BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter email@example.com
JAMAICA House was last night yet to comment formally on unflattering comments attributed to President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe about Jamaican culture at a recent regional three-day Expo in Harare, Zimbabwe, which is causing a firestorm in diplomatic circles.
On Sunday, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator AJ Nicholson said Jamaica was seeking to verify the authenticity of the remarks attributed to the president of Zimbabwe, after which, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller would respond. Yesterday, however, a ministry official said they were yet to verify whether the statements attributed to Mugabe were in fact made but said Senator Nicholson was expected to say more on the matter shortly. Senator Nicholson, the Jamaica Observer was told, was unable to respond to queries as he was locked in a Cabinet meeting.
In the meantime, a member of staff of the communications unit in the Office of the Prime Minister told the Observer that she was not sure when there would be a response on the issue.
Commenting Sunday night on reports of Mugabe's comments, Senator Nicholson said "we strongly reject the suggestions contained in the news item. Jamaica is a nation characterised by adherence to democratic principles and the rule of law".
"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, be it in the field of politics, diplomacy, medicine, science and technology, or sports and culture, among many others," he added.
The foreign minister said the country took "immense pride in the acknowledged contribution that Jamaica has made to the liberation of Southern Africa and was gratified that nations such as South Africa and Zimbabwe enjoy the right to choose their own destiny".
"We need not remind that Jamaicans such as Marcus Garvey, Michael Manley, Bob Marley and Dudley Thompson have advocated for and inspired generations of our brothers and sisters both in Africa and in the African diaspora. We believe that our contribution to the promotion of peace and social justice is recognised and appreciated by all well-thinking people across the globe".
Zimbabwe's media reported recently that Mugabe who, on Wednesday, opened the Expo held under the theme, "Research, Innovation and Creativity for Sustainable Development", told academics, dignitaries, business people, and government officials from across the country and the region that Jamaica was "a country of marijuana smokers, where women are now taking charge since men are always sloshed".
It was reported that Mugabe expressed the wish that Zimbabwe never followed the footsteps of Jamaicans, whose influence on the country has been all too pervasive.
Those supposed remarks have drawn the ire of Opposition Spokesperson on Youth, Sports, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Culture, Olivia "Babsy" Grange who yesterday called on the Government to demand an apology from President Mugabe.
According to the newspaper report, Mugabe said: "In Jamaica, they have freedom to smoke mbanje, varume vanogara vakadhakwa (men are always drunk) and universities are full of women. The men want to sing and do not go to colleges vamwe vanobva vamonwa musoro (some are dreadlocked). Let us not go there."
Said Grange: "I find Mr Mugabe's statements alarming, to say the least, as he has been to Jamaica and is very much aware that those views are quite contrary to the facts in Jamaica. 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 at such a forum of students, intellectual and business and social leaders in his country."
She added that if Mugabe's comments were found to be true, it would be an affront to the people of Jamaica who have stood in solidarity, both culturally and politically, with the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle for liberation.