Zuma: It hurts

2012-05-19 18:53

President speaks out about the pain he feels after seeing controversial portrait

President Jacob Zuma says he was “shocked, and felt personally ­offended and violated” when he saw a copy of artist Brett Murray’s painting The Spear for the first time.

The painting, which has divided public opinion in the country, ­depicts him as “a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no ­respect”, says Zuma.

That’s why he and the ANC are taking City Press and the Goodman Gallery, which is displaying the work, to court on Tuesday.

They want the gallery to remove the portrait from Murray’s Hail to the Thief II exhibition and City Press to delete the image from its website.

A continued display of the ­artwork, which shows Zuma’s ­genitals hanging out, will impugn Zuma’s dignity “in the eyes of all who see it”, the president states in an affidavit served on City Press on Friday night as part of court ­papers.

Yesterday the president’s children came to his defence, ­saying the portrait was “vulgar and lacks humanity”.

“It seeks to take away our ­father’s dignity, and destroy his true character and stature as a man, a father, and a leader of the ANC and South African society at large,” said the statement, written by his daughter Gugu on behalf of the family (full statement on page 7).

Advocates for Zuma and the ANC will argue on Tuesday in the South Gauteng High Court that The Spear is in breach of the president and the party’s constitutional rights to dignity and privacy.

The Goodman Gallery – whose owner received death threats over the weekend – and City Press are defending the action.

Zuma says the ANC takes exception “to the symbolism the portrait uses in order to portray the ANC through its president” as responsible for “abuses of power, corruption and political dumbness” – the theme of the exhibition.

Zuma says he realises that the image has been displayed to “millions within and outside the country”, and that despite its removal, “it will continue to exist in the minds of those people who have seen it or had access to it”.

But the removal of the portrait from the gallery and City Press’s website “will ensure the harm caused ... is limited to those who have seen it or had access to it”.

Zuma received support from his Cabinet colleagues and party ­yesterday. Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said he wanted the portrait “banned”. “If that thing is called art, it is an insult to the dignity not only of the president but any human being. The dignity of the president has been violated.”

Radebe said a criminal case of crimen injuria should be opened.

Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile said while government believed in the right of artists to freedom of expression, it should not dehumanise fellow citizens.

Mashatile’s advisers viewed the exhibition and reported that it was insulting to Zuma and other leaders. They also said it denigrated the national coat of arms.

“If an artwork doesn’t respect reconciliation, it doesn’t contribute to nation building. We can’t have a situation where we are ­insulting each other every day,” said Mashatile.

Renowned poet and cultural ­activist Mongane Wally Serote said the painting was trivial and distasteful, and not deserving of the attention it was getting.

He said Murray’s painting faded into insignificance when viewed against the backdrop of the bigger challenges facing the country.

“We are making something ­trivial important. We are blowing it out of proportion. Whatever ­inspired that art was completely mediocre and distasteful.

“We have a country where there are very important things that must be addressed. For example, we should be asking how we inspire people to build a diverse South ­African nation,” Serote said.

The spokesperson for the ANC Women’s League, Troy Martens, ­yesterday said the painting was an insult not only to Zuma but to all South Africans “who have been subjected to their president portrayed in this sexual manner ... The painting is extremely insensitive and an expression of pure prejudice.”

Suspended prosecutions boss Advocate Menzi Simelane yesterday declined to elaborate on his messages posted on Twitter.

On Friday night he said: “Those who are offended by the depiction of the president’s private parts must boycott City Press.”

In another tweet, he said: “The essence of Brett Murray’s message is that the person of President Zuma has no dignity and CP (City Press) agrees. This must be rejected with contempt.”

Government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi said the painting undermined the president’s “stature” to uphold the Constitution.

“The government calls upon the Goodman Gallery to take down the offensive artwork and further calls upon the media to stop publicising the untasteful portrait. We also call upon the media to be more circumspect in what they publish as we ­rebuild a South Africa that was ­ravaged by apartheid.”

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said the ANC was forced to act because if something similar came up later, the courts would ask why the party did not act.

“We want to test the limits of freedom of ­expression,” he said.

– Reporting by Adriaan Basson, Sabelo Ndlangisa, Carien du Plessis, Charl Blignaut and Charl du Plessis

» Tell us what you think: Leave your comment below or comment on our Facebook page or on Twitter @City_Press
» Did you know? City Press has an iPad app. Find us in the app

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.