Gugu Ndima. National Spokesperson Young Communist League of SA

The repugnant picture painted by Brett Murray of President Jacob Zuma reminded me of a conversation I had with a young lad who expressed his concerns about the president marrying more than one wife.

I explained that the republic’s constitution was unequivocal in protecting and recognising various cultures and religions in our society and embracing diversity.

I then posed a counter-question about the media and the manner in which it, at times, bordered on thin ice when it came to reporting on individuals – to an extent that it prejudiced the person’s social standing.

I made an example of the recent passing of kwaito star Brown Dash. A publication presupposed the cause of death was HIV/Aids.

The kwaito star’s family had not disclosed the reason or cause of death, neither did the deceased leave a will requesting it should be divulged.This infringed a medical right, a right to confidentiality and a right to dignity.

The young man then made reference to the constitution, asserting it recognised “freedom of expression”.

I highlight this particular conversation because we seem to fail to internalise the constitution in its entirety, and selectively quote it when it suits us, should we wish to make a biased point.

There is the tacit existence of a hierarchy of rights in our society. “Freedom of expression” seemingly supersedes any other right, including the right to life and to dignity. All citizens, including the president, should enjoy these rights equally.

The repulsive picture is far from “freedom of expression”. In fact it is a barefaced violation of not only President Zuma as a private citizen, but it undermines the Office of the President, the country and its citizens. Comrade Zuma currently occupies this office and therefore the picture is associated with the office.

Also disturbing was online publications refusing to remove the picture, which is nude and exposes genitals.

The right to freedom of expression has been abused in this instance and used to insult a public office and the president’s social standing.

However, it has become an everyday trend in South Africa to allow “freedom of expression” to surpass any other right enshrined in the constitution.

There is also an unwillingness to understand the ramifications of such a picture to the family and members of the general members.

There is absolutely nothing humorous about such perverse behaviour and deliberate disrespect.

This isn’t the first time we see an artist reduce the president to a subject of ridicule.

Famous and controversial cartoonist Zapiro landed up with a lawsuit due to his perverse picture of the president and senior leaders of the MDM structures supposedly raping Lady Justice.

This caused a stir among members of the public and was uncalled for. We can’t be selective about the rights we exercise and then fail to respect the responsibility that comes with such rights.

South Africa’s democracy and constitution are continuously spat on by the likes of Brett Murray, FW de Klerk, Jessica Leandra and media cartels. Respect is paramount if we wish to sustain our democracy – it can’t also be selective.

The road to reconciliation has been a long, painful one, characterised by bloodshed and sacrifice.

However, recently we have seen continuous efforts by groups in our society to vehemently oppose our democracy.

But at the same time they use the constitution to fight disingenuous battles and illustrate failure in SA.

True patriotic South Africans should fight against these dark forces of gloom that undermine our democracy and constitution.

The Zuma picture should be banned and Brett Murray must apologise. It will be interesting to see who will defend the picture by hiding behind the banner of “freedom of expression” in this instance.

The president has a right to his dignity. An attack on or insult of his office is an attack on all South Africans.

These images undermine the spirit of unity among South Africans and stir up emotions unnecessarily. The gallery not only insults the president, but also the whole ANC and its members.

A number of people might differ with the government, but there are ways in which such differences can be raised.

We have Chapter 9 institutions and a very healthy democracy, which allows people from all walks of life to vent their grievances.

Some even took to the streets recently and misled young, innocent black youths to vent their frustrationsat Cosatu, as part of a PR exercise to win more black voters.

Unfortunately they misdirected the march and they could easily have marched to the Union Buildings to make their point.

The point is, democracy is healthy and alive in SA.

However, we have a responsibility to respect one another as citizens, and this includes the president.

n Ndima is ANC caucus spokeswoman writing in her personal capacity