(File photo) The editor-in Chief of City Press, Ferial Haffajee. Photo: Moeletsi Mabe

The ANC Women's League has congratulated City Press editor Ferial Haffajee for removing a controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma from the newspaper's website.

“We understand that the editor has strong feelings on the freedom of expression, however we respect her for listening to the cries of the country and removing it,” the ANCWL said in a statement.

“She seems to understand the old wounds of past that were ripped open by people seeing their president portrayed in the manner he was.”

Haffajee said on Monday a picture of the painting that depicted Zuma with his genitals exposed would be taken off the City Press website.

She has until now refused to do so despite pressure from the African National Congress and calls by the party for a boycott of the City Press.

“We respect Ferial Haffajee as the only female editor of a major commercial newspaper in the country and when an issue was of major public interest and threatened the social cohesion of our society, she was able to rise above her own personal feelings and do what was in the best interest of the country,” the ANCWL said.

Its members would still join an ANC march on Tuesday to the Goodman Gallery, where the painting was displayed.

Women leaders had a responsibility to support and encourage social reconciliation and national peace, the ANCWL said.

The Democratic Alliance likened Haffajee's decision to self-censorship.

“This kind of self-censorship will stop our democracy in its tracks,” said DA national spokesman Mmusi Maimane.

He said that whatever anyone thought of the painting, no one had the right to tell any newspaper what to publish, or any artist what to paint.

“It is unfortunate that President Zuma and the ANC chose to intimidate the City Press into taking down the painting from its website,” he said in a statement.

“It is equally unfortunate that the City Press has caved in to this pressure after a valiant attempt to fight for what is right.”

Maimane said it should not be forgotten how the apartheid government “bullied its critics in the media”.

“Those who stood firm against the bullies carried the torch of media freedom in those dark days. We must keep that flame alive.”

Earlier, Haffajee said: “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.”

This came after more than a week of debate, arrests and an urgent application by the ANC, Zuma and his children to have the image banned on the grounds that it violated his and the party's dignity.

The painting was defaced last week and the genitals are no longer visible.

The ANC welcomed the removal of the image, but said it still wanted an apology from City Press.

It would carry on with the court case for clarity on the tensions between the rights to dignity, and the right to freedom of expression.

“We appreciate what has been done,” said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu.

“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,” he said.

The apology should be made to the people of South Africa and the ANC.

“The court must assist us 1/8in showing 3/8 how far can those people go who are in the artistic environment 1/8to 3/8 violate those rights of those human beings,” he said.

Meanwhile, technology news site memeburn reported that a Twitter post under the name of mining magnate Patrice Motsepe was fake.

Haffajee tweeted: “Patrice, the real, called to say (at)PatriceMotsepe is a fake. His lawyers are onto it. My apologies - it was being RT'd as if the real guy.”

Explaining her decision to remove the image, she said she was particularly hurt by the tweet purportedly by Motsepe, whom she had known since university.

That tweet read: “Don't expect a painted woman to remove a photo of a man with exposed penis, it helps her get through lonely nights. #thespear”.

Memeburn reported that this was a fan account and that the name had now been changed to Tlhopane. - Sapa