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Motalatale S. Modiba
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The spear measure of our democracy

23 May 2012, 08:43

From the onset I want to state that I am one of those who feel that the controversial Brett Murray painting The Spear is not only denigrating but extremely out of touch with the cultural context within which the majority of South Africans live.

Having said this though, I do not want to exhaust this space explaining my stand point on this matter. Arguments have been presented from either sides of the fence on this issue that has clearly gotten the nation talking again, shortly after the Jessica Leandra and Tshidi Thamane’s  facebook racial rantings.

The more I reflected on the widely condemned or praised artwork – depending on your vantage point – the more I am optimistic that our democracy is actually healthier than we think.

The very fact that the Goodman Gallery though being cognisant of the sensitivity and outcry that might arise out of displaying Murray’s work, still went ahead to do so and is even prepared to defend their right to do so in a court of law is but one illustrative point.

Another even bigger gesture that confirms the constitutional democracy that we are is the fact that the President’s legal team will today (Tuesday, May 22) argue at the South Gauteng High Court that his constitutional right to dignity and privacy has been violated.

In another country the Goodman Gallery would have been long shut down and Murray would probably be arrested if not executed.

Again the e-Tolling issue has seen the implementation of this project being stalled, why, because civil society’s voice was heard.

If you look at the widely misrepresented Protection of State Information Bill (which the media has dubbed the Secrecy Bill) and the muted idea of a media tribunal all of this if we were not a vibrant democracy would have been simply passed as law and life would be continuing

One of the signs of a healthy democracy in my view is the balanced tension that must exist between the government, the judiciary and the fourth estate (the media). The day when these critical institutions of society begin to see eye to eye on every subject then we need to fear for our freedom.

I still think that The Spear as a work of art is ‘trivial and distasteful’ as renowned poet and cultural activist Mongane Wally Serote reasoned when commenting on the matter. I am, however, perhaps more comforted that in a democracy even such ‘work of art’ can still see the light of day, even if for a brief moment (depending on how the court rules on this one).  

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