President Jacob Zuma. (Reuters)
President Jacob Zuma was speaking at the ANC's Manifesto Forum at Wits University on Monday night when he was questioned about the wisdom and logic of the e-tolling system that will soon be implemented. "We can't think like Africans in Africa. It's not some national road in Malawi." What the president meant by this has been a subject of debate on Twitter, with some claiming it was arrogant and classist.
The presidency has yet to clarify Zuma's remarks. We can expect a statement from spokesperson Mac Maharaj any moment now.
Zuma added that the e-tolling system was a world standard, and that alternatives to the e-tolling system were unfair. "This is what all economies in the world do," he said. "It is not fair to make the whole of South Africa pay for Gauteng's road use by taxing everyone's petrol more or put more burden on the already strained fiscus."
Some could see the point Zuma was (badly) trying to make, and offered an explanation. Sort of.
Zuma also criticised the legal challenges to e-tolls, lamenting the fact that some South Africans refused to abide by legal judgments. "Once the court says this is our decision, as citizens we should abide by it," he said.
The irony of that statement did not go begging, considering that Zuma has spent more than R1,2-million in his legal challenge to the release of the so-called spy tapes.
Soundcloud clip via DailyMaverick
Withdraw the statement, Mr President
?The Democratic Alliance (DA) was predictably quick to latch onto Zuma's latest gaffe. DA Gauteng leader Mmusi Maimane released a statement calling on Zuma to retract the remark.
"President Jacob Zuma should withdraw his statement last night that 'we can't think like Africans because we are in Johannesburg and not some national road in Malawi'," Maimane said. "The president was saying we must welcome e-tolls and pay up because new freeways have been built in Johannesburg. What the president doesn't realise is Africa is actually developing at a faster pace than he suggests.
"Many governments in African countries have adopted investor friendly policies that create jobs. They are not burdening citizens with double-taxation through an expensive e-tolling system. The president should rather take a leaf out of the books of other African economies that are actually growing faster than us," Maimane said.
Zuma's remarks on Monday night are the latest in a string of gaffes from Number One. A fortnight ago, Zuma addressed the 33rd Presbyterian Synod in Giyani, Limpopo, and said that those who challenge their leader will be cursed.
"If you don't respect those in leadership, if you don't respect authority, then you are bordering on a curse," said Zuma. "Whether we like it or not, God has made a connection between the government and the church. That's why he says you, as a church, should pray for it."
Single women 'a problem in society'
In August 2012, on Dali Tambo's talk show People of the South, while speaking about his daughter Duduzile's marriage to Lonwabo Sambudla, Zuma explained why single women are holding society back.
"I was also happy because I wouldn't want to stay with daughters who are not getting married. Because that in itself is a problem in society. I know that people today think being single is nice. It's actually not right. That's a distortion. You've got to have kids. Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother," Zuma said.
Who could forget Zuma's peculiar take on democracy and how it relates to parliamentary process. During presidential question time in the National Assembly in September 2012, he reminded the DA's Lindiwe Mazibuko who was in charge.
"Sorry, we have more rights here because we are a majority. You have fewer rights because you are a minority. Absolutely, that's how democracy works. So, it is a question of accepting the rules within democracy and you must operate in them," Zuma said.
And then there was the comment on "clever blacks" in November 2012 we can never let him forget. In the run-up to the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung, Zuma slammed black people "who become too clever", saying "they become the most eloquent in criticising themselves about their own traditions and everything".
"Because if you are not an African, you cannot be a white, then what are you? You don't know. You can't explain yourself. How then can you grow children?"
In December 2012, Zuma was at it again. He said in a speech delivered in KwaZulu-Natal that spending money on buying a dog, taking it to the vet and for walks belonged to white culture and was not the African way, which was to focus on the family.
There was a new generation of young Africans who were trying to adopt other lifestyles and even trying to look like others, he said. "Even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair you will never be white," Zuma said.