The painting of President Zuma

by The Editor

PICTURE: Today the ANC released a statement about a painting of President Zuma by artist by Brett Murray which, among other things, says: “We have this morning instructed our lawyers to approach our courts to compel Brett Murray and Goodman Gallery to remove the portrait from display as well as from their website and destroy all printed promotional material. We have also detected that this distasteful and vulgar portrait of the President has been displayed on a weekend newspaper and its website, we again have instructed our lawyers to request the said newspaper to remove the portrait from their website.” Well, in support of the constitutional right to free expression and in opposition to the ANC’s tyrannical attitude, here is the painting in question.

The Spear

By: Brett Murray

17 May 2012

An Open Letter: Why The Spear is staying up on Inside Politics


UPDATE: The Presidency’s response to the painting of Jacob Zuma

Speaking on behalf of the Presidency, Mac Maharaj has stated:

“We are amazed at the crude and offensive manner in which this artist denigrates the person and the office of the President of the Republic of South Africa,” and that, “Nobody has a right to violate the dignity and rights of others while exercising their own.”

That the Presidency should have an opinion on this matter at all is somewhat dubious. It is not the business of government to determine what is and what is not good art. That said, Maharaj misunderstands the basic rights involved. It is a painting of Jacob Zuma, a depiction of him, not a disparaging photo of the real person, published without permission. Were Maharaj’s argument to stand, every painting of another person, abstract or otherwise, would have to meet the approval of the subject before being displayed. Section 16(1)(c) of the South African Constitution guarantees everyone the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to “freedom of artistic creativity”. Brett Murray has fairly exercised that right.

UPDATE: I have posted the following blog on the painting:

The Jacob Zuma painting and the idea of respect

UPDATE: Gallery says it won’t remove painting

Full credit to the Goodman Gallery which, in an environment defined by deference to the ANC and all that it determines is or is not politically correct, have decided not to remove the painting of Jacob Zuma. Their reasoning, or at least the most important part of it, is best captured by this quote from its spokesperson Lara Koseff: “We feel it is censorship to take the image down”. Quite right.

UPDATE: ANC serves letter of demand on Goodman Gallery

According to SABCNews, the ANC has served a letter of demand on the Goodman Gallery, to remove the painting of Jacob Zuma, which the Gallery has rejected and its lawyers written back to. So it appears court action is inevitable.

UPDATE: Painting against ubuntu says Manyi

Two quotes worth repeating. The first is from government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi who said of the painting: “It also goes against the grain of African morality, culture and the spirit of ubuntu as well as nation building”. That tells you one thing: ubuntu is not compatible with the Constitution (see this blog on ubuntu for more). Second, this quote from the ACDP: “Those who believe in freedom of expression without limits must remember that dignity is a founding value of the South African Constitution.” The only limit on Freedom of Expression is the incitment to cause harm, not hurt. So, I am afraid, they too got that profoundly wrong.

UPDATE: International press on Zuma painting

A number of international publications have picked up on the Zuma painting story, here are the links to some of those stories: Sky News, The Economist, BBC News, The Guardian, The Washington Post (Associated Press).

UPDATE: The inspiration for Brett Murray’s ‘The Spear’

Lenin Lived, Lenin is Alive, Lenin Will Live
By: Victor Ivanov

UPDATE: Cosatu and the ANCWL condemn painting

Both the Congress of South African Trade Unions and ANC Women’s League have spoken out against Brett Murray’s painting. The ANCWL said in statement about the painting that it “violates the integrity of the office of the president…and it violates his rights as an individual to humane and fair treatment”. Patrick Craven said in a statement on behalf of Cosatu:

“Cosatu fully supports the African National Congress’s demand to the artist and the Goodman Gallery to remove this “distasteful and vulgar portrait of the president” from display and from their website and destroy all printed promotional material, and will support the legal action the ANC intends to take to enforce the President’s right to dignity as contained in the constitution of our country.”

UPDATE: Sadtu joins anti-painting chorus

In a statement on the painting Sadtu has said it “is joining the ANC and COSATU in the call to have the painting of President Jacob Zuma showing his private parts removed from the Goodman Gallery and on the internet with immediate effect” and that “The painting has done untold damage to the president’s and the country’s image and dignity. Not only are President Zuma, the ANC and his family feeling humiliated, the majority of South Africans experience the same”.

UPDATE: I have posted the following blog in response the statement by Zuma’s children

The painting, the institution and the individual

UPDATE: Zuma’s founding affidavit on painting

I have uploaded Jacob Zuma’s founding affidavit, lodged with the South Gauteng South Court on 18 May 2012. The affidavit asks for an urgent order from the court, instructing the Goodman Gallery to remove the painting. You can view the affidavit here.

UPDATE: The SACP lends its voice to painting outrage

The SACP, the final missing component in the alliance, has completed the trifector by also issuing a statement on the painting. Among other things, it has stated:

“The SACP is outraged at the insulting, disrespectful, and frankly, disgusting, and sadistic so-called portrait of President Zuma by Brett Murray. This constitutes a grave insult not only to the person and dignity of the President, but an insult to all black South Africans and all other decent South Africans. This portrait is deeply offensive and an extreme act of provocation to the overwhelming majority of our people.”

“Sadistic”? That’s a new one. The SACP, like Jacob Zuma’s children, also conveniently conflates Jacob Zuma with the Office he holds, saying: “This kind of portrait shows the extent to which a section of South Africans do not respect the office of the President, the person of President Zuma, and the millions of black and other South Africans who take offence at this.”

