July 7th, 2012
A South African newspaper has removed from its website an image of a controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed.
The Spear has been taken down “in the spirit of peacemaking… and from fear too,” editor Ferial Haffajee has written in a City Press editorial.
The ruling African National Congress called for a boycott of the paper and last week went to court demanding the painting be removed from public view.
The Spear painting – by Brett Murray, an artist known for his political and provocative work – has sparked a storm in South Africa.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest saying President Zuma’s right to dignity has been violated, while supporters say this is a question of freedom of expression – both of which are protected in South Africa’s constitution
A court case brought by the ANC against the City Press website and the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, which exhibited the work, has been postponed indefinitely.
Nevertheless, Ms Haffajee decided to take down the image because the “atmosphere is like a tinderbox”.
A City Press reporter has been prevented from covering a trade union meeting, copies of City Press set on fire and the editor and others subjected to threats, Ms Haffajee says.
“Out of care and as an olive branch to play a small role in helping turn around a tough moment, I have decided to take down the image,” she said.
“That we are now a symbol of a nation’s anger and rage is never the role of media in society,” she said.
“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,” she said, adding that “the debate must not end here and we should all turn this into a learning moment, in the interest of all our freedoms.”
The ruling party said the painting was “rude, crude and disrespectful” towards President Zuma and wants all images of the painting online and elsewhere taken down.
The gallery has said it will not remove The Spear, a $14,000 (£9,000) acrylic painting that had already been sold before protesters defaced it, daubing it in red and black paint.
The BBC’s Milton Nkosi in Johannesburg says the ANC has called on its supporters to march to the gallery on Tuesday.
In an affidavit served on the City Press newspaper paper, Mr Zuma said he was shocked by the work.
“The portrait depicts me in a manner that suggests I am a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect,” he said.
President Zuma, who has four wives, has sued local media companies 11 times for defamation.
Some cases have been settled, others dropped, but most are outstanding.
The best-known case is a 2008 suit against one of the country’s most high-profile artists, Zapiro, after he depicted Mr Zuma about to rape a female figure representing justice – this is due to be heard in October.
Mr Zuma was cleared of raping a family friend in 2006.
Zapiro’s cartoon makes clear reference to the painting of Zumba by satirical artist Brett Murray which ruffled feathers in April when it went on show in a Johannesburg gallery.
The cartoonist defended his work as “scathing but humorous”.
“It’s also serious commentary about a seriously flawed, hypocritical leader,” his office told Sapa news agency in a statement.
The African National Congress last month dropped a legal bid to ban the painting depicting Zuma in a Vladimir Lenin pose with his genitals exposed, after the Johannesburg gallery agreed to permanently take down the work.
But Zapiro’s cartoon revived the debate with a limerick which referred to the president’s sex life and called him a “dick”.
It was published in the wake of a forum this week aimed at the creation of a national social cohesion dialogue among the country’s divided race groups, 18 years after the end of apartheid.
The ANC said it had hoped that the forum, which drew some 3,000 delegates including Zuma and opposition DA leader Helen Zille, “would have assisted the like of Zapiro and his ilk to appreciate that as South Africans we need to respect each other immaterial of the positions we hold in society”.
But Zapiro branded the meeting an attempt to “encourage conformity rather than real diversity”.
“Dissident views are essential for real change. Irreverence toward leaders who take themselves too seriously is a vital part of democracy.”
Government spokesman Jimmy Manyi called the cartoon a “defamatory attack” on Zuma, and called for it to be removed, Sapa reported. –Yahoo News