President Jacob Zuma says the government will defend the right of its people to express themselves in any manner, including protest action.
He told the National Assembly on Thursday that freedom of expression was as important and “as understood and appreciated in Constantia as it was in Gugulethu”.
Zuma said, “This government defends the right of our people to express themselves in any manner, including protest action, except if in exercising that right they begin to violate the rights of others, such as destroying property or stopping other people from exercising their own rights.”
He added, “No right is absolute. It must be exercised with due regard to the rights of others.”
Zuma was replying during a debate on the presidency’s budget vote.
Last week the ANC and its affiliate organisations marched on Johannesburg’s Goodman Gallery to demand that a painting of Zuma with his genitals exposed be removed from the gallery’s website and that it publicly apologise for displaying the work.
The painting, The Spear, by Brett Murray, was defaced last Tuesday and removed from the exhibition.
The ANC called for a boycott of City Press newspaper for publishing a picture of the painting and for displaying it on its website. The boycott was called off after the newspaper removed the image and apologised.
‘Wounds of humiliation’
In his speech on Thursday, Zuma evoked the memory of Khoisan woman Sarah Baartman, whose genitals and brain were displayed in museums in Paris and London during the 19th century.
“Nor do we want to re-open the wounds of the humiliation of Sarah Baartman, who was painfully exhibited in London and Paris and whose genitals and brain were stored in a pickle jar and shown off in a museum until the administration led by President [Nelson] Mandela demanded the return of her remains for a decent burial.”
He said South Africa could not “go back to the period or memory of number four prison”, where black men were made to strip naked and perform the “tauza” dance.
“We dare not repeat that painful, brutal, primitive treatment of a human being,” he said.
The government, he said, was working with Austria to bring back the remains of Khoisan people taken there for experiments in 1909.
“Already the remains of Mr and Mrs Klaas and Trooi Pienaar have been brought back to the country and we are working on the logistics of the reburial,” he said.
Austrian scientist Rudolph Poch had taken more than 80 South African human remains to Austria for experiments. – Sapa