“Those who conduct themselves with morality, integrity and consistency need not fear the forces of inhumanity and cruelty.” These are the words of Nelson Mandela. Perhaps we need to think about his words long and hard in the context of what we face today, in the form of a stupid painting, which has made us even more stupid for continuing to talk about it for so long.
It’s been more than two weeks and we are still talking about this damn painting. I am tired of The Spear, yet I find myself writing about it. I am tired of hearing about it, yet I find myself listening to what people have to say about it. I can’t help it.
We are correctly told that the office of the president deserves respect; that we can’t speak about him in any way we would like – although there is nothing unconstitutional about speaking ill of the first citizen. The office must be treated with dignity, for the citizen who holds it is our ambassador to the world. He represents us equally, whether one voted for or against him, he is our president. Many seem to forget that
But people do not deserve respect because of the office they hold, they deserve it because of their character. If the office of the president deserves respect, then whoever holds the office should treat it with the respect it deserves. That is fair and just.
We have to go back into the president’s past for the purposes of this column in order to illustrate a point about how the office should be treated.
Since the ANC is telling us something we agree with, that the office should be treated with respect, then we also have to say that the office bearer must treat it with respect. It is in this context then that we must face an uncomfortable reality – that the president should have paused to consider the office he holds when he had sex and fathered a child with a woman who was not his one of his three wives. He was also engaged to another woman at the time.
Was the president in that instance treating the office he held with the respect it deserved? The ANC did not march to the Union Buildings nor Luthuli House to make sure that the office was respected. This is the selective morality the ANC has when it comes to the president. Respect must be a two-way street; the office bearer must not diminish it in order for the people to continue to give it.
In my column two weeks ago, “The ANC has forgotten how to choose a leader
“, I quoted point 37 from the ANC’s document, Through The Eye of a Needle
: “A leader should lead by example. He should be above reproach in his political and social conduct – as defined by our revolutionary morality.”
If the ANC wants to play marching games against what is perceived to be moral and ethical affronts against the person of the president, maybe it should have taken a look at Through The Eye of a Needle to see the precedent it has set. It’s not that the ANC is wrong about the morality of the painting, but the organisation is wrong because of its selective morality.
I still find the painting offensive, but the ferocity with which the ANC has focused on this painting has made many hate it less. I wish the ANC would take the lack of service delivery as personally as it has taken this painting.
The ANC is not law. We do not have to obey its instructions. The only thing we have to obey is the law as laid down by the Constitution – and our parents.
Having said that, many people criticised the ANC for marching against the Goodman Gallery, and some even criticised it for even opening its mouth against The Spear in the first place.
Well, the party had a democratic right to do so. Its right to march is enshrined in the Constitution. Let not your self-righteousness blind you to this fact. Just because people do not agree with the ANC does not mean they may deny it its rights.
But what is freedom of expression? Is it that he who has the loudest voice will be heard? Is that democracy? Might is right? One gets the feeling sometimes that the ANC wants to say, “You know that democracy thing we fought for? We were kidding.”
Should we now scream, shout and throw tantrums at people simply because they have offended us?
One of the most areas I have found difficult to navigate around in The Spear saga has been the fact that the president has children who have to deal with their father being shown in the light that he has. Another is that of an elderly African man being shown in such a manner.
But are we then also saying that if someone is suspected of and found guilty of corruption, papers should not report on it because it may infringe on the rights of the children of the accused? Where do we draw the line?
We cannot allow political parties to dictate to us what is art and what isn’t. Nor can we allow them to dictate to us what we can say about who and when. That is the role of the law. Otherwise we are five-to allowing ourselves into a dictatorship – even though we have the most liberal Constitution in the world. The irony.
I know the ANC is better than this.