“It took me 15 seconds to destroy this insensitive artwork. We have a lot more to worry about in South Africa than a painting. There are people’s lives in danger, the racial tension is there and people don’t realise what this can lead to”, a resolute Barend la Grange told the Mail & Guardian outside the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court.
The Spear depicts President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed and forms part of artist Brett Murray’s Hail to the Thief II exhibition.
The artwork caused a national outcry and has been labelled racist by the ANC, who are seeking an urgent court interdict to prevent the painting from being exhibited or published.
Spoilt ballot paper
La Grange admitted to painting a large red X over the genital and facial area of the art piece before his co-accused Louis Mabokela smeared black paint over the surface of the image – while eNews cameras filmed the incident on Tuesday.
La Grange also claimed he had never met Mabokela prior to the incident and that both acts of defacing were carried out independently.
He said his act of defacing the artwork symbolised a spoilt ballot paper.
“The first X was against ANC-led government who I believe are going the wrong direction and the second X was against people making a mockery of our president,” he said.
La Grange said that while he didn’t like Zuma, he was still his president and had respect for the office of the presidency.
“I saw the people at the gallery were not there for art, they were there to make a joke of the president.”
La Grange also accused the Goodman Gallery of perpetuating the racial prejudices of South Africa’s past by allowing the painting to be exhibited.
“I lived through apartheid, I didn’t govern the system but I benefitted from it. I thought it only right as a white person to destroy this insensitive thing that was also created by a white person,” he said.
Change the Constitution
La Grange then echoed the ANC’s assertion that the constitutional right to freedom of expression cannot be used as an excuse to violate the dignity of others.
“If the Constitution protects people who do thing like this, then the Constitution must be changed. I didn’t defuse the situation but the fact that this painting is no longer there makes me feel far better,” he said.
The duo’s case was postponed until June 28 to gather more evidence.
Mabokela refused to comment after the case was postponed but his lawyer Krish Naidoo confirmed he had laid a charge of assault against security at the gallery.
Footage showed Mabokela being roughed up by gallery security immediately after defacing the painting.
“We intend to seek justice in the matter of my client being assaulted at the gallery,” Naidoo told the M&G.
Police confirmed security guard Paul Molesiwa had been arrested and briefly appeared in the Hillbrow Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, where he was granted R1 000 bail.
The ANC has vowed to continue its court challenge against the artwork – despite it having been defaced.
“We still believe this painting continues to tarnish the image of Zuma. That’s why we are still going to court to find out if his rights have been violated. This is no longer just about him in any case, this matter needs to be resolved as it is polarising South African society,” ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu told the M&G.