“Iziko Museums of South Africa is gratified that the Equality Court has ruled in our favour and upheld the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. We have successfully defended the freedom to exhibit such work and recognise the privilege of living in a country where creating, exhibiting, and experiencing such work is a constitutional right,” Iziko museum chief executive Rooksana Omar said.
The display of Dean Hutton’s creation, f**kwhitepeople wall, chair and goldendean boots last year, sparked widespread public debate and outrage.
The Cape Party lodged a complaint against the museum in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.
Iziko said being cognisant of the provocative nature of the language the work employed, it was accompanied by an explanation that contextualised it, and made “it clear that the artist is not trying to provoke racial hatred or violence” but rather to get viewers to engage with the concept of racism and white privilege in South Africa.
In his ruling, magistrate Daniel Thulare said: “In my view, properly contextualised and understood, the words complained of by the complainant against the respondent, to wit, ‘F**k White People’, is Hutton’s main message, which viewed in the totality of work means ‘reject, confront and dismantle structures, systems, knowledge, skills and attitudes of power that keep white people racist’.”
The magistrate said the work in general and the work’s “F**k White People” in particular, as used by Hutton in his protest art, was not unfair discrimination on the ground of race.
“It is not hate speech as prohibited by Section 10 of the Act and its dissemination, publication and display by the respondent is not prohibited as envisaged in Section 12 of the Act,” said Thulare.
The museum said it “firmly believed that freedom of speech is the foundation of our communities and our nation”.
“The works exhibited at the Iziko South African National Gallery may awe, illuminate, challenge, unsettle, confound, provoke, and, at times, offend. It is part of Iziko’s mandate to engage with, and provide a platform for, these matters to be explored and understood more deeply,” said Omar.
Cape Party leader Jack Miller said they were shocked at the ruling as there was disagreement over fundamental facts.
“This court case was not about any one specific race, it was about ensuring that the laws of the country are balanced and applied equally to everyone, that it protected minority rights, and ensured common respect and decency between our many different cultures and races. All of this has now been brought under serious question,” said Miller.