The ANC is squaring up to the gallery and newspaper in court on Tuesday over the exhibition and publishing of Murray’s contentious artwork The Spear.
“If the judgment on this painting is not consistent with the judgment on Dubul’ iBhunu, questions will have to be asked,” ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg, following the party’s latest national executive council meeting this past weekend.
The ruling party is seeking an urgent court interdict against the gallery and the newspaper, demanding the image to be removed from the exhibition and taken off the newspaper’s website, arguing that it violates President Jacob Zuma’s right to privacy and dignity.
Both the gallery and the newspaper stand by their decision to exhibit the portrait, claiming they are protected by their constitutional right to freedom of expression.
Murray’s painting depicts Zuma with his genitals exposed, and forms part of his Hail to the Thief II exhibition.
In response to this argument, Mantashe said rights must go hand in hand with responsibilities.
“When you exercise rights without responsibilities, you are the most active participant in destroying that right. People who threaten the freedom of expression are the ones who use that right irresponsibly,” Mantashe said.
Mantashe was referring to the ruling in the Equality Court last year, which found former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema guilty of hate speech for his singing of struggle song Dubul’ iBhunu – roughly translated as “shoot the boer”.
Judge Colin Lamont ruled that when taking South Africa’s history in account, Malema undermined the dignity of Afrikaners, and was discriminatory and harmful when he sang the song.
Mantashe said the ruling was an indication of our how South Africa’s troubled history needed to be heeded, and not doing so amounted to “denialism”.
“Once you blacken out history you begin to forget where you come from. We need to use it to know where we come from and how to move going forward,” Mantashe said.
He said the ANC sees the painting as perpetuating South Africa’s racist and colonial past.
“It [the painting] is crude, rude, violent and disrespectful. It’s as if you are saying black people feel no pain. It doesn’t matter what the court decides – that reality won’t change,” Mantashe said.
Nonetheless, Mantashe said the ANC would respect the ruling whatever the outcome.
“Court decisions are respected in the ANC, whether we like it or not. But we always have the right to disagree, that remains our right,” Mantashe said.
In support of the party’s court challenge, the ANC has called on supporters to gather outside the South Gauteng High Court from 10am and “defend” Zuma’s “dignity, reputation and integrity” ahead of the hearing, which is due to begin at midday.
At the same time, the Young Communist League (YCL) is planning to march on the Goodman Gallery on Thursday.
Buti Manamela, YCL leader, said he will lead a march to the gallery in Rosebank to “rip out” the painting.
“We are supportive of court proceedings, but in our view there has to be some action. There has to be some display of disgust,” he said.