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May 28 2012

Jacob Zuma penis painting removed by South African newspaper

Controversial image showing genitals of South African president taken off City Press website after escalating row with ANC

A South African newspaper has removed a controversial image of Jacob Zuma from its website, after coming under pressure from the African National Congress (ANC), explaining: "The atmosphere is like a tinderbox."

The weekly City Press was subjected to a call by the governing ANC for a reader and advertiser boycott after refusing to remove a photo of a painting that depicts the South African president with exposed genitals.

The boycott appeared to backfire on Sunday, with the paper selling out at many newsagents, but its editor took the picture down on Monday "out of care and fear".

The satirical painting, The Spear, has provoked one of South Africa's most polarising political debates in recent years, with the ANC and others construing it as reopening the wounds of racial apartheid, while others have defended artist Brett Murray's right to free expression.

"That we are now a symbol of a nation's anger and rage is never the role of media in society," Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press, wrote on Monday.

"We take down the image in the spirit of peacemaking – it is an olive branch. But the debate must not end here and we should all turn this into a learning moment, in the interest of all our freedoms.

"Of course, the image is coming down from fear too. I'd be silly not to admit that. The atmosphere is like a tinderbox: City Press copies went up in flames on Saturday; I don't want any more newspapers burnt in anger."

One of her reporters had been banned from covering a trade union meeting, Haffajee added, while vendors of the paper were most at risk.

"For any editor to respond to a threat to take down an article of journalism without putting up a fight is an unprincipled thing to do, so we've fought as much as we could. It doesn't serve City Press or South Africa to dig in our heels and put our fingers in our ears."

The ANC welcomed the move but still demanded an apology. Jackson Mthembu, the party's national spokesperson, said: "We appreciate what has been done. We appreciate that at least Ferial is saying she can now understand the pain.

"All that we are saying to her, is can she apologise for the pain. Please apologise to the people of South Africa. This pain has been so deep seated."

He added: "We will then call off the boycott."

Earlier Haffajee did issue an apology in an open letter to Zuma's daughter Duduzile. "I understand that what is a work of satire to me is a portrait of pain to you," it read. "I understand the impact on your little brothers and sisters, who may face teasing at school.

"Playground cruelty leaves deep scars. And if they and your dad saw the work in our pages and it caused harm, then I apologise from the bottom of my heart."

City Press's U-turn was condemned by South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, with a warning: "We must never give in to bullies."

Mmusi Maimane, its national spokesperson, said: "Whatever one may think of the painting, no political figure – no matter how powerful or influential – has the right to tell any newspaper what it is allowed to publish or not; similarly no one should be able to tell an artist what he or she is allowed to paint."

He added: "It is unfortunate that president Zuma and the ANC chose to intimidate the City Press into taking down the painting from its website, and it is equally unfortunate that the City Press has caved in to this pressure after a valiant attempt to fight for what is right.

"This kind of self-censorship will stop our democracy in its tracks. We will never forget how the apartheid government bullied its critics in the media, many of them into submission. Those who stood firm against the bullies carried the torch of media freedom in those dark days. We must keep that flame alive."

City Press's initial stance had an unlikely defender in Julius Malema, the expelled president of the ANC's youth wing. In a column for the paper on Sunday, Malema said he intended to buy two copies, explaining: "Banning newspapers simply because we disagree with them, and boycotting them on the basis of believing that our conception of truth is absolute, poses a real threat to our democracy."

The intervention of Malema, who has fallen out bitterly with Zuma, fuelled theories that The Spear has been a gift for Zuma's base to manipulate public anger and mobilise support before he faces ANC factions in an election contest in December.

The ANC and its allies are organising a protest march on Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery on Tuesday/today, where the painting hung until it was vandalised by two protesters and removed. Although it is now widely visible on the web, including on a page of Wikipedia, the ANC will continue its legal action to have the painting and images of it banned. A court case has been postponed indefinitely. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

South African newspaper defies ANC boycott call

South Africa's ruling party, the ANC, has called for a boycott of the City Press newspaper after it published a picture depicting President Jacob Zuma in a Leninist pose with exposed genitalia.

The ANC has demanded that the Sunday paper remove the image - a reproduction of a painting by Brett Murray entitled "The spear of the nation" - from its website.

It has called on advertisers not to buy space in the paper and on people not to read it until the publishers comply with its demand.

In calling for the boycott, the ANC described the paper as "a paragon of immorality" which "does not belong to our shared democratic dispensation and values". It was therefore "anti-ANC, the president, our democracy and the majority of South Africans."

