National

'Battle lines drawn' as ANC takes 'Spear' fight to the streets

Nickolaus Bauer

The battle to censor the controversial "Spear" painting looks set to be fought on the streets as the ANC rallied its supporters to mass action.

ANC protesters at the South Gauteng High Court duringthe 'Spear' hearing. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

On Thursday, barely minutes after the South Gauteng High Court postponed the interdict hearing on the art piece indefinitely, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe called on party supporters to stage a march on the Goodman Gallery on Tuesday and to boycott the City Press newspaper.

  • Read the ANC and Zuma heads of argument here. (PDF)
  • Read Duduzile Zuma’s heads of argument here (PDF)
  • Read City Press heads of argument here (PDF)
  • Read the Goodman Gallery and Brett Murray heads of argument here (PDF) 

“The message that comes through to us is that we will not win in court what we have not won in the streets. Quite clearly battle lines are drawn.

“This is not a battle for just that painting, it is a battle about domination and subjugation. We have a way of seeing things, our culture is not inferior, we all have to fight and protect that culture.

“We must protect our being, we must protect our Africanness,” Mantashe told the 600-strong crowd gathered outside court.

The ANC and President Jacob Zuma are seeking an urgent court interdict against the newspaper and the gallery to prevent the painting by Brett Murray from being published or exhibited.

The painting, which depicts Zuma posing with his genitals exposed, has pitted two constitutional rights against one another. The ruling party and Zuma have argued the artwork infringes on the president and his office’s constitutional right to dignity and privacy, while both the newspaper and gallery argue their right to exhibit and publish the painting is protected by the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

The matter was originally supposed to be heard in front of judge Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane on Tuesday but Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo ordered it to be heard in front of a full Bench due to “national importance”.

Judges Neels Claassen and Lucy Mailula were added to hear the matter.

Courtroom 6E was packed with media, members of the ANC and several of Zuma’s children, all vying for a spot to witness proceedings.

Legal argument followed a bizarre course as Zuma’s representaion, advocate Gcina Malindi, broke down in tears, while being questioned over the relevance of the matter, following the painting’s defacing on Tuesday.

Barend la Grange and Louis Mabokela defaced the artwork with red and black paint. La Grange defended his actions, saying he did so to prevent a race war, while Mabokela claimed he was protecting Zuma’s image.

Malindi attempted to argue before his breakdown that despite many constitutional rights – such as access to water and sanitation – not being fulfilled, it did not usurp their importance.

He argued that even though the painting’s distribution would be difficult to control as it was already in the public space and being disseminated via the internet, an apology from both the gallery and newspaper would go a long way to “assuaging the president’s wounded feelings”.

“Everyone has a right to dignity, regardless of their position as president or otherwise,” Malindi told the court.

There have been continuous debates whether the painting was racist or not, as labelled by the ANC and Zuma.

Claassen said it was a non-issue because some black people found it racist, while others did not.

Malindi said that although it may not be deemed racist by some, Murray should have taken cultural sensitivity into account when he produced the painting.

“In South Africa when we debate any value, we must take into account our problematic history.

“Murray should have asked himself if the artwork was going to offend anyone and taken into account the feelings of all South Africans,” Malindi said.

During court proceedings Malindi was also forced to concede dignity and privacy rights did not apply to Zuma’s office as president of the country or the ANC as they only inherently apply to a person or being.

After a lengthy adjournment following Malindi’s breakdown, the case was postponed and is set to be heard in front of a full Bench over three days.

Malindi put his breakdown to a rehashing of memories of apartheid during his argument, and apologised for causing the delay.

Outside the court, the ANC set up a mobile stage with a direct video feed from the court. The crowd, numbering around 300 by midday, had little care for the slow-moving arguments, however, and attempts to broadcast the proceedings were soon abandoned.

Though relatively small, the crowd was rabidly pro-Zuma, and the majority of those polled said he should remain the president of the ANC.

A home-made poster seemed to sum up the sentiment: “BIG dick or small dick, Zuma 4 second Term”.

Several women sported “100% Zuma” on cheeks and foreheads in yellow paint, along with specially made T-shirts with slogans calling for restrictions on artistic freedom of expression.

Many in the crowd expressed anger towards Murray, and said his intent had clearly been racist.

Police maintained a strong presence, including several armoured vehicles and a water cannon, but were not called on for more than directing traffic. ANC marshals, too, had little trouble maintaining order.


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