Acclaimed South African photographer David Goldblatt said this week he would not accept a national order awarded to him this year in protest against the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill.
He also said he was declining the award, the Order of Ikhamanga Silver, in protest “against what has been done to the spirit in which the award was created”.
In an email sent to the chancellor of orders on Wednesday afternoon, Goldblatt (81) wrote:
“The damage done to our democracy by the very passing of this Bill and the damage that is likely to ensue should you sign it into law has been emphatically and eloquently stated by others and I will not attempt to describe it here. Suffice to say that this action severely undermines our brave but fragile democracy and the rule of law.”
Photographer David Goldblatt’s new project takes criminals back to the place where they committed their offence, capturing a hint of recognition in the eyes of his subjects. Goldblatt says “crime is part of our lives and I needed to deal with it. My way of dealing with things is to take photographs.” The exhibition will open at Johannesburg’s Goodman Gallery on October 6 2010.
He quoted from the official history of the national orders: “South Africa has taken many strides away from its past of exclusion and discrimination on the basis of sex, colour and creed. The country has been steadily moving forward in a direction that reasserts our humanity. In this march towards humanity, a new culture of human rights and a respect for the dignity of the human spirit have become characteristics of South Africa.
“One of the symbolic moments of the exodus from the past was the raising of the new flag in 1994. This moment aptly affirmed the pride and dignity of an unfolding country and a celebration of humanity. Another was the unveiling of a new coat of arms on April 27 2000 that embraced the collective historical essence of the people of the country.
“In so doing, a new aesthetic that takes consideration of Africa and her symbols became part of the new culture that informs a South African rebirth.”
Goldblatt said in his email that President Jacob Zuma, his government and the ANC had passed the Bill in contempt of the spirit in which the awards had been created.
“The Bill itself, the manner in which it was pushed through Parliament in the face of clear rejection by substantial numbers of people and respected organs of civil society and, if it is signed by you, the existence of such legislation in our law are the very antithesis of the spirit in which our national awards were conceived.”
Goldblatt said he had not been able to attend the awards ceremony on April 27 this year and had been informed his order would be handed over on the same date in 2012.
“To accept the Order of Ikhamanga from you on April 27 would be to endorse your contempt. I refuse to do that and, very sadly, I decline the honour.”
Goldblatt said on Thursday that he had felt the need to make a gesture in protest. “If it [the Bill] went through, I thought I would decline to accept it,” he said.
But, he added, it was not only a question of whether the Bill was signed into law but also the fact that the government had seen fit to put a Bill of its nature through Parliament, which was “appalling”.
“It should not have even thought of this,” he said.
The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill came as no surprise, raising the threat to media freedom. View our special report.