The paper published a copy of Murray's painting column 10 days ago (18 May) to accompany a review of the art exhibition in which it was displayed.

But the City Press editor, Ferial Haffajee, responded with a column, "The spear of the nation stays up," in which she defended her decision to publish on the grounds of both artistic freedom and press freedom. She wrote:

"Our constitution explicitly protects artistic expression as a subset of free expression...

I've learnt that the commitment to clauses like free expression (be it in art or journalism) is never going to be tested by still lifes of bowls of flowers or by home decor magazines.

It is always going to be tested by art that pushes boundaries and journalism that upsets holy cows, which is why our clever founders enshrined the right in our constitution."

Haffajee is an executive board member of the International Press Institute (IPI), which has condemned the boycott.

Its executive director, Alison Bethel McKenzie, described the call for a boycott as "an abuse of power and a form of harassment." She argued that it is "part of a disturbing trend, which has resulted in an erosion of press freedom in one of Africa's most respected democracies."

City Press, which is the third best-selling newspaper in South Africa with a reputed 2.5m readers, was also summoned before the country's film and publication board as censors sought to decide whether to classify Murray's work as pornography.

According to the latest news story on the affair, the ANC appears to be divided over the boycott call. Several senior members have opposed the party's official line.

NB: I am carrying a copy of the picture as an act of solidarity with City Press. The image is also displayed on the WAN-IFRA website and on many other sites.

"Spear of the nation" (Umkhonto we Sizwe) was the title chosen by the ANC's armed wing during its struggle to overcome apartheid.

Sources: City Press (1), (2) & (3)/WAN-IFRA/IPI/The Guardian © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 22 2012

Jacob Zuma painting vandalised in South African gallery

Picture showing South African president with his genitals exposed is covered with red and black paint by protesters

A painting depicting the South African president, Jacob Zuma, with his genitals exposed has been vandalised, leading to ugly scenes at an art gallery in Johannesburg.

One man painted a red cross across Zuma's face and penis while a younger man spread black paint over the image. The younger man was reportedly assaulted by security guards.

The 1.85-metre-high painting, entitled The Spear, has bitterly divided South Africans, with the governing African National Congress (ANC) describing it as "rude, disrespectful and racist", but others defending the artist Brett Murray's right to freedom of speech.

South Africa's Eyewitness news identified one of the vandals on Tuesday as a university professor, and said he "took a small can of red paint and slowly marked two large 'X' symbols over the genitals and the face with a paintbrush.

"After a while, another man with a small can of black paint smeared the painting using his hands."

It added: "Footage on eNews showed security forcefully cuffing the men with cable ties after the painting had been defaced."

Andrew Harding, the BBC's Africa correspondent, was at the Goodman Gallery and tweeted: "Zuma picture smeared with black paint. Man who did it tells me 'picture was offensive.' gallery guard assaults him. 2nd man arrested too."

He continued: "Red and black paint now covers Zuma portrait. Two men responsible now taken away. Gallery closed."

The BBC quoted one of the men as saying: "I'm doing this because the painting is disrespectful to President Zuma."

A private security company was guarding the painting when the incident happened at around 11am. The BBC website reported that one man wielding a paint brush was pounced on by guards and headbutted at one point.

Harding tweeted: "Young black man was beaten by guards. Older white man treated much more courteously."

The suspects were arrested and taken to a nearby police station.

A spokesman for the Goodman Gallery said: "One man painted a red X across Zuma's face and the second covered the painting with black paint."

Murray said earlier that his work was never meant to hurt anyone but an "attempt at humorous satire of political power and patriarchy within the context of other artworks in the exhibition and within the broader context of South African discourse."

Earlier, a crowd of ANC supporters gathered near a court in Johannesburg where the party was seeking to have the painting removed. It was decided that a full bench of the high court would hear the case on Thursday. Judge Kathree Setiloane said: "This is a matter of great national importance."

Meanwhile, as the temperature of the debate continue to soar, Enoch Mthembu, spokesman for the Nazareth Baptist church, commonly known as the Shembe church, called for retribution against Murray.

"This man has insulted the entire nation and he deserves to be stoned to death," he told the Times of South Africa. "What he did clearly shows his racist upbringing because art does not allow people to insult others.

"This is an attack on the culture of the majority, the black people of South Africa. With our culture we are allowed to marry many women. And white people must understand that and tolerate our culture as we do theirs. We are not like some of them who prefer prostitutes as they regard women as sex objects."

