FXI and parents defend pupils’ Zuma T-shirts

2013-11-07 00:00

THE Freedom of Expression Institute and some parents at Westville Boys’ High School yesterday defended a range of T-shirts depicting unflattering images of President Jacob Zuma and other ANC leaders.

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal was angry on Tuesday after the school displayed the T-shirts at Westville Village Market mall.

The T-shirts were taken down on Tuesday.

The ANC lashed out, calling it an attack on the party and said the designers of the T-shirts should be sanctioned.

The school defended them, saying the artwork was created by free-thinking pupils as part of an examination.

The school’s principal, Trevor Hall, said the visual art syllabus includes a section on social and political commentary. He said no particular political or social bias is encouraged, and apologised for any offence that was caused.

Head of law at the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) Sheniece Linderboom yesterday said she did not think it was a teacher’s duty to control pupils’ freedom of expression.

“It’s commendable that pupils are given an opportunity to express their views. Pupils, however, need to understand that with the freedom of expression there are limitations and responsibilities. The teacher’s role is to educate and guide, and not to control,” said Linderboom.

The ANC yesterday said they had noted the school’s response and apology, but maintained that the Education Department should intervene.

Party provincial spokesperson Senzo Mkhize said the teachers were shifting blame on to the pupils.

“We feel that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to supervise children during projects undertaken at school. As much as we are not against the pupils’ art work, it becomes an issue if the art will make a mockery of our leaders. We still expect the Education Department to intervene,” said Mkhize.

Asked what the ANC expected the department to do, Mkhize said: “We are not going to prescribe what the department should do”.

The Witness approached parents and pupils outside the school yesterday to find out how they felt about the incident.

“We’re expressing the freedom that they fought for us [to enjoy].”

This is how Grade 11 pupil Kalin Naidoo described the furore surrounding the shirts.

He said youngsters lived in a democratic country and they should feel free to express their opinion.

Kalin’s mother, Rana, shared her son’s sentiments.

Grade 12 pupil Wilton Mbotho saw nothing wrong with the T-shirts.

“If the government is getting uptight, it means they are guilty,” he said.

Another parent of a Grade 11 pupil thought the T-shirt portraying Jacob Zuma was harsh.

“He’s still our president. I’m against art when it’s mean and rude. I’d go for something promotional to show why the country is good,” said Theresa, who would only provide her first name.

She said the ANC and president Zuma are doing their best for the country.

“The ANC has done a lot. He must just look after the potholes,” she laughed.

Another mother just laughed out loud when asked to comment.

“Art is an expression of what you feel,” she said.

She believes that politicians set themselves up for ridicule if they don’t perform and are in the public eye. “It might upset some, but art is there to create dialogue.”

Parent John Smithson said: “I think it was just few boys having a prank. That’s what I think.”

He said he did not believe it was derogatory.

Another parent, who did not provide her name, felt pupils should leave politics and religion alone.

“I’m all for freedom of expression, but there must be boundaries. I think most people do this because they want to be provocative.”

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