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Semi-naked portrait of South African leader sparks firestorm of indignation

Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network

SOUTH AFRICA — Smoldering anger over a full-length painting of South African President Jacob Zuma, with his genitals exposed, has forced a confrontation between those who support free expression and those who see racism “alive and well and living on the tips of the tongues of most white South Africans.”

“The Spear,” by satirical artist Brett Murray, had been hanging at the Goodman Gallery until the gallery owners removed all of Murray’s works yesterday, bowing to growing pressure from ANC loyalists and others.

At a march this week by thousands of ANC supporters, handwritten signs read: “President Zuma has a right to human dignity and privacy,” “We say no to abuse of Artistic expression” and “Draw your white father naked, not our president.”

The painting, which forms part of Murray’s “Hail to the Thief II” exhibition, has already been sold.

Buti Manamela, national secretary of the Young Communist League, weighed in, saying, “The movement has always promoted freedom of expression, but you cannot denigrate important figures.”

Ferial Haffajee — editor of City Press, which carried the picture — fired back: “We take down the image in the spirit of peacemaking — it is an olive branch. But the debate must not end here and we should all turn this into a learning moment, in the interest of all our freedoms.

“Of course, the image is coming down from fear too. I’d be silly not to admit that. The atmosphere is like a tinderbox: City Press copies went up in flames on Saturday (June 2); I don’t want any more newspapers burnt in anger.”

City Press’s stance had an unlikely defender in Julius Malema, the expelled president of the ANC’s youth wing. Malema said he intended to buy two copies, explaining, “Banning newspapers simply because we disagree with them, and boycotting them on the basis of believing that our conception of truth is absolute, poses a real threat to our democracy.”

Reader Opinions

Nightjar •
JUN 09  •  The Spear painting was actually a parody of an earlier portrait of (a white) Vladimir Lenin and the ANC chose to deflect public attention away from the other critical works by playing the race card, claiming that Zuma was the subject and whipping up anti-white feeling. The entire public swallowed the ANC propaganda, focused on one painting and ignored the real thrust of the whole group. Brett Murray may well have intended that the public see Zuma as the subject but, because all the ANC leaders since the 1950s were Soviet controlled communists, it could have been any of the comrades. Assuming that it was actually Zuma it is still difficult, in the light of all his sexual misbehaviour already in the public domain, to imagine his dignity being in any way injured by the Spear painting.

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