Acting Rosebank station commissioner Gerhard Steyn said on Tuesday the men were being taken back to the police station holding cells, but would be freed later in the evening. He said the police were still investigating.
Steyn asked the media, camped in the police station foyer, to go home because nothing would happen until later.
The painting by Cape Town artist Brett Murray depicted Zuma with his private parts exposed. Two men allegedly defaced the portrait with red and black paint, obscuring the face and waist of the figure.
Krish Naidoo, for Lowie Mabokela (25) said his client was being released on bail of R1 000. He was being charged with malicious damage to property. Mabokela allegedly smeared black paint over the portrait of Zuma at the Goodman Gallery on Tuesday morning. Naidoo said Mabokela was a taxi driver from Limpopo and had come to Johannesburg to see the portrait.
“His family members are involved in art. He drove all the way from Limpopo to see the portrait for himself and that’s his reason for being here,” said Naidoo.
He said there was no connection between Mabokela and the second man, who painted a red cross over Zuma’s face and genitals.
“It was spontaneous on both their parts, they just happened to be there at the same time,” said Naidoo.
Both men were expected to appear in the Johannesburg regional court on Wednesday.
Naidoo said Mabokela had laid charges of assault against the security guard who apprehended him at the gallery.
“We’ve asked the police to consider arresting the security guard. We considering taking civil action against the gallery for the assault he sustained,” said Naidoo.
The arrests came within an hour of the South Gauteng High Court setting down an application by the ANC to have the painting removed from the gallery for hearing by a full bench on Thursday morning.
The application had just been postponed when word spread that the painting The Spear, as part of Murray’s exhibition Hail to the Thief II, had been defaced.
A third person was arrested later in the day for apparently trying to spray the word “respect” on a wall of the Goodman Gallery.
The gallery on Tuesday evening said it had temporarily closed its doors to the public. Gallery owner Liza Essers said the move was prompted by numerous threats and the defacing.
“The extent of the rage has astonished me and upset me very much,” she said. “We have decided to do this as we feel that the Goodman Gallery, its staff, as well as public visitors are at risk.” – Sapa