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Mbalula missteps with ‘drowning’ Kenyan athletes comment

The ANC may have to apologise to yet another African country after a faux pas from one of its leaders.

Speaking at a breakfast briefing with editors in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning, Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula had a case of foot in mouth syndrome regarding Kenya's sporting acumen. 

Mbalula was addressing journalists around the theme of social cohesion, when a reporter questioned the issue of some national teams remaining stubbornly white. 

"You can't transform sports without targets," said Mbalula who has battled with the issue of racial quotas for some time. But at the same time, South Africa wouldn't be like Kenya and send athletes to the Olympics to "drown in the pool", he said in one bizarre moment that reminded some of ANC president Jacob Zuma's own faux pas over Malawian roads. 

The comment was met with some titters in the room and an embarrassed grin from the rest of the assembled ANC leaders. The comment also drew some alarm on Twitter.

In October last year, Zuma spectacularly bungled a justification for paying e-tolls. Speaking at the ANC's manifesto forum at Wits University at the time, Zuma was questioned about the wisdom and logic of the e-tolling system that was soon after implemented. "We can't think like Africans in Africa. It's not some national road in Malawi."

Predictably, the remark caused a minor furore on social networks like Twitter, and more importantly, upset his counterparts in that Southern African country. Ntombile Mabude, South Africa's high commissioner to Malawi, was summoned to explain the statement.

The statement was regarded as characteristic of a general arrogance against the rest of the continent from South Africans, that was reflected in the ANC and its leaders.

"Zuma is merely airing an often shy and hidden reality of the perceptions and arrogance that many South Africans share," Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst, told the Daily Maverick at the time.

The attitude is a slap in the face for many African countries who provided much support to the ANC in exile during apartheid. 

If our diplomats are summoned in Kenya to explain the remark, let's hope an apology will be quickly forthcoming.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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