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Leader’s dog dig divides South Africans

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s president says a dog should not be man’s best friend.

President Jacob Zuma made critical remarks about pet care that touch on sensitive race relations in South Africa, which was dominated by whites until apartheid was dismantled almost two decades ago, The Star newspaper reported Thursday.

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The newspaper cited Zuma as saying in a speech Wednesday that the idea of having a pet is part of ‘‘white culture’’ and that people should focus on family welfare.

The president’s office sought to clarify his remarks, saying he was encouraging ‘‘the previously oppressed African majority’’ to uphold its own culture.

The president’s remarks triggered a flurry of retorts from animal lovers on social media.

‘‘Will I become ‘more African’ if I kick my dog, President Zuma,’’ one person commented tartly.

Another wrote: ‘‘Well, that pretty much rules out that photo opportunity with Zuma, the Obamas, & their pet dog, Bo, in the White House.’’

The backdrop to the dog debate is the legacy of Western colonialism in Africa, as well as the bitter struggle against apartheid in South Africa that culminated in the first democratic elections in 1994. Poverty and economic imbalances remain a source of deep strain in the nation.

During his speech to an appreciative crowd in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province, the president said people who love dogs more than people have a ‘‘lack of humanity’’ and that some people are trying in vain to ‘‘emulate whiteness,’’ The Star reported.

In a statement, the president’s office said Zuma was trying to ‘‘decolonize the African mind post-liberation’’ and enable people to take pride in their heritage and not feel pressure to adopt customs of minority cultures.

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