wind of this on Twitter, my first reaction was to agree whole-heartedly with him. (Well, as whole-heartedly as one can agree while giving zero dams about a topic)

And indeed some months ago I went on a similar tirade on Twitter about Africans that protest Rhino poaching but remain silent on topics of human rights violations. I termed these Africans Irresponsible Human Beings ™.

I expressed my belief that Africans that can sacrifice their hard-earned money for animal charities, while their family-members fight off flies for food back at the village, are a danger to the continent. And to a great extent I still believe this.

And if this was all that Zuma was saying I wouldn’t even be writing this.

So why am i?

Because Zuma used the one word that I am physically incapable of ignoring. In his defence of his anti-pet-dog sentiments, he uttered the word, “un-African.”

Nothing infuriates me more than the use of that word. It drives me particularly insane when its speaker is very obviously using it as a means of shaming Africans out of their right to self-determination.

It makes me even angrier because it is almost always used to persecute the African middle-class. Very rarely are the poor in Africa accused of behaving in an un-African manner. It’s almost as if some people believe that the African, like some sort of religious servant, must stay in his most deprived form in order to retain dignity in his identity. Which is a notion that I regard ridiculous at its best and at its worst, utterly dangerous to the African psyche.

I can’t believe it is five-to-2013 and we’re still hell-bent on keeping African culture in 1605. How is it that African leaders are still allowed to equate walking your dog to lightening your skin?

 As if Africans never had pets before. My father scoffed at Zuma’s words, as he drove our dehydrated puppy to the vet. Normally first in line to throw around the ‘‘un-African’’ label, my father (whose upbringing was set in rural Botswana), was quick to remind me that dogs have been around in Bantu culture as long as hunting has been a thing. So in this case the label doesn’t even make sense.

So what is this about?

This is about using shame to police a part of the South African population that the ANC is quickly losing touch with—the African middle-class. By ridiculing them for choosing to lead a lifestyle outside of the confines of the poverty and often-oppressive 18th century principles that he defines to be ‘African’, the ANC president may be aiming to shame them back to the party that all the ‘die-hard Africans’ cling to like a life-raft in ice-water.

I say this because I can tell you that words like ‘un-African’ do 21st century Africa no good. And any well-read and socially conscious African can tell you that.

However, sometimes I suspect that Zuma’s plan might be to create an even larger rift between the middle-class and the African working-class. Could it be that in identifying middle-class Africans in South Africa as ‘un-African’ the plan is to make it far easier for the poor in SA to lump them up with Whites and others under the huge sign of ‘oppressor’ and topple all of them over when the time finally comes?

Well whatever it is about, I know damn well this isn’t about dogs.

For more on my refusal to keep African culture in 1605, check out: Patriarchy is the parasite that African culture must rid itself of in order to survive.

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26 thoughts on “It’s not about dogs | Why Zuma thinks you’re ‘un-African’

  1. “Un – African”…

    well, i don’t give too fucks about Zuma let alone understand what he stands for.. but i will hope and think the South African people trusted him enough to elect him again as their president…

    as for the dogs… the truth be told, without fear of not being politically correct in such a sensitive world.., to most degrees i agree with him.

    we grew up with dogs, and never did our dogs live with us inside , never did we buy fancy foods and top label cloths for them.

    AND i feel safe to say yes it is Un – African… , because it is a culture and practice that we grew up without. … we kept dogs for reasons, not for luxury , status or whatever the reasons so fits the westerners and today’s generation …. and again white people mostly….!!!

    our dogs stayed outside and we didn’t push them in baby carriers like we see the westerners and those that have borrowed the tradition back to Africa and everywhere else….do…..

    did we take them to doctors, ? i would say yes as every dog must be vaccinated which can be crime if the owner skipped or skips one..at the local veterinary office.

    that is as far as our love had gone and it had never been an issue , but with the new generation , the whole understanding and how we look at our dogs, the world has indeed changed.

    we spend on dogs as much as we spent on our children, we sleep with them and include them in our wills not to forget we take them to schools here in America… , groom them, give them spa treatments and celebrate their birth days!!!! and ha ha people actually come….to the party…

    is this a practice that we see in Africa? no… may be in a rich household, may be in a white house somewhere in Africa but to discredit Zuma for saying a fact is down right stupid to me…

    it is Un – African, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t love our dogs as much as the white people love theirs, we do.. just that we relate to animals very differently….

    1. I am white and never kept my dogs inside or pushed them in strollers…how can you truly say it is a white thing – do you have something to back up your arguments or are you just using sterotypes you have been exposed to on tv?

      how can you compare a rich household and white household as being the same? when we moved to this country from Zambia we lived on R2500 a month for a family of 5 and we have slowly built up to a comfortable lifestyle. As far as I know I am still white but not rich. Unless the color of the skin allows me to lay claim to any luxury item i want?