The painting has reportedly been bought by a German collector for about R136,000 (£10,345). © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 21 2012

Jacob Zuma goes to court over painting depicting his genitals

South African president says his right to privacy violated by The Spear, triggering row about freedom of speech and racism

It began with an impression of a man's penis in an art gallery where only a tiny fraction of the population would normally set foot. Now it has become a national debate running the gamut from freedom of expression to the right to privacy, from the nature of racism to "what is art?", and is being seen as nothing less than a test of South Africa's constitutional democracy.

On Wednesday the president, Jacob Zuma, will bring a court action to argue that a painting showing him with exposed genitalia should be removed because it violates his right to dignity and makes a mockery of his office.

The claim is disputed by the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, which is displaying the 1.85m-high (6ft 1in) painting, entitled The Spear, as part of artist Brett Murray's Hail to the Thief II exhibition.

Freedom of speech is protected in South Africa but Zuma's governing African National Congress (ANC) believes that, in this instance, it has a case beyond mere censorship of its critics. It contends that the artwork is playing up to crude stereotypes of African male sexuality. It is no doubt aware that Murray is white.

Zuma states in a legal affidavit: "The continued display of the portrait is manifestly serious and has the effect of impugning my dignity in the eyes of all who see it. In particular, the portrait depicts me in a manner that suggests that I am a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect. It is an undignified depiction of my personality and seeks to create doubt about my personality in the eyes of my fellow citizens, family and children.

"In terms of the theme of the exhibition, my portrait is meant to convey a message that I am an abuser of power, corrupt and suffer political ineptness."

The president added that he was shocked and "felt personally offended and violated".

The ANC has been rallying around its leader over the painting. Gwede Mantashe, its secretary general, said on Monday: "It's rude, it's crude, it's disrespectful."

If it had been a white man depicted, the reaction would have been very different, he added, but as far as many people were concerned, black people were just objects.

"I said, 'How about the idea of going to court tomorrow and as we sit there we can take off our trousers? ... we can walk around with our genitals hanging out'.

"It's crude … we have not outgrown racism in our 18 years [of democracy]."

Ngoako Selamolela, president of the South African Students' Congress, added: "This arrogance is ideological and an attack to the very value and moral systems of the majority African people and many other religious persuasions."

And Wally Serote, a leading poet and writer, suggested the painting was no different to labelling black people "kaffirs" – a highly offensive term.

"Blacks feel humiliated and spat on by their white counterparts in situations like this," he was quoted as saying. "We all need to learn that as creative people we have a responsibility to see that our work contributes to building a new South Africa, free from prejudice."

Zuma is a polygamous Zulu who has married six times and has four wives. In 2010, he publicly apologised for fathering a child out of wedlock, said to be his 20th overall. In 2006, he was cleared of raping an HIV-positive friend but caused anger by saying he took a shower after having sex with her.

"It will be his sexual legacy that we will remember more than anything else," said the columnist Mondli Makhanya in South Africa's Sunday Times, adding: "His sexual endeavours are therefore fair game for artists, cartoonists, comedians, radio DJs and tavern jokers."

Other South Africans, both black and white, have taken the view that, as a public figure, Zuma should be thick-skinned when it comes to satire.

Tselane Tambo, daughter of the late ANC stalwart Oliver Tambo, reportedly posted on a social networking site: "So the Pres JZ has had his portrait painted and he doesn't like it.

"Do the poor enjoy poverty? Do the unemployed enjoy hopelessness? Do those who can't get housing enjoy homelessness? He must get over it. No one is having a good time. He should inspire the reverence he craves. This portrait is what he inspired. Shame neh!"

The row has been good for business at the gallery, where staff estimate there were 50 or 60 visitors at any one time on Saturday, more than double the usual attendance.

A spokeswoman for the gallery said: "The gallery provides a neutral space in which 'dialogue and free expression' is encouraged. In this space the ANC's right to condemn the work is acknowledged as much as the artist's right to display it. This, the gallery believes, is democracy at work.

"But the gallery cannot give up its right to decide what art will hang on its walls. For this reason we are opposing the application brought by the ANC and President Zuma for the removal of the artwork."

The Goodman Gallery will be increasing security and may search visitors, she added, amid rumours of a possible public protest. South Africa's Sunday Times reported that The Spear had been sold for 136,000 rand (£10,345) to a German buyer. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 17 2012

Painting of Jacob Zuma angers ANC

Art gallery urged to take down Brett Murray's painting depicting South African president in what could be a codpiece

South Africa's ruling ANC has demanded the removal of a painting from an exhibition by one of the nation's best-known artists that it said ridiculed the party and the president.

