BESIDES the opposition in South Africa who might only be seeking to make political gains out of the gaffe by President Jacob Zuma, everybody else seems focussed on the ‘Malawi’ element of his unwise comments the other week.
For those living in the dark (nice pun on this continent), Zuma’s actual words were: “We can’t think like Africans, in Africa, generally. We are in Johannesburg, this is Johannesburg. It’s not some national road in Malawi.”
Don’t bother with the context in which he said those words or to whom, but focus on the facts that you are certain of:
1. He is President of South Africa, and therefore Citizen Number One 2. South Africa is part of the continent of Africa 3. Jacob Zuma is African – generally.
His comments didn’t surprise many people for two reasons: First, Zuma has consistently raised controversy over the last few years by saying and doing things not normally used as a measure of how high an individual IQ is; and Secondly, South Africans are known for referring to the rest of the continent as ‘Africa’, as if they are on their own continent. We didn’t notice it for the first few years after apartheid ended, because almost all our passports bore the stamp ‘All countries except South Africa’ for so long that we ran our own mental apartheid against South Africa.
On their part, some of us suspect that they are running their own against us, and we call it xenophobia but that’s only a symptom of the problem at hand here; others call it a superiority complex but I bet there is a far more intelligent man out there than myself (and Zuma, certainly) who could argue that a superiority complex is actually an inferiority complex in defence mode.
I won’t get into that because I am not that intellectual philosopher.
What I will get into, though, is how weakly the whole of Africa (excluding South Africa) has treated this comment of “think like Africans, in Africa, generally”. Surely the whole of the African Union should be up in arms against Zuma for turning the continent into an idiom for something negative, bumbling, stupid, wrong, derogatory (feel free to add all the adjectives that the comment above evokes in you).
How can all the Presidents of Africa except South Africa not have taken offence at the comments by our smiling jolly father of twenty and husband of (how many?), he of the miracle shower solutions and God-knows-what other gaffes that we don’t ever get to hear of because we are in Africa?
But then again, wait. Maybe it’s ME who’s thinking like an African in Africa, generally? Taking offence at light comments made in a jocular setting and perhaps delivered as part of some political satire? The event might have been the South African equivalent of that US dinner where the President cracks jokes with comedians and pokes fun at himself and everyone else?
But then again, still, wait. Maybe there is something in that saying about thinking like an African in Africa, generally; does it have to do with failing to prioritise? Neglecting to plan? Being incapable of appreciating the value of time? Refusing to save now for better gains later? Blowing scarce resources on glitzy luxuries instead of the development of much-needed infrastructure? Filling up the pot-bellied bank accounts of the wealthy few in the cities at the expense of the rib-cage thin majority in the villages? Taking denigrating donations with one hand while using the other to spend on ostentation? Growing large dirty areas of dusty compounds and slums instead of well-kempt, lush gardens even in the middle of a tropical oasis?
Zuma may be on to something, you know. He just might be a major intellectual, after all, out to make us face our realities.
We Africans, in Africa generally.