      This has nothing to do with how you treat your dogs and so on and so forth. It is the right to be able to live as you wish because you shouldn’t have to explain yourself whether you are rich or poor or black or indian or white. We have been fighting oppressions and labels all this time. Our own president then goes and puts a label on his own people.

      In one sentence he has contradicted all that the ANC has been fighting for.

      and one more question. how has the word African only been associated with Black people. I have lived in Africa all my life – so can I not call myself African?

      1. Come to the USA and you will see people pushing dogs in strollers and them having more rights than people especially black people.

    2. You didn’t grow-up with single malt whiskey, german cars, swiss chocolates… Those are , like the luxury dog, “Un African” but Zuma doesn’t warn against those…

    3. Veryproudtobe, I think you’re missing the point. Again, I’m a white guy who firmly believes that dogs should sleep outside, that they shouldn’t be tortured, but that you should never prefer a dog to a human (unless that human happens to be a rapist or someone truly evil). But that’s not the point. The point is simply that Zuma is trying to dictate to people how they should behave in order for them to belong on the continent. That’s why the author was so upset about the use of the word un-African. Notice that a white person be cruel or kind to an animal but remains a whitie or a westerner in the eyes of others. But if a black person decides she likes to look after her Chihuahua because she physically can’t have children, then suddenly people give her angry stares, whisper nastily about her behind her back and call her ‘un-African’. What Zuma’s comment does is it removes freedom from black people. He is saying, ‘You’re not free. Only if you behave in a certain way, only if you like certain things and dislike other certain things, only if you refuse to act like westerners (who, by the way can act however they want to), do you count as an African, a citizen of my country.’ It’s a horrible insult to black people. The whole point of the Struggle was to give black people the right to choose to express themselves (individually and as a group) without being forced into some or other lifestyle by leaders who deny your very human freedom to do and like many different things.

    1. And who is first to give to the poor in the townships? Who is the people getting Christmas presents for kids and the elderly in the townships? If disaster strikes (rain, fires) who is first to help with cloths, food, etc? Yes – the white people. They do give to the neighbour as the bible says! And there is hardly a thank-you! or even a mention about that

  2. I really like what you had to say and I think you put it very eloquently. It is about separating the classes and making a greater rift. Except that I don’t think owning an animal and caring for it is a solely white cultural thing. It is in fact an African thing before it was ever white- and I do believe that whites have taken in “dog love” to some psychotic extremes. I.E. The baby carrier, clothes etc.

    I think the real issue is that it’s soon to be 2013 and race is still the biggest thing he is talking about. How is that going to move the county forward? I don’t want speeches about how adopting “white” culture is making someone “un-African”- because I truly believe you cannot de-Africanize an African. Anyone who holds their culture in high esteem, who has a family they do love and care for, that recognizes tradition and it’s value while still actively involved in progress- they are African.

    And it’s important to note- whites aren’t great about taking care of their family over themselves, charities and pets either. That’s a selfish human nature thing.

    But honestly- really well written and very thought provoking. Loved it.

    1. “whites aren’t great about taking care of their family over themselves, charities and pets either”… Please let’s all stop talking like this. If you lump people into blocks and judge them as all being the same, you are perpetuating apartheid-think. I know whites who are incredibly, self-sacrificingly generous, I know blacks who pay their domestic workers disgustingly badly – is that because of their skin colour? No, in either case.

  3. I always thought that cars are also very un-african, yet i don’t think that Zuma or his cohorts will be saying the same thing about cars even though I see lots of Africans spend huge amounts of money on cars while their families live in poverty. (Ever notices the expensive cars parked in between shacks?) No, this has nothing to do about dogs!

  4. A few questions. Since when is loving one’s family and focusing on the family exclusive to African people? Moreover, why this extraordinary focus on ethnicity while government and ANC office-bearers natter on ad nauseam at every given opportunity about nonracialism and nonsexism? Surely people who carry their dogs around in baby carriers are slightly batty and free to be that and do so, but surely it cannot be seen as a characteristic definitive of a culture! And by the way, in my opinion, just as there is no such thing as a definitive ‘black culture’ in this counry (do all black people prefer to eat pap and meat), in the same way there is no definitive ‘white culture’. And does everyone buy into the belief that African equals only black? I for one do not. I was born on the African continent. In terms of national and international law, and just plain old semantics, that makes me an African, no matter how many times any one says that I am not. Goebbels was actually not right about a lie being repeated often enough becoming the truth. The issues are far more complex than the superficial manner in which they are raised, not only by the Prez but also in subsequent commentary. In our country only a few things are simple at present: there are far, far too many people without food, homes, jobs and education and instead of these life-altering problems being addressed and resolved, far too much time and way too many resources are focused and being wasted on a single individual’s activities.

