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Imraan Coovadia Ponders South Africa's Complex and Troubled Relationship with Dogs

Tales of the Metric SystemImraan Coovadia, whose latest book is the newly released Tales of the Metric System, has written a moving article for the Los Angeles Review of Books entitled “Best Friends and Worst Enemies: Years of the Dog in South Africa”.

The article considers South Africa’s complex relationship with pet dogs through history, from the time when they were considered the “most zealous defender of the colonial project”, to JM Coetzee’s Disgrace and Nadine Gordimer’s reaction to it, to Zizi Kodwa calling for “the dogs to be beaten until their owners and handlers emerge” after Thabo Mbeki deposed his deputy Jacob Zuma in 2005.

But Coovadia begins with a reference to Zuma’s infamous remarks that owning a dog was “unAfrican”.

The internet demurred, producing photographs of black men with their beloved dogs, in particular the Alf Kumalo shot of Nelson Mandela, taken before the Treason Trial, with his Rhodesian Ridgeback. The president’s office argued that Zuma had been trying to “decolonise the African mind.” The Young Communist League tweeted supportively that a “rich man’s dog gets more in the way of vaccination, medicine and medical care than do the workers upon whom the rich man’s wealth is built.” The president’s many critics ranged from the general secretary of the government-aligned trade unions to the blogger for The Underdog Project — “Underdog addresses social and emotional needs of youths and children using non-invasive animal-assisted activities, like dog training” — and the regional digital communications manager for Coca-Cola — “My heart has thawed in the warmth of their tails wagging and melted at the sight of their excitement when they see me arrive at home.”

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