Brett Murray's sculptures and paintings were an "abuse of freedom of artistic expression", said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu.

He said ANC lawyers would go to court to force the Goodman gallery in Johannesburg to remove a painting of the president, Jacob Zuma, from the exhibition and from its website.

The Spear, a black, red and yellow acrylic on canvas priced at 120,000 rand (£9,000), depicts Zuma in a suit and what could be a codpiece accentuating his genitals. Some observers say it depicts Zuma exposing his genitals.

Other work in the show recalls Soviet-era propaganda posters, and twists political slogans to acerbic effect. In an essay accompanying the exhibit, curators say the work forms "part of a vitriolic and succinct censure of bad governance and are [Murray's] attempts to humorously expose the paucity of morals and greed within the ruling elite".

A silkscreen in the show has the silhouette of a machine-gun-toting guerrilla with Murray's own version of the last words of Solomon Mahlangu, an ANC militant who was hanged by the apartheid government in 1979: "Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the struggle for Chivas Regal … and kickbacks."

Visitors can take away posters with the ANC spear-and-shield logo and two phrases: "For sale" and "Sold".

Murray said through the gallery that he would have no comment on the ANC's response. His criticism of the ANC echoes commentary that has appeared in newspaper articles and editorial cartoons and been debated on talk radio in South Africa.

In 2008, two years after Zuma was acquitted of rape charges, the cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro depicted Zuma with his pants down, preparing to rape a blindfolded, female figure symbolising justice. Shapiro, who signs his work Zapiro, was commenting at the time on allegations Zuma was trying to intimidate legal authorities. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 09 2010

Anger over Nelson Mandela autopsy painting

Yiull Damaso's Rembrandt pastiche of South African leader is labelled 'insult' and 'witchcraft' by African National Congress

A painting depicting Nelson Mandela as a corpse undergoing dissection has provoked disgust and been compared to witchcraft by South Africa's governing party.

The artwork is a parody of Rembrandt's 17th-century masterpiece The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp. It shows Mandela lying in a loincloth while Nkosi Johnson, an Aids activist who died aged 12, points to his arm stripped of flesh. The spectators include archbishop Desmond Tutu and politicians FW de Klerk, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.

The artist, Yiull Damaso, argues South Africa must confront a subject that remains almost taboo: the future death of Mandela. Now frail and in retirement, the country's first black president turns 92 later this month. The painting has the same name as Rembrandt's and has been on display for two days at a shopping mall in Johannesburg. Its reproduction on the front page of today's Mail & Guardian newspaper provoked a furious response from the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

"The ANC is appalled and strongly condemns in the strongest possible terms the dead Mandela painting by Yiull Damaso," said Jackson Mthembu, a party spokesman. "It is in bad taste, disrespectful, and it is an insult and an affront to values of our society.

"In African society it is a foreign act of ubuthakathi (bewitch) to kill a living person and this so-called work of art … is also racist. It goes further by violating Tat' uMandela's dignity by stripping him naked in the glare of curious onlookers, some of whom have seen their apartheid ideals die before them." Mthembu added that Mandela was an international icon who should be cherished and respected. "That is why we are more shocked and disgusted this so called art that depicts a dead Madiba.

"Why would anyone dream of a dead Madiba [Mandela's clan name]? Why would newspapers including the Mail and Guardian put to prominence this work of rubbish in their publication? Why would a respected public space and business site, Hyde Park, be a home for the creation of such insulting work to our icon, our leaders and all of us?"

But Damaso, 41, from Johannesburg, is unrepentant, insisting that he is using the image to convey a political argument.

"The idea just popped up in my head," he told the Guardian today . "We have Nelson Mandela, one of the great leaders of our time, and the politicians around him are trying to find out what makes him a great man. Nkosi Johnson, the only one in the painting who's no longer alive, is trying to show them that Mandela is just a man. So they should stop searching and get on with building the country."

Damaso – who caused controversy a decade ago by depicting Mandela with dreadlocks – said he had received a phone call from a friend of the family claiming one of Mandela's daughters was distraught after seeing the image. But he insisted: "I knew the family would not be happy but I hope they will listen to my side of the story and my huge admiration for Nelson Mandela. I'm trying to convey a message to politicians." Damaso, whose own grandmother died two weeks ago, added: "The death of Nelson Mandela is something we're going to have to face, not only as a family but all of us as individuals and as a nation."The Nelson Mandela Foundation declined to comment. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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