President Jacob Zuma was only trying to "decolonise the African mind" when he criticised caring for dogs as pets as part of "white culture", the presidency said on Thursday.
"The essential message from the President was the need to decolonise the African mind, post-liberation," said presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj in a statement.
He said Zuma wanted "to enable the previously oppressed African majority to appreciate and love who they are and uphold their own culture".
The presidency was responding to a report in The Star that said Zuma, in a speech given at Impendle in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday, had said that spending money to buy a dog and taking it to the vet and for walks, belonged to "white" culture.
He said that the African way was rather to focus on family.
According to the newspaper, Zuma also said people who loved dogs more than people had "a lack of humanity".
Zuma added that there was a generation of people trying to "emulate whiteness" but who would not succeed.
"Even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair, you will never be white," he was reported as saying.
In the presidency's statement, Maharaj did not deny that the president had made the above points.
However, he said, that the "few remarks" were in fact about "promoting ubuntu and maintaining respect and high regard for other human beings and African culture".
Maharaj said Zuma was referring to "what people should guard against, such as loving animals more than other human beings".
"He made the well-known example of people who sit with their dogs in front in a van [bakkie] or truck, with a worker at the back in pouring rain or extremely cold weather.
"Others do not hesitate to rush their dogs to veterinary surgeons for medical care when they are sick, while they ignore workers or relatives who are also sick in the same households."
Nevertheless, Maharaj said Zuma was not suggesting that animals "should not be loved or cared for".
People however should not "elevate our love for our animals above our love for other human beings".
Maharaj said that Zuma "emphasised" the need to "preserve that which is good in certain cultures, and avoid adopting practices that are detrimental to building a caring African society".
However, Maharaj also said that Zuma wanted his audience to know that "they should not feel pressured to be assimilated into the minority cultures".
Maharaj criticised the media coverage of Zuma's speech.
"It is unfortunate that the journalists concerned chose to report the comments in a manner that seeks to problematise them, instead of promoting a debate about deconstruction and decolonisation of the mind as part of promoting reconciliation, nation building, unity and social cohesion."