South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) plans to take an art gallery to court over a satirical
depiction of President Jacob Zuma.
The painting titled The Spear (Umkhonto we Sizwe) depicts Zuma in an authoritarian pose with his gear hanging out. The ANC has labelled the work by artist Brett Murray an insulting depiction of the president and says it violates his
constitutional right to privacy and dignity.
The party is demanding that the Goodman Gallery, where the painting is on display, takes it down. It has also asked the City Press newspaper to remove a photograph of the work from its website.
Goodman Gallery curator Liza Essers tweeted:
It is a sad day for South Africa when creative production is being threatened with censorship from our ruling party.
Update: Presumably State Censorship
23rd May 2012. See article
Two 'state censors' wielding cans of red and black paint walked into Johannesburg's Goodman gallery and daubed an X over South African President Jacob Zumat's groin before smearing paint over his face. The controversial painting draws attention to
Zuma's genitals and his reputation for promiscuity.
The painting by Brett Murray entitled The Spear has been on display since early this month, but made the news only last week when it came to the attention of South Africa's governing African National Congress party.
Zuma filed an urgent application at the South Gauteng High Court for an order to have the portrait removed from the gallery and photographs of it taken off the City Press newspaper website.
Both the gallery and the newspaper refused on the grounds it would be censorship. The matter was set to be heard today.
Update: Newspaper under duress
29th May 2012.
South Africa's ruling party, the ANC, has called for a boycott of the City Press newspaper after it published a picture
depicting President Jacob Zuma in a Leninist pose with exposed genitalia.
The ANC has demanded that the Sunday paper remove the image entitled The spear of the nation from its website.
It has called on advertisers not to buy space in the paper and on people not to read it until the publishers comply with its demand.
In calling for the boycott, the ANC described the paper as a paragon of immorality which does not belong to our shared democratic dispensation and values . It was therefore anti-ANC, the president, our democracy and the majority
of South Africans.
The paper published a copy of Murray's painting column 10 days ago to accompany a review of the art exhibition in which it was displayed.
The Guardian's Roy Greenslade said that he included a copy of the picture as an act of solidarity with City Press.
Later the City Press bowed to the pressure and removed the painting from its website. Editor Ferial Haffajee wrote:
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; I don't want any more newspapers burnt in anger.
Meanwhile in court
Lawyers for President Jacob Zuma will have to refine their arguments over how the High Court in Johannesburg will implement a ban on the controversial artwork, The Spear, since the image has already gone viral.
While on one hand, advocate Gcina Malindi delivered a compelling argument about the classist nature of the painting, and how it was an insult to Zuma, he appeared to falter when asked how the court would police a court order making the
image unlawful and unconstitutional.
The ANC, along with Zuma and his children have called on judges to go beyond interdicting the Goodman Gallery and the City Press newspaper from displaying the portrait.
Since Brett Murray's painting of Zuma with his genitals on display first appeared in the newspapers two weeks ago it has been replicated, copied, lampooned and photographed. It has also been carried on international news websites, Facebook and
Judge Kathree-Setiloane put it to Malindi that the image is already out there , while Judge Claassen said an apology from the gallery, City Press and artist Brett Murray, can be monitored while it would be near-impossible to police a
declaration of unlawfulness in the digital age. What happens when the image is downloaded from various other websites? Would that be a transgression? Claassen asked.
Update: Gallery Removes Painting
31st May 2012. See article
A South African art gallery has agreed not to display a controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed after reaching a deal with the ANC. The painting has sparked fierce debate about the balance between freedom of
expression and the right to dignity.
Under the deal, the ANC has agreed to drop its legal action demanding that the gallery remove the painting from its exhibition and the website.
Hundreds of ANC supporters protested outside the gallery on Tuesday.
Update: Censors get involved
31st May 2012. See article
The online version of the famed The Spear painting will be
classified by the Film and Publications Board.
The Goodman Gallery's defence team had asked for the dismissal of the case against it because, advocate Matthew Welz said, the painting no longer existed.
But the censors insisted the online version still existed to pose problems for children and sensitive people. The board's chief operations officer, Mmapula Fisha, who chaired proceedings, said: We will still classify the painting as is our duty
to children. Online content cannot be looked at in isolation.
After deliberations, the board agreed it had no jurisdiction over the same image in the City Press newspaper, and said the complaint would be escalated to the ombudsman: We accept that the print media self-regulation body needs to deal with
this. But a decision on how to classify the online picture of the painting would be made within two days.
Meanwhile the Democratic Alliance party has reacted with disbelief at the Film and Publications Board's decision to classify the artwork. DA justice spokeswoman Dene Smuts said the board appeared to be scraping the bottom of the barrel in
its attempts to find grounds for restricting the distribution or display of The Spear . It was in fact measurably the result of the ANC's attempts at censorship that images of the painting had gone viral.