The Spear painting is not only a shocking and disgraceful piece of work, but a reflection of a polarised and alienated society. The Spear is an attack on the institution of the Presidency and in particular, the dignity of African culture.

It has engendered anger across many communities. It has paradoxically galvanised support for President Jacob Zuma across divided political loyalties.

The architects of Zuma’s defamation campaign must be incensed at their lack of foresight and ineptitude.

The fact that the artist is a white South African, the Goodman Gallery is white-owned and managed and the public voices of the gallery are white, further adds to the toxicity of the piece.

White leaders across all sectors of society who willingly sustained apartheid were magnanimously forgiven and in the main afforded the opportunity to continue life unabated under the protection of a liberal constitution post-1994.

In many cases, whites have cast Afro-pessimistic and doomsayer aspersions on black leadership and the current democratic system while seeking protection under the constitutional system that afro-optimists and non-racialists sacrificed so much for prior to the advent of democracy.

I stand in awe of the ability and patience of African people to forgive and reconcile in the presence of ungrateful and disdainful behaviour from some of our white citizens. How many white-based organisations, whether they are churches, political parties, businesses, sports bodies or social clubs have corporately and genuinely repented for their past?

Surely that would be a far more gracious act than provocative and destructive expressions through second-rate art.

Freedom of expression is important for any democracy but not at the expense of destabilising and jeopardising our hard-won gains.

Racial stereotypes and prejudice continue to lurk under the veil of political correctness in our nation. One just needs to attend a few exclusive dinners to realise that nothing has changed in the hearts and minds of some citizens.

It is these racial stereotypes that undermine our national unity and patriotism.

The consequences of reckless and at times racially charged forms of expression could induce a political point in our history that is characterised by intolerance, violence and social dissidence.

We are one of a few societies that have transformed through negotiation and political settlement. Most societies transform on the basis of bloodshed.

The Haitian, French, Cuban and American revolutions come to mind.

We therefore have no choice but to conduct our lives as SA citizens in a manner which is mindful of our painful and conflict-ridden past.

Some are now purporting that many progressive and left-wing whites from the days of the struggle against apartheid are now the controversial champions of freedom.

This does not necessarily accord them special status in our hard-won democracy.

Vanessa Brereton, who was exposed by the Commission (investigating spy allegations against Bulelani Ngcuka) as a spy for the previous regime operated as a high-profile human rights lawyer defending left-wing activists at the time.

The student organisation Nusas had similar exposés of leaders who were state security operatives.

We must be extremely careful therefore not to rely on the so-called past credentials of white liberals who masqueraded as angels of light.

In the same vein, a past political pedigree does not afford anybody the right to instigate self-centred conflict by denigrating stalwarts of the struggle against apartheid including the president of our country.

As is evidenced by history, which was true then and is now, the people who support this type of blatant racism must not cry “woe is me” when they themselves have precipitated retributive conflict.

The following biblical quote is apt. Hosea 8:7: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

The most unfortunate element is that we all reap the whirlwind as the country is at a tipping point of renewed racial polarisation which could continue for decades.

True non-racialists must now rally against reactionary manifestations of this nature as we did leading into 1994 and thereafter.

n Wakeford is a public interest commentator