The Mass Demonstration at Court
South Africa has already had one “black day” since independence. This was when the now internationally infamous so called Protection of State Information Bill was passed in Parliament, by supine and unprincipled ANC members, with two courageous exceptions.
Today is another black day. Today one of our Superior Courts is faced with an application by the ANC to have a work of art destroyed. In that application the Court will have to resolve vexed issues involving the right to free speech versus the right to privacy and dignity just for starters. To-day the ANC will seek to influence a court of justice by insidious intimidation. There can be no other reason for calling on its members to assemble en masse outside the court. Our courts are staffed by independent judges, sworn to act without fear, favor or prejudice. That is the problem for the ANC. The independence of the presiding judge, and his/her oath of office, presents as a risk that is to be addressed, by letting the court know very aggressively, loudly and clearly that it is required to decide the matter in its favour.
As articulated by Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s view of the painting, “The Spear”, is “rude, crude, disrespectful … and racist”. The mob, that is to amass at the door of the court, is intended to ensure that the court endorses this view. The judiciary has already been lectured on a number of occasions that it is expected not to interfere with the political will of the people as actioned by ANC leadership. To date the courts have been resolute, and ignored the warning to the ire of the likes of the President, Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe and ANC Chief Whip, Mathole Motshekga in particular. This clique ahs therefore ensured the commissioning of a “assessment” of our Constitution to include answering the question as to whether or not the judgments of the Superior Courts have served transformation.
By staging a mass demonstration at the door of the court, the ANC is serving notice on the court that it needs to understand that it must heed the voice of the ANC. By express implication any other outcome will be intolerable to that voice. There can be no other reason for this mass action. Mass action is always employed to secure a result that is acceptable only to those staging it. It is always intended to pressurize the target entity into capitulating to the will of the mass. No question! The fact that this is an insidious, if not overt, attack on the independence of the court is irrelevant to this new madness. What is relevant is that the presiding judge needs to know beyond doubt what decision is expected.
Using the racist label
The trigger to all this is the exhibiting of a painting by South Africa artist, Brett Murray, titled “The Spear”, in which President Jacob Zuma is depicted in a Leninist pose, with an exposed penis. It is part of an exhibition that visually attempts to take ANC leadership to task for failed delivery and betrayal of its mandate. To this end it is accompanied by two “ANC plaques” that are titled “For Sale” and “Sold” respectively.
It is reality that such a painting about leadership will be controversial. No question! It will evoke an emotive response in the hearts and minds of human beings. It is perfectly understandable that the ANC, and others, have branded the work as “rude, crude, insulting … ect..” Given the extremely diverse composition of this multi racial, multi cultural society there are views that are as divergent as humanity can be.
So the painting will be many things in many minds. However, what it is not, is racist. There is absolutely nothing in the composition of the painting that includes race, ethnicity or colour as an element; nothing whatsoever! In addition the artist, Brett Murray has a long standing history of having painted other works, whose theme was expressly anti-apartheid. So there is nothing about the painting or the artist to even suggest racism as a factor.
In addition, it is the situation that a painting by a Black artist, Ayanda Mabulu, is also currently being exhibited. It too depicts Jacob Zuma with an exposed penis. It goes even further. It depicts our internationally beloved Archbishop Desmond Tutu naked. Ayanda has publicly explained that the depiction of nakedness in art was never considered objectionable in African tradition. His painting is also intended to be a criticism of ANC leadership.
Despite this, in an astonishing and brazen display of incredible selectivity, the ANC has simply ignored the Mabulu painting and branded only Murray’s work as racist. Why? Why this crass hypocrisy? Why gratuitously play the race card knowing the terrible risk of ethnic antipathy, even conflict, that this invites? Why expose the artist and White community to opprobrium and loathing on the part of the Black majority? Why fan the flames of race hatred? Why seek to divide the nation on racial lines? Why seek to destroy the very fragile spirit of racial reconciliation that was put in place by international icon, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela?
The answer would appear to be crude political expediency, in service of Jacob Zuma, “JZ”. Once again JZ is in a political battle. On the previous occasion it was with ex President Thabo Mbeki. All political analysts concluded that, central to his success in that battle, was that he was able to convince the masses that he was a victim. There is also political consensus that, in the process, a “collection of the wounded” coalesced around him. In that way a struggle hero, and most powerful man in South Africa, was summarily removed from power and Jacob Zuma installed.
Jacob Zuma’s current battle is on two (2) fronts. He is at extreme risk from a Helen Zille led Democratic Alliance, “the DA”. This party won a court battle, whose decision was bitterly resented by JZ and the ANC leadership, in which it now has the right to approach the court, on application, to have charges of corruption re-instated against JZ. It is a nightmare, considering that the courts have already concluded, in convicting Schabir Shaik, that corruption between Shaik and JZ did occur.
The other front on which JZ is confronted is internally, within the ANC. Once again political analysts agree that the ANC is now in the grip of factionalism with regard to whether or not JZ secures a second term as president. There is a significant perception that the hitherto Julius Malema led ANC Youth League has grabbed the mantle of being champions of the poor, in particular. In part, Malema had a strategy targeting the economically endowed White community as being very much part of the problem. Helen Zille and the DA came in for special attention. It is no secret that Gwede Mantashe and the rest of current ANC leadership are in political jeopardy if the declared initiative of the ANCYL et al bears fruit at the ANC’s elective conference at Mangaung, on the near horizon.
It is therefore so easy to see what drives the current strategy of the Zuma led ANC. It has to win the popularity contest. It has to look more beautiful than any rivals that may be put up by other factions. It is a grim battle for political survival. The summary and extremely undignified removal of President Thabo Mbeki looms large in the collective psyche.
Desperate men do desperate things. Racialising a simple work of art ensures that when the DA lead court application, that is so dangerous for JZ, is eventually brought, it stands to be discredited for being the pernicious agenda of racists, as the DA’s support base comprises Whites and Coloureds as a majority, not Blacks.
It also seeks to guarantee that, once again, JZ will be seen as a victim. This time it will not be as a victim of an oppressive and aloof Thabo Mbeki, but of the “rich racist Whites”. If the court decision goes against him, it too will be posited as a victimizer of Jacob Zuma. The agenda appears to include the social media. The ANC seems to have learnt from Barrack Obama’s highly successful use of this medium to get a political message across. So on-line conversations about the painting have been characterized by ANC operatives jumping in and immediately racialising the debate and gratuitously dragging Helen Zille, the DA and the “Whites” with breathtaking aggression and brazenness.
So that is the current agenda. It is crude. It is very amateurish. It is dangerous for being highly divisive of a young nation. However, it may well succeed. It may succeed because we are a very young democracy. The populace is largely still stuck in the intellectual, emotional and economic disparities of the apartheid era, albeit largely on account of the failure of the ANC government. There is every chance that it will not see the agenda as amateurish, crude and ruthlessly self serving. The agenda may well “fool most of the people most of the time” leading up to Mangaung.
If and when it does succeed the South Africa, that presented as a shining beacon of hope to the whole world under Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, will be gone forever. On that famous day, 10 January 1879, 10 miles East of the Tugela river at Isandlwana, “the spear” was used to heroically to win freedom for a people.
Today it is being capriciously used to reverse that freedom that was so hard won. That is why today is a “black day” for all of us.