Malawi has summoned a South African envoy over President Jacob Zuma's disparaging remarks about the country.

Ntombile Mabude, the South African High Commissioner to Malawi, was asked to explain a statement Zuma made last Monday that was widely understood as suggesting that Malawi was backward, when discussing South Africa's road infrastructure.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Quent Kalichero told the AFP news agency on Wednesday that Mabude was "summoned to discuss the issue".

The envoy held a meeting with the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, George Mkondiwa, in the capital Lilongwe.

We are in Johannesburg, this is Johannesburg. It's not some national road in Malawi

President Jacob Zuma

Kalichero declined to provide details of the meeting.

Zuma sparked controversy when he tried to convinced motorists to accept the country's plan to toll highways around Johannesburg.

He said "we are in Johannesburg, this is Johannesburg. It's not some national road in Malawi."

On Tuesday, Zuma's spokesman Mac Maharaj defended the statement, saying it was reported out of context.

He said Zuma was trying to justify the sophisticated road system in the country's economic hub.

But according to Africa Check, a non-profit organisation monitoring the accuracy of public figures across the African continent, "Zuma’s remarks were not ‘taken out of context’ or distorted and that he did indeed make remarks about ‘Africans generally’, and Malawi in particular, that were intended to disparage.”

Zuma's comments drew outrage across South Africa, with social media platforms buzzing with ridicule and condemnation for the president's remarks.

But others say that Zuma's sentiment is precisely what South Africans feel about its neighbours. 

“Zuma is merely airing an often shy and hidden reality of the perceptions and arrogance that many South Africans share,” Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst, told South Africa's Daily Maverick.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies