South Africa: Maharaj Apologises for Malawi Comments

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj has apologised for the Malawi comments made by President Jacob Zuma.

"I have received numerous calls from Malawians being angry and after long discussions, they come around and say, yes, let's not make a mountain of a molehill," Maharaj said on Wednesday. "Let me apologise for that and withdraw it," he said.

He was interviewed on Power FM where he tried to explain the context of the statements made by Zuma at the Gauteng ANC's manifesto forum in Johannesburg on Monday night.

In a clip on the EyeWitness News website, Zuma is heard saying: "We can't think like Africans, in Africa, generally. We are in Johannesburg, this is Johannesburg. It's not some national road in Malawi."

Maharaj said Zuma was speaking in the context of two points on the highways but these did not come out in reporting by the media.

"Firstly, he was saying we need to enforce the user-pay principle for the national highways because it is not correct that people in the remote parts of South Africa should do the petrol levy and pay for the roads used in Gauteng," said Maharaj.

He said the road should not be seen as a local road in a local area but as part of the transport system at the heart of the country's economy.

"If that system through neglect of infrastructure chokes, the South African economy chokes."

He said the comments did not reflect how Zuma thought or acted in forums about Africa.

"Our records are clear in that we are the champions of trying to get Africa to see itself as one and enter the global stage on a basis of equality with the rest of the players of the world economy," said Maharaj.

Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said Zuma must explain the blunder to Parliament.

She said the comments were unacceptable, and an insult to South Africans and to the people of Malawi.

"It is for this reason that I will today submit three urgent parliamentary questions to President Zuma enquiring whether he has followed due process and sent an official apology or clarified his comments to the High Commissioner of the Republic of Malawi; and whether he will retract and/or apologise for his unacceptable insults to both South Africans and the people of Malawi," Mazibuko said in a statement.

She said lambasting people for "thinking like Africans" was an insult to every citizen on the continent, including all South Africans.

"It is now time for President Zuma to recognise that what he said was unacceptable, to stop the ineffective spin, and do what is expected of him: retract and apologise without delay," she said.