‘A matter of black vs white’

ca p1 vandal1-2 done (25600959) INLSA Barend le Grange outside the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court

Daneel Knoetze

STAFF REPORTER

BAREND la Grange, one of the men charged with malicious damage to property for defacing Brett Murray’s portrait of President Jacob Zuma, says his actions were intended to defuse racial conflicts.

“It was becoming a black-versus-white scenario. The artist was white, the gallery owners are white; it’s obvious that racial inferences were eventually going to be made,” he said.

The defacing of the painting was done on Tuesday to coincide with the hearing in the Johannesburg High Court where Zuma was seeking an interdict that would have forced the gallery to remove the painting.

The 58-year-old businessman from Kempton Park appeared in court yesterday in connection with the defacing. Speaking after his matter was postponed to June 28, La Grange explained that he had been upset at the Goodman Gallery’s “insensitivity”, saying that the gallery should have removed Murray’s painting after Zuma and his family made it clear that they were hurt and offended by the exhibition.

“I have no problem with freedom of artistic expression and I actually enjoyed the rest of Murray’s (Hail to the Thief II) exhibition,” said La Grange. “But (the Zuma painting) went beyond mere expression – it was turning into an ugly racialised and political situation. While I accept that I was not entitled to damage someone else’s private property, I still think that I did the right thing. Whether I succeeded in defusing the situation… well, I don’t really know.”

His intentions were not known by anyone other than himself.

“My wife was as shocked as anyone by what I did.”

In the run-up to the 2009 elections La Grange started the website www.elections2009.co.za, a series of blog posts in English and Afrikaans.

It outlines La Grange’s critique of SA’s political landscape.

He made headlines two years ago with another oddball political stunt when he put up “For Sale” signs next to potholes in his home suburb of Kempton Park.

La Grange said at the time that he intended to sell the Kempton Park potholes at R1 each, because there was such an “enormous oversupply” of them.

Later he admitted it was an attempt at getting publicity for the problem so that the Ekurhuleni metro would address it.

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