Seven ways you know you're an African, according to Jacob Zuma

The rest of us have been wrangling with the concept of what it means to be an African when this whole time Zuma has had it down pat. (Gallo)

The rest of us have been wrangling with the concept of what it means to be an African when this whole time Zuma has had it down pat. (Gallo)

Thabo Mbeki may have written the definitive speech on being an African, but his successor Jacob Zuma is determined to rewrite the script. 

Zuma apparently believes that the dubious financial relationship he enjoyed with his previous adviser Schabir Shaik, involving illicit loans to Zuma, was not corrupt – if you thought about it as an African. 

“Western paradigm brands this criminal,” read his written submission to the National Prosecuting Authority in 2009 to have charges against him dropped, according to a City Press report published on Sunday. 

Our president has a bad rep. The rest of us have been wrangling with the concept of what it means to be an African when this whole time Zuma has had it down pat. He didn’t need to make an epic speech on the matter like Mbeki did

Instead, he’s been dropping hints throughout his two terms in power so far.
You’re only truly African if:

1) You’re not too clever
Clever blacks are a scourge upon the continent, according to Zuma’s speech to the National House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament in November 2012. “Even some Africans, who become too clever, take a position, they become the most eloquent in criticizing themselves about their own traditions and everything.” 

2) You’ll never need a lawyer
His off the cuff remarks on the above occasion included a rant about prisons, lawyers, and other white man ways, over “the African way”. What’s that about the Constitution? Yeah, I’m not sure either. 

3) You have crappy roads
We may not need lawyers or prisons in Africa but we DO need e-tolls. Because otherwise we’ll be too African. Apparently one needs just the right amount of African-ness in Zuma’s books. “We can’t think like Africans in Africa. It’s not some national road in Malawi,” he told an audience at the University of the Witwatersrand in October 2013 when questioned about the logic of the deeply unpopular e-tolling system. 

4) You know that a little corruption between friends is totally fine
Can there be anything more insulting than conflating the West with accountability and clean governance? In labelling the idea of corruption a “Western paradigm”, Zuma’s lawyers have said that Zuma as an African subscribes to a different culture where corrupt dealings, such as the one that existed between him and Shaik, are ok. Because Africans have a lower standard when it comes to ethics? 

5) If you see a gay person, you would knock them down
Zuma may have apologised for this one, but it’s hard to forget the time he told people in September 2006 that he would knock down an ungqingili, or homosexual in Zulu. “Same sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God. When I was growing up, ungqingili could not stand in front of me, I would knock him out.” 

6) You know that when a woman wears a kanga, it’s business time
Some of Zuma’s more bizarre comments during his rape trial in 2006, in which he was later acquitted, included the idea that a woman wearing a wrap or a kanga, construed a sexual signal, and that “in Zulu culture, you don’t just leave a woman [when she is aroused] ... she will have you arrested and say you are a rapist”. 

7) You wouldn’t dream of having a dog
In a speech during the festive season in KwaZulu-Natal in 2012, Zuma made dog lovers everywhere doubt their African-ness when he described those who loved dogs more than people as “having a lack of humanity”. He also weighed in on the great hair debate (move over Chris Rock) and told black people to stop trying out other culture’s habits. “Even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair you will never be white,” Zuma said. 

With a list like that, you’d be forgiven for doubting your African-ness – at least as it is currently defined by our president.

Verashni Pillay

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.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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