The ANC never meant to bully the Goodman Gallery during its campaign to have a painting depicting President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed removed, the party said on Wednesday.
“That was not our intention,” ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said during a media briefing at the Rosebank gallery.
He was responding to a comment made by gallery director Liza Essers who was asked about the ANC's campaign.
“I don't think marches and boycotts are the way forward. I think that's bullying in a way,” she said.
Essers said she felt conversation at an earlier stage would have been better. Mthembu agreed and said he wished both parties had engaged with one another instead of working via lawyers.
“(Upon speaking to each other) it was clear that there was so much of (sic) common things between ourselves,” he said.
He added even that though there were still matters that both parties viewed differently, they could be dealt with through social debate. At which point Essers jokingly offered the gallery as a venue.
When asked if she would have done things differently, Essers simply replied: “I stand by freedom of artistic expression.”
During the briefing the ANC and the gallery announced a settlement agreement on the controversial artwork by Brett Murray, who was “saddened” by the saga, said Essers.
The ruling party said it would not make sense to continue with a court case against The Spear painting.
“Indeed, we are no longer taking the Goodman Gallery to court. We are no longer taking City Press to court,” said Mthembu.
He said now that a settlement had been reached, the court action in the High Court in Johannesburg was no longer necessary.
Essers said the painting would not be displayed in the gallery because it had been defaced a week ago.
The settlement agreement with the ANC did not include an agreement on removing the picture from the Goodman Gallery's website.
However, she said the image would be taken down from the website at some point.
The ANC went to court last week to get the painting removed from the gallery, and also took the City Press to court because it had published a picture of the painting on its website.
During the briefing on Wednesday Essers admitted that the gallery and its employees were threatened about the Zuma painting.
“These were not threats made by the ANC,” she added.
Mthembu condemned these threats and said the party has distanced itself from calls for violence, adding that the march to the Goodman Gallery on Tuesday was also peaceful.
“People must not trivialise what has happened in the last two weeks.”
He said the protest was not just about Zuma, it was about all South Africans.
“I'm stronger today, Lisa, as a result of this agreement,” he told Essers.
On censorship Essers said the gallery was never asked to take down any other paintings on exhibition.
“I don't feel like I have been censored.”
She also confirmed that the painting would be still be sold to its German buyer.
“The collector does want the painting in its defaced form.”
She said the gallery had not engaged with the ANC on the matter, but the owner has a legal right to the painting.
“I will honour that agreement.”
This came after – during the march on Tuesday – SA Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande called for the painting to stay in the country and be destroyed.
Meanwhile, the Film and Publications Board was expected to decide by the end of the week on whether the painting should be classified. – Sapa