Zuma comes face to face with JB after his Malawi jibe

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa will today, Monday, come face to face with his “sister” Joyce Banda of Malawi, two weeks after his gaffe about Malawi’s road network.

President Banda was expected to leave Malawi Monday afternoon for South Africa to attend a Joint Southern Africa Development Community/International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (SADC/ICGLR) Summit in Pretoria which is being hosted by Zuma.

Two weeks ago, relations between the two countries appeared strained following Zuma’s careless remark on the state of Malawi’s road system.

“We can’t think like Africans in Africa generally. We are in Johannesburg. This is Johannesburg. It is not some national road in Malawi. No,” Zuma degraded Malawi during an event introducing road tolls to pay for a massive upgrade to Johannesburg’s and Pretoria’s motorways.

President Joyce Banda and Zuma of South Africa

The comment kicked off a furore in the press and on social media forcing his spokesman Mac Maharaj to say the comments were taken out of context and “blown completely out of proportion”.

The Malawi Government reacted swiftly by summoning the South African High Commissioner to Malawi, Cassandra Mbuyane-Mokone, to explain his president’s remarks.

South Africa’s Deputy International Relations Minister, Marius Fransman, while attending a SADC summit in Lilongwe, also met Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Ephraim Chiume, as well as paid a courtesy visit to President Banda in an effort to patch up relations.

Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Quent Kalichero, said the country had obtained clarification from the South African Government that the remarks were indeed reported out of context.

She said as government, Malawi was happy with the explanation as well as engagement of the two top officials from the South African Government.

“The actual context they referred to is that the president (Zuma) was talking about roads in South Africa while trying to coerce you people to pay fees so that you can maintain your roads,” Kalichero said.

She said “the issue is over and the two countries’ leadership will show that diplomatic relations are intact,” she added.

South African and Malawi have had a good relationship as evidenced by the rainbow nation’s lending of about R350 million last year June in the hit of crisis to purchase fuel.

After Zuma’s blunder, one of South Africa’s leading newspapers, City Press that followed the story closely, dispatched its journalists to Malawi to see for themselves how the roads look like.

Regrettably, the paper also reported that Malawian roads are small, two-lane carriageways but unlike their many roads in South Africa, they are not riddled with potholes.

“However, they do look a bit frayed around their unpaved edges, a possible result of rainwater damage,” reported the paper.

It also described the country’s main road, the M1, which joins Malawi’s three regions, as “comparable to many roads in South African towns.”

Although the diplomatic row may now appear to be over, most ordinary Malawians are still a bit angry with what President Zuma said about their country.

However, the world is watching with keen interest how the two leaders will get along at the summit following Zuma’s faux pas that caused a backlash from several opposition politicians in South Africa.

Malawi is also on a diplomatic war with northern neighbours, Tanzania, over the boundary of Lake Malawi which the latter claims part belongs to it while Malawi insists she owns the entire lake.

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