PUBLISHED: 11:41 EST, 13 September 2012 | UPDATED: 11:43 EST, 13 September 2012
‘Drunks’: Mugabe said Jamaican men had no interest in higher education and the country’s universities were filled with women
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has infuriated Jamaican men by labelling them chronic drunkards and unambitious pot smokers.
He claimed they had ‘no interest in higher education’ and are ‘always drunk’, during his controversialspeech last week at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare.
‘The men want to sing and do not go to colleges, some are dreadlocked, let us not go there,’ said Mugabe in several unscripted asides.
He alternated between English and the Shona language during the three-hour talk, but his comments were corroborated by reporters afterwards.
His comments are now making waves across the Caribbean island, where Jamaicans aredebating the matter on street corners, in letters to newspapers and on radio talk shows.
Over the years, Mugabe has repeatedly made disparaging remarks about Rastafarians, whom he once described as having ‘moths and mud’ in their hair.
Rastafarianism, best known for its ritual use of marijuana and the dreadlocked hairstyle worn by followers, emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s out of anger over the oppression of black people. 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,’ said Cocoa Tea.
‘Laidback’: Most Jamaicans were incensed at the stereotypical view of their nation, but some said the comments had some basis in fact
Glen Harris, a labourer and father of two children, said he felt irritated when he heard about the Zimbabwean president’s remarks on a local radio program.
‘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 fences.
Although some foreigners have an image of Jamaica as a laidback, cannabis-smoking society, using the drug is illegal and many islanders are socially conservative churchgoers who quietly endure stereotypes of their country.
– GLEN HARRIS, LABOURER
A few Jamaicans are not aggrieved with Mugabe, noting that their island is the largest producer of marijuana in the Caribbean and that far more women graduate from university than men.
They say Mugabe may have a point, even if he was being overly broad by disparaging Jamaican men.
Northern Caribbean University administrator Vincent Peterkin said in a letter to The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper: ‘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.’
The government’s opposition has also waded into the debate, urging Jamaica to demand an apology from Mugabe.
Olivia Grange, spokeswoman for the Jamaica Labor Party, said: ‘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.’
Jamaican Information Minister Sandrea Falconer said yesterday that the foreign affairs ministry, led by A.J. Nicholson, was still trying to confirm if Mugabe had made the remarks.
‘I know his ministry is still trying to authenticate the source, and after we will respond,’ said Falconer 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.’