The best of South African literature
I’ve been bullied before in my life. Primary school was full of hateful pre-teens who in 1992 displayed high levels of intolerance for a black girl with a white-sounding name who was not prepared to explain why she didn’t fit the mould of a typical Xhosa girl from the Eastern Cape.
I was, and still am not “typical” anything, but that’s my constitutional right and I hold it dear.
So to see the ANC, the party for which most South Africans voted and entrusted with safeguarding their constitution and the rights enshrined therein, and its tripartite alliance buddies acting like a band of common schoolyard bullies has left a bad taste in my mouth.
First it was Cosatu, clashing brutally with the DA on the streets of Johannesburg over the youth wage subsidy. That Cosatu rounded up its own supports to meet the DA crowd, speaks to the level of intolerance and disregard Zwelinzima Vavi’s followers have for the rights of others.
The constitution is clear: everyone has the right “peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and present petitions”. And I’m not even talking about the stonethrowing, which went both ways.
Then came the horrendous The Spear saga, which saw the ANC lash out with all its wrath against an artist branded a racist who was intolerant of black culture.
The ANC will argue that by marching on the Goodman Gallery this week and demanding a boycott of City Press in fierce protest, it was simply exercising its constitutional rights.
They were, after all, defending the rights of President Jacob Zuma – a victim of ridicule and a poor defenceless man. People are constantly trying to undo him. First it was that troublesome Thabo Mbeki with his political machinations. Then it was his own friends and allies plotting against him. Now, these darned white artists are after him. Oh, poor Zuma, what is he to do? Right?
Ok but let’s return to the real world for a second and recall that the ANC is the ruling party. It runs the state machinery. It occupies most seats in parliament. It makes laws.
In short, the ANC is the principal who has the power to wield a big stick, place you in detention or suspend you from school.
I find it incredible that the ANC, knowing its power, would be so reckless and overzealous in its defence of the president’s alleged virtue.
This is our president we’re talking about: he of the legendary libido; the same man who swore never to leave a woman unsatisfied.
And still the ANC, with its hundreds of supporters, first marched on the High Court in Johannesburg, demanding a newspaper be boycotted for carrying an article and picture on a painting that turned out to be just as newsworthy as it had initially predicted. Did it get people talking? Yes. Was it strange and unusual? Yes. Was it racist? The debate will likely rage on for years. Did the artwork belong to the ANC? No.
And yet here was the ruling party, with all its real might of thousands of supporters and implied might of the state, marching on a small art gallery demanding the painting be removed and destroyed.
According to the constitution, the Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of our own democracy.
It is a living, breathing document that is put into effect every day with the freedom of association, religion and belief and right to dignity, education, expression and health.
It is one of these rights – the right to Zuma’s dignity – that the ANC went to court to protect, arguing that the painting by Brett Murray infringed the right.
But even before it had finished arguing, the ANC changed tack.
Perhaps the ruling party could see that the court would not be lulled into banning an artwork from the walls and website of the gallery when it was freely available on a variety of digital platforms.
Instead, to punish City Press and the gallery, it pulled out its big stick – the several million supporters of the ANC itself and its allies, the SACP and Cosatu. It called on these members to hit City Press where it would hurt – its bottom line.
For the gallery, the party had different plans. It would rally those thousands of supporters to march to its doorstep. No doubt the Goodman Gallery owners will have recalled the Cosatu-DA rumble.
And with calls from Higher Education Minister and SACP leader Blade Nzimande for the portrait to be “destroyed”, one has to wonder what the ANC and its alliance partners think of the constitution.
Not to mention that one of the men who attempted to destroy it was hailed by the party, the same people whose members are voted into our parliament to create our laws. A hero for vandalism.
The court has yet to decide whether Zuma’s right to dignity has been infringed, or whether it outweighs the rights of Murray and the gallery to freedom of expression, and the freedom of the press.
But what difference does all that make now that the ANC has pressured City Press editor Ferial Haffajee into taking the portrait off the publication’s website?
After it has gotten the gallery to concede that it will remove the image (just not right away) and congratulated a criminal act as bravery of the highest order?
What is the point of our bill of rights – which, by the way, says that anyone has the right to trade – when Nzimande can demand a legitimate transaction be nullified on the whim of his ruling party brethren because it has unsettled those in Luthuli House?
The ANC should take a long hard look at itself and consider what rights it brushed aside in its fight for Zuma’s dignity.
And what the principal has done, is descend onto the playground and shout down any dissenting voice clutching his big stick.
This country’s constitution does not accept that just because you have the loudest voice, you are automatically right.