Talk Debate Lead Balance

2012-05-26 09:53

 If you are reading this, then you did not heed the call to boycott City Press.

Thank you. To call for a boycott is the right of the ANC and its wider Tripartite Alliance, of course.

But the weapon is blunt. We are past the great anti-apartheid boycotts which could bring businesses to their knees.

And there is no logic to the ANC’s call. If it were not for City Press’s arts review of Brett Murray’s exhibition Hail to the Thief II, there is every chance the governing party would not even have known about The Spear, the painting which caused all the trouble.

In any event, it has been a fascinating debate on the limits of artistic expression and media freedom.

The ANC seeks to draw that limit short and tight. We seek to draw it long and loose.

If the ANC still led society in the way it used to, as a broad church and an arbiter of competing interests, we would find the middle ground.

All we have now is a boycott. May we take a moment to suggest a few other options.

1 Talk. Until now not a single leader or spokesperson of the governing ANC, the federation Cosatu or the SA Communist Party has picked up a phone to speak to us at City Press about how or why we covered the exhibition.

Nor have they sought to express in anything but vituperation why there is so much anger and why they are so angry.

If they had spoken to us, we might have listened and all ended up wiser and calmer.

Instead, those who defaced art became heroes this week.

2 Debate. The lifeblood of democracy is debate. Our Constitution is a work of debate and negotiation.

So, you could argue that the ability to debate art and free expression, dignity and cultural rights is deep in our DNA.

We have failed to debate this week and instead skewered ourselves on sharp positions and entrenched interests. Our elders must be looking down on us in despair.

3 Leadership. Is it really showing leadership to bring a court action to interdict the Goodman Gallery from exhibiting the artwork and City Press from running the review and while that court is in motion, call for a boycott?

What does it say about the governing party’s trust in the institutions we have created to run our system of rule under law?

4 Balance. South Africa’s democracy turns on the fulcrum of balanced rights, of non-racialism and non-sexism.

But this week, we failed the test of balance in all ways.

Culture does not automatically trump expression; race is neither superior nor inferior any longer; expression does not automatically trump dignity.

We collectively lost our marbles this week. We hope to find them soon.

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