  5. I do agree with our President Zuma. His words speaks the truth. Rather leave the dogs (pets) for the un-African people. After all, un-African’s are more sensible and willing to look after their animals. Many abuse and neglected dogs are rescued daily from African people and found a happy un-African home.

  6. whats really sad is that while everyone debates about what he meant about the welfare of animals, what is being ignored is how Zuma does not believe in a democratic and unified rainbow nation, instead he continues to drive a deep divide between race groups because he knows that his (and the ANC’s) power is secured through an ongoing racially divided voting. He is a politician and is playing to his voters, its naive and unrealistic to expect him to do anything else.

  7. To continue your argument of progress of african culture… I would add to it. I think we could agree that the ‘old’ ways are not necessarily the best, regardless of what culture you come from. As you say, there is no need to keep african culture (or any culture) back in the 1600’s.
    So then it becomes important to evaluate every aspect and see what still serves and what does not. Putting human rights above animal rights is just as big a mistake as doing it the other way around. Compassion, care and love are still compassion care and love regardless of where it’s directed. If people are able to show that to animals, then they will be far more likely to offer it to people. Who are you to say that it must be offered to people before animals? As an example, there are many programs that rehabilite violent criminals through interaction with animals. They are successful.

  8. It is also ” un african ” then to enjoy cellphones, luxury cars, western clothes, i – pads, smart restaurants and all the infra structures brought by the so called white man to this country. Why can we not drop the racistic mentality and function together to build this country ?

  9. Mmmmm… Interesting that we are getting caught up in talk about how these ‘un-African’ whites treat their dogs? Is this the best Zuma can throw at his followers? How about inspiring pride in our ‘Africaness’ instead of trying to pry us apart and highlight stupid psudo differences. How about some intelligent conversation aimed at building this nation? I hang my head as the world laughs yet again. Who let the dogs out? Zuma!

  10. What interests me is that people see it as an ‘either-or’ situation. EITHER you care for your fellow human beings OR you stop animal abuse, fight to prevent the destruction of our natural, animal resources by East Asian powers and have a loved pet dog. This is what academics call a false dichotomy – or in normal words: utter rubbish. I don’t see why having a pet dog that you look after stops you from caring for other people. (I’m sure many people care more for their dogs than for others, but it really doesn’t mean that EVERYONE who has a dog and looks after it properly is automatically against people.)

    A few days ago, I was talking with a friend about the state of South Africa. It’s a shambles. We have impossibly high unemployment levels, more people die from violent crime in our country than the deathtolls of some warzones, and all many of us can do is watch the infrastructure crumble around us. For many of us, the tenth beggar who comes to your door in a day is just too much. We switch off. Not because we hate people, or certain groups of people, but because if you really cared you’d crumble into a little heap in the corner, unable to go outside. Of course, you get your saints: wonderful people who are able to have a job, a family and all the stresses of a regular life, and still have energy and strength to help everyone in need they see. But not everyone is that strong. For many of us, switching off our ability to care is a coping mechanism.

    This still doesn’t mean that we stop loving things. Animals are simple to care for. They don’t ask for much and they are always thankful. This is really relieving when all you have seen your whole day at work, on the roads and at the shops is people in need, angry people and people who treat you as though you don’t belong. Animals, pets, are a comfort for those of us who are not saints, who cannot emotionally afford to give every spare cent to the millions who are truly in need in South Africa.

    Having said that, not everyone who owns or cares for a dog does so to avoid helping people. Quite often, people who look after animals are very happy to help humans in need. Go talk to the people who work at SPCAs. Many social workers, religious servants and human rights activists also have a beloved pet at home. It’s often a symptom of someone with a big heart, someone who knows how to feel compassion for others.

    The saddest thing about this statement, as the author rightly points out, is how it robs black people of their freedom to self-determination. A white person can love dogs or hate them, but her identity is never question. However I choose to treat my pets will never affect my right to votes, to take part in politics or to be part of a community (well, just so long as I don’t torture them for fun!) But a black person is now limited thanks to Zuma careless statement. If she chooses to give her pets a little more care than what her neighbours give their pets, then suddenly she’s un-African. She now lives in yet another level of fear, thanks to our wonderful President: the fear that showing non-humans kindness will rob her of her right to be a citizen of her country, to take part in her community, to vote. Zuma’s words are, in fact, an insult to all black Africans. I am glad many are taking him to task about this.

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