News24 removes The Spear

2012-05-30 14:18

Jannie Momberg

Brett Murray's Spear painting has polarised South Africans like few issues in recent years.

The review of the Hail to the Thief II exhibition at the Goodman Gallery by City Press and the inclusion of The Spear painting in the paper and on its website has become about much more than a painting of President Zuma with his penis hanging out.

The so-called right to dignity versus freedom of expression debate has included many valid points made by all sides, but whether minds were changed is an open question.

The political campaign organised by elements within the ANC and SACP included a protest march, burning of newspapers and a boycott of City Press over the weekend. The campaign ultimately succeeded in convincing City Press editor Ferial Haffajee to back down and remove the Spear image gallery from the City Press website "out of care and fear" as she succinctly put it.

For some reason the ANC only targeted City Press although many South African media publications, including News24, published images of The Spear.

It is our view that the ANC would have lost the application brought before the South Gauteng High Court to remove The Spear painting from the exhibition.

It would also be a mistake to see the ANC as having one homogenous view on this issue. People like Pallo Jordan had a more nuanced view of The Spear and its place within a democratic South Africa. In short, you can be offended without resorting to threats and bannings.

The Spear
episode has undoubtedly been a success for Zuma and his political allies just months before the crucial ANC Mangaung conference. Seen from a South African perspective though, a pyrrhic victory comes to mind.

The Spear will be available via Google Images for generations to come.

Free expression, debate, art and protest action are all essential ingredients of South Africa’s democracy. Dignity, healing and striving for a non-racial, non-sexist nation are also important elements in building our country.

In this spirit News24 has decided to remove The Spear painting from our website.

We maintain it is our right to publish The Spear within an editorial context, and although no one has asked us to remove the images, we will do so in a spirit of healing and nation building.

The Spear
episode will hopefully serve as a catalyst for South Africans to see freedom of expression and human dignity as two sides of the same coin and not as competing forces in our democracy.

- Jannie Momberg is News24's Editor-in-Chief

  • jacques.koorts - 2012-05-30 14:26

    In the mean time you can also read and view it here:

      Ntshobs - 2012-05-30 14:34

      @jackues,looks like you find comfort when the nation is devided.

      eil33nn - 2012-05-30 14:43

      @Ntshobs, it has nothing to do with it. This is about freedom of speech and expression. BEFORE you judge me, i also found the painting appaling, but this has gone beyond the respect of others. News24 just sold out, just like the others

      VWhitepaw - 2012-05-30 15:44

      or or or or

      VWhitepaw - 2012-05-30 15:45

      Point is, even though I find it appaling. It is out there and will stay out there. No amount of bullying is going to remove it from the internet.

      Joanne - 2012-05-30 17:39

      Weirdly, Eusebius must not have seen this letter or else he would have given you exactly what he gave Ferial. He would've, right?

  • Phumza - 2012-05-30 14:31


  • ThinkingChick - 2012-05-30 14:33

    A simple search on any engine will give it to people. I can't decide if this is a good thing for media to do, based on their fairly poor spin of the situation; or outright cowardice. If the latter, then we have seen the beginning of the end of editorial freedom - at the media's own hands.

  • retha.marais - 2012-05-30 14:48

    "We maintain it is our right to publish The Spear within an editorial context, and although no one has asked us to remove the images, we will do so in a spirit of healing and nation building." Reeeaallllly? In the spirit of healing & nation building? With a party like the ANC there can't be any healing or nation building. They will just destroy whatever you try to heal or build. Rather call it in the spirit of kissing the ANC's ... backside

  • ray.shepherdson - 2012-05-30 14:50

    "in the spirit of nation building'? If anything this whole debacle has unraveled all the building this nation has done in the last few years...

  • smiso.mkhonza.9 - 2012-05-30 14:53

    News24 and City press may argue about The spear but the truth is it wrong to the the nation as a whole , in all paintings why choose that one media must know where to draw the line and hide behind freedom of expression.

  • agagiano - 2012-05-30 15:04

    bang broeke...

  • Ntshobs - 2012-05-30 15:15

    @eil33nn, it's not for me to judge,I'm just concerned about people like you. JGZ did questionable things & now you wish all bad/evil/humilating stuff to happen to him, you probably say he deserves what's coming to him.

      eil33nn - 2012-05-30 16:44

      JGZ as you call him or Pres Zuma as i prefer to refer to him, could have handled this whole debacle better. Hellen Zille just laughed her picture off, but because the ANC went on a rampage this was blown out of proportion. If he went to Bret Murray as another citizen and not the President of this coutry or the ruling party and asked him to remove it, i am almost certain that it would have been removed. But he doesn't know how to be a diplomat.

  • Compos - 2012-05-30 15:33

    It is significant to me that everybody is complaining about the spear, but not a word is said from the ANC about the title of the exhibition... "Hail to the thief" For some reason the ANC is very happy about that. Or maybe they think that is how you spell Chief... lol.

      Silindile - 2012-05-30 16:34

      And this is where you, and many South Africans like you have missed the point... The ANC and those of us who are non-ANC, completely support freedom of expression when it does not cross the line of violating one's dignity or insult the culture of many Africans... Nobody is up in arms about the rest of the exhibition because Brett Murray is well withing his rights to comment on the political landscape and his express feelings about the current government. The ANC wasn't trying to censor his work as an artist, but rather draw attention to the fact that dignity of others must be respected. And with the history we have as a country, where the dignity ( and cultural beliefs) of Africans has been continuously insulted and taken away from us for centuries, its an important point to draw attention to.

      jason.roberts.14224 - 2012-05-30 16:40

      Excellent Comment Silindile. This what many don't realise. Our history does not allow us to do anything we like and use the excuse "freedom of expression".

      Oistar - 2012-05-30 16:58

      But Zumas penis is and has been violating many people's dignity and well being.

  • Stefanus - 2012-05-30 15:51

    It's old news Jannie. No reason to keep it on your website.

  • Theunis - 2012-05-30 16:00

    ANC hand pupperts

  • Msika - 2012-05-30 16:21

    Dear Mr editor, Why do you keep on removing my comments on these news24 blogs, do they also look like a "Spear" to you?

  • James - 2012-05-30 16:55


  • Oistar - 2012-05-30 16:59

    News24 is so two-faced.

  • Silindile - 2012-05-30 17:15

    \The so-called right to dignity\... Don't know whether to laugh or cry at that statement.

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