The two men – one involved in the taxi industry and the other at first believed to be an art lecturer – arrested for defacing the controversial portrait of Jacob Zuma were apparently acting separately.
In a brazen gesture at the Goodman Gallery in Joburg on Tuesday, and in front of a crew from e.tv’s 3rd Degree programme, the two men used red and black paint to destroy The Spear, a painting by Cape Town artist Brett Murray.
Footage, which has been flighted on e.tv, shows a man painting a red cross over the depiction of Zuma’s prominently displayed genitals, then another over his face.
The second man then steps forward to spread large globs of black paint across and down the portrait with his fingers.
E.tv reporter Imaan Rapetti, who was in the gallery filming at the time of the defacing, said she saw a man shuffling along, looking slightly suspicious. She originally thought he simply wanted to get a better view of the painting or was part of an art installation.
But when the man whipped out a red paint bottle and brush and drew a big red cross over Zuma’s genitalia, she realised something was wrong.
“I apprehended him and said ‘what are you doing, what are you doing?’. Everyone started looking at me like I’m crazy,” Repeti said.
Shortly after the men – aged 58 and 25 – were arrested and charged for malicious damage to property, a third man arrived at the gallery and spraypainted the letters “RES” before he too was arrested and taken to Rosebank police station.
National police spokesman Colonel Vish Naidoo confirmed that the two men caught on camera in the gallery were aged 58 and 25, but their names had not been confirmed.
“It was a coincidence they came at the same time, with the same intention, it seems,” said the 25-year-old’s attorney, Kish Naidoo, adding he believed the two did not know each other.
Naidoo said they would open a case of assault against the Goodman Gallery because his client was body-slammed by security.
He described his client as a young man who was involved in the taxi industry in Limpopo and had an interest in art.
Friends of the man, one of whom is an artist, gathered at the station to await his release.
He was released on R1 000 bail on Tuesday night and will appear in court on Thursday.
The 58-year-old man’s attorney, Xolani Mofokeng, said they were also hoping to secure his release on Tuesday night.
It was unclear what the third man would be charged with at the time of publication. The three were due to appear in the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.
After the incident, the gallery said the painting had been removed from the premises “to a safe location pending the (outcome of the) court case”.
A later statement indicated that the Goodman Gallery will be temporarily closed to protect itself, its staff and its visitors following “numerous threats of intimidation”.
“The painting has generated a debate that clearly engages with important legal and constitutional issues,” said gallery owner Liza Essers in the statement.
“This is over and above questions of political power, which formed part of its original dialogue. The extent of the rage has astonished me and upset me very much. I furthermore never imagined that this debate would transform into harmful physical action.”
Meanwhile, the Young Communist League of SA (YCLSA) endorsed the defacing of The Spear and offered to help foot the bill if the two men responsible need legal assistance.
Earlier this week, the league announced it would be marching on the Constitutional Court tomorrow, then to the Goodman Gallery to destroy the piece. But league national secretary Buti Manamela said the YCLSA could not take credit for the actions of the two men who vandalised the artwork on Tuesday.
Manamela said it would be up to the courts to decide if what the two men had done was vandalism, but in the eyes of the league, it was an act of justice that helped to redeem the dignity of the president.
“(Murray) has vandalised the dignity of the president,” said Manamela, who added that the men involved should be rewarded for their deeds. “This is the people’s justice.”
In his statement, Manamela also compared The Spear to an internet viral image of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, also nude and clearly photoshopped.
Regardless of their political affiliation, Manamela said, it was the league’s opinion that no state or elected official should be mocked in such a way.