The ANC loves those spears

2012-05-26 14:33

Whatever you do, don’t touch Father Jacob Zuma on his spear. You strike his weapon, you strike a rock and the country ends up feeling crushed. Artist Brett Murray has learnt this the hard way in the past two weeks.

His painting, The Spear, seemed to me to be a satirical take on Zuma the Big Man. The genitals represent patriarchy, and having them hang outside the trousers show their vulnerability, but also mock the origins of male chauvinism.

This isn’t the definitive or only interpretation, or even what the artist intended.

In fact, Murray told our arts writer, Charl Blignaut, the painting tapped into an iconic image of communist history to highlight “the legacy-building the president should be doing”. But the provocative picture was worth even more than a thousand words.

Many black people interpreted it from a historical perspective as a derogatory and insulting depiction of all black people by a white man.

It’s a view no less valid than the artists’ view or mine.

Instead of recognising the many ways of seeing it, the ANC chose to run with the racial interpretation. The party also insists it is a personal injury to the president.

It called on “all South Africans” to rally behind one interpretation and said: “Let us refuse to be polarised as a people but stand together in defence of a non-racial, dignified South Africa that belongs to all of us who live in it!”

By forcing us to agree with the one view or else be seen as an unpatriotic enemy, the ANC is, at best, being unfair. It claims to be a broad church, but I believe the ANC needs some liberation theology.

Shortly after ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe put forward the party’s view at a briefing on Monday, I went up to him to chat about something else.

As we greeted he laughed and made a remark mentioning “white bitch”. He and some colleagues had mocked me about this several times since I took suspended ANC Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu to court for hate speech for calling me that.

Previously, perhaps wrongly, I had laughed it off, but on Monday I wondered what non-sexist party can defend its male leader so vigorously against satire yet make a joke of hate speech against a woman?

Besides Shivambu, there was also Julius Malema’s rape and taxi fare hate speech conviction. It was for a remark he made defending Zuma’s indiscretions. Neither was ever disciplined by the “non-sexist” ANC for their hate speech.

Mantashe on Monday implied the party listened to the views of the “majority of people” expressed on radio talkshows, but, frankly, what is the point of leaders if they cannot provide some direction above the
din?

Instead, the ANC chose to parrot what it considers the most popular view to rally “the masses” behind one man who desperately needs to cling to power.

But Zuma is no Saartjie Baartman.

As a man he belongs to the gender of power, and as a president he occupies the most powerful office in the country. Or is he really, deep down, that insecure about his manhood and his office?

By swinging Zuma’s fatherhood in our faces as if we were his children, the ANC wants to subdue us into uncritical children rather than able, thinking citizens.

In putting so much emphasis on his patriarchy (he heads a household of close to two dozen children and several wives), and by feeling offended by the mockery implied in the painting, the ANC really proves my interpretation.

No wonder it was two males who defaced the painting.

Next month ANC delegates will go to a policy conference where they will mouth platitudes about the perils of patriarchy, but the single-minded furore about this painting proves that deep down, the party actually subscribes to male rule.

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