News24 removes <em>The Spear</em>

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

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