UPDATE: Minister of justice to open case against painting

In a profoundly disturbing development, the minister of justice is reportedly set to open a case of crimen injuria against Brett Murray, at the instruction of the president. This is a gross abuse and misuse of the state. I am not a lawyer and so I stand to be corrected, but only the injured party can open a case of crimen injuria. The department of justice cannot open one on the president’s behalf. More to the point, the president cannot instruct the minister to do that. But that is only one element of the problem. The state – the representative of the people – cannot be seen to be taking a position on what constitutes acceptable art. It is the equivalent of banning books (like the apartheid regime notoriously did for books like ‘Black Beauty’).

UPDATE: The South African Students Organisation condemns painting

Sasco has released a statement condemning the painting by Brett Murray. It says, among many other things, “we have noted the impunity with which, at most, the South African media in general, and in this case cartoonists and artists, have sought to arbitrarily determine what constitutes freedom of expression with total disregard for the varying understandings of the freedom in question amongst the peoples of our country”. It describes the painting as: “…disingenuous, rude, disrespectful and, moreover, an attack on the social standing of the President both as a political leader and a father…”

UPDATE: Black Management Forum says ‘The Spear’ an attack on ‘black people’

The BMF has said in a statement on Brett Murray’s painting that it is “an attack on the culture of the majority, the black people of South Africa” and that it “cannot go unchallenged”. The BMF has also conflated ‘The Office of the President’ with Jacob Zuma, the individual: “The tasteless depiction of President Jacob Zuma… is not only a personal assault as well as an attack on the dignity and institutional office of the President of the Republic”.

UPDATE: City Press reports the Film and Publications Board has inspected ‘The Spear’

According to reports the Film and Publications Board arrived at the Goodman Gallery to see if ‘The Spear’ constitutes pornography. They are “busy with a report” into the matter. What you are seeing here is the state being mobilised by the ANC to pursue an entirely partisan agenda. It is obscene. What was the last art exhibition the FPB investigated?

UPDATE: Pinky Khoabane suggests ‘The Spear’ constitutes plagiarism

Sunday Times columnist and ANC acolyte Pinky Khoabane (@pinkykhoabane) has suggested on Twitter Brett Murray’s work ‘The Spear’ constitutes plagiarism. Two tweets summerise her position: “Anybody read the word “plagiarism” in any of the media reviews on Brett Murray’s work? Media dont respect plagiarism” and “I think it is a crime to steal the creative works of others, not credit the originators of the work & claim it as yrs.” Andy Warhol must be turning in his grave.

UPDATE: Gwede Mantashe says ‘The Spear’ is racist

The first person to come out and upfront call ‘The Spear’ racists is ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. He has described it as follows: “It’s rude, it’s crude, it’s disrespectful, it’s racist”. The racism claim is nonsense. The last refuge of the scoundrel. As the for the rest, it might or might not be true, but even it is, it is perfectly within Murray’s rights to be be rude, crude and disrespectful.

UPDATE: Former Justice Albie Sachs on South African art in 2000

For a great quote from 2000, by Albie Sachs on the state of South African art and how it paid no heed to political correctness, see the blog I have just posted, link below. All rather ironic now.

Albie Sachs on South African art in 2000

UPDATE: The Youth Communist League threatens to tear down painting

The YCL has released a statement on the painting by Brett Murray (click on link, then select 2012 statements on left hand column, under ‘News and Publications’). Interestingly it describes the painting as ‘liberal art’. A curious notion. More disturbingly, in a seperate story, it is leader Buti Manamela has threatened to lead a march to “tear down” the painting.

UPDATE: Church says Murray should be stoned to death

Today Jacob Zuma’s case with be heard in the Gauteng South High Court and a great deal of protest outside is expected. In the run-up to it, The Times reports that Enoch Mthembu, spokesman for the Nazareth Baptist Church, commonly known as the Shembe church, has said that: “This man has insulted the entire nation and he deserves to be stoned to death”.

UPDATE: ‘The Spear’ defaced by two people who threw paint on it

I cannot express how profoundly disgraceful this act is. ENews reports that two members of the public have thrown paint on ‘The Spear’, defacing it and covering Zuma’s face and genitals in doing so. The first person painted a red cross over the both the face and genitals, the second simply smeared black paint over it. The following picture of the defaced painting was tweeted:

UPDATE: International press responds to vandalism of ‘The Spear’

The following international publications are now carrying stories on the defacement of ‘The Spear’: Al Jazeera, Bloomberg, BBC News, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, Fox News, The Telegraph. One can only imagine what the international community makes of this kind of intolerance.

UPDATE: The Democratic Alliance releases statement on ‘The Spear’

DA Shadow Minister for Justice Dene Smuts has released a statement on ‘The Spear’. The statement in its entirety is worth reading but this line in particular is worth repeating here: “President Zuma, the ANC and the iconoclasts will find that powerful art cannot be censored or erased from public memory. The Spear will now live on forever instead of being banned in perpetuity as the President wanted.”

UPDATE: Painting removed and Goodman Gallery closes

In what seems like an appropriate final development in this sorry saga, the Goodman Gallery has taken down ‘The Spear’ and moved it to a “safe location” pending the court case (a full bench of the High Court will hear the case on Thursday). At the same time, the Gallery has closed due to “numerous threats of intimidation”. So, physical violence, intimidation, threatening talk and bullying has won out. The painting is gone and the gallery closed.

UPDATE: I have just posted the following blog:

‘The Spear’ and the silence of the National Arts Council

Other Posts:
The ANC’s all-time top 10 most disturbing quotes
Is South Africa mired in mediocrity: An essay on mediocrity

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