Spear controversy not over for ANC

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ferial haffajee may 27 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS (File photo) The editor-in Chief of City Press, Ferial Haffajee. Photo: Moeletsi Mabe

 

The ANC welcomed the removal of a controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma from City Press's website on Monday, but still wants an apology, ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said.

Its legal action in relation to the display of the painting would also go ahead, he said.

“We appreciate what has been done,” said Mthembu after City Press editor Ferial Haffajee said she had removed an image of artist Brett Murray's The Spear depicting Zuma with his genitals exposed.

“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,” he said.

“Please apologise to the people of South Africa. This pain has been so deep seated.”

The apology should be made to the “people of South Africa, the ANC, and “everybody”.

“If they made such an apology and removed the image it would go a long way.”

The ANC would also leave its legal action to have the painting and images of it banned, so that it had clarity from the courts on what was acceptable in terms of the right to artistic expression and the right to human dignity, said Mthembu.

“The court must assist us (in showing) how far can those people go who are in the artistic environment (to) violate those rights of those human beings,” he said.

The court may change the remedy they asked for, because it would be moot to order that the image be removed from City Press's website, he said.

The original painting itself was defaced last week when two people painted over it.

“Is it lawful, or insulting? The court will advise,” said Mthembu.

The removal of the painting and the image, and an apology, was what the ANC sought from the start, he said.

Once Haffajee apologised, they would call off the boycott of City Press, called for by Minister of Higher Education and SA Communist Party secretary general Blade Nzimande and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, last week.

“We will then call off the boycott,” he said.

Haffajee's actions so far, and an apology in a letter to Zuma's daughter Duduzile was not enough.

An extract of the letter to Duduzile Zuma read: “I understand that what is a work of satire to me is a portrait of pain to you. 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.”

Mthembu said the apology had to be to the whole nation because everybody was affected.

Earlier on Monday, Haffajee wrote: “The Spear is down.”

The decision followed more than a week of controversy over Murray's reworking of a Russian propaganda poster of Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, for his exhibition “Hail to the Thief II” at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.

“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 wrote.

On Tuesday two people were arrested for defacing the painting, a third for spray painting part of the word “respect” on the gallery's wall. A senior counsel broke down during a court challenge by the ANC, Zuma and Zuma's children, to have the painting and web images of it, banned.

Haffajee said she did not want City Press' plans to be imperilled by being forced into the role of opposition.

“My own identity is that of critical patriot, I am a great fan of my country, and that is how I want to edit. Besides, there are really important stories we lost sight of like the continued investigation into Lieutenant-General Richard Mdluli, unemployment and the infrastructure budget.

“That we are now a symbol of a nation's anger and rage is never the role of media in society. We are robust and independent, yes, but divisive and deaf, no.”

She would be “silly” not to admit that fear played a part in her decision. Vendors were at risk when newspapers were burnt on Saturday and a journalist was evicted from a National Union of Mineworkers conference.

Lessons learnt were that society had started its path to setting how presidents can be treated in art and literature; that mutual understanding was still a work in progress; and that pain was still deep.

She was personally hurt by tweets about her.

“We have not yet defined a Mzansi way of maintaining a leader's dignity while exercising a robust free speech, or reached an understanding that a leader embodies the nation, no matter what we may think of him or her. Neither does it seem our leaders know that dignity and respect are earned qualities too,” she said.

“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.” - Sapa



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