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Robert Mugabe’s Disparaging Comments Bring Anger in Jamaica

Disparaging comments made by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe about the men of Jamaica have led to general outrage on the Jamaican island—but also to some soul searching, as some Jamaicans wonder whether there is some truth to Mugabe’s diatribe.

During a three-hour speech Mugabe made last week at a research exposition at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, Mugabe said Jamaican “men are always drunk,” have no interest in higher education, and people freely smoke marijuana.

“The men want to sing and do not go to colleges, some are dreadlocked. Let us not go there,” Mugabe said in a speech that mixed English and the Shona language and that was corroborated by The Associated Press by speaking to several reporters who attended the gathering.

This isn’t the first time Mugabe has gone after dreadlocks, in the past describing Rastafarians as having “moths and mud” in their hair. Ironically Mugabe has often been criticized for attitudes towards whites that many in the Western world described as racist—but apparently the controversial leader isn’t too fond of many blacks either.

The reaction in Jamaica among those interviewed was a mixture of irritation, anger and frustration.

Reggae singer Cocoa Tea, a Rastafarian who performed in Zimbabwe last October, said to The Jamaica Star 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.

“This is an African leader talking like this? Black man should stick up for each other. We’re all Africans,” said Glen Harris, a laborer and father of two.

Mugabe was the recipient of a top honor from the Jamaican government in 1996.

But while many attacked Mugabe, there were some Jamaicans who said he was making a valid point.

“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.

Mugabe’s comments have also become a political issue, as the government’s opposition has said the country’s leaders must demand an apology from Mugabe.

“If 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, spokeswoman for the Jamaica Labor Party.

Jamaican Information Minister Sandrea Falconer said Wednesday that the foreign affairs ministry, led by A.J. 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.


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