Jamaica offended by Mugabe's remarks
13 September 2012, 09:56
Kingston - Comments by an African leader portraying
the men of Jamaica as chronic drunkards and un-ambitious pot smokers
have become the talk of towns across this Caribbean island. People are
debating the matter on street corners, in letters to the editor and on
radio talk shows.
In unscripted asides during a roughly three-hour speech last week at a research exposition, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said Jamaican "men are always drunk", have no interest in higher education, and people freely smoke marijuana.
men want to sing and do not go to colleges, some are dreadlocked. Let
us not go there," Mugabe told the crowd at the University of Zimbabwe in
Harare. His comments in a mixture of both English and the Shona
language were corroborated by The Associated Press after speaking to
several reporters who attended the gathering.
Over the years,
Mugabe has repeatedly made disparaging remarks about dreadlocked
Rastafarians, whom he once described as having "moths and mud" in their
hair. Rastafarianism, best known for its ritual use of marijuana and the
dreadlock hair style worn by followers, emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s
out of anger over the oppression of blacks. A small minority of
Jamaicans are adherents.
Reggae singer Cocoa Tea, a Rastafarian
who performed in Zimbabwe last October, told The Jamaica Star tabloid
that Mugabe's comments were "not a true reflection of us as people".
"Jamaicans are way better than that and we are leaders, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion," Cocoa Tea said.
Harris, a labourer and father of two children, said he felt irritated
when he heard about the Zimbabwean president's chiding remarks on a
local radio programme. Like the large majority of Jamaica's population,
Harris is black.
"This is an African leader talking like this?
Black man should stick up for each other. We're all Africans," he said
on a Kingston street of low-slung concrete buildings and sheet metal
Demand an apology
Although some foreigners
have an image of Jamaica as a laid-back, sun-soaked slice of paradise
where unhurried people smoke marijuana without a care, marijuana use is
illegal and many islanders are socially conservative churchgoers who
quietly endure stereotypes of their country.
Still, a few
Jamaicans aren't aggrieved with Mugabe, who received a top government
honour during a 1996 visit. They note that their island is the largest
producer of marijuana in the Caribbean and that far more women graduate
from university than men, and say Mugabe may have a point, even if he
was being overly broad by disparaging Jamaican men.
"Is President Robert Mugabe
really on to something? Certainly, his observation that our
'universities are full of women' while our 'men want to sing and do not
go to colleges' is a truism, which none can deny," Northern Caribbean
University administrator Vincent Peterkin wrote in a letter to the
editor of The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper.
The government's political opposition has also waded into the debate, urging Jamaica to demand an apology from Mugabe.
true, it is startling that someone who has himself claimed that his
country is a victim of imperceptions fed by the international media
should be using these misconceptions of Jamaican society to describe our
people," said Olivia Grange, spokesperson for the Jamaica Labour Party.
Information Minister Sandrea Falconer said on Wednesday that the
foreign affairs ministry, led by AJ Nicholson, was still trying to
confirm if Mugabe made the remarks.
"I know his ministry is still
trying to authenticate the source, and after we will respond," Falconer
said in a brief phone interview.
In a written statement,
Nicholson stressed that "Jamaican men and women from all walks of life
have made valuable contributions to national development and have made
their mark on the world stage".