'Ban The Spear, stone its maker'
As the ANC yesterday prepared to launch its court bid to have the controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma removed from the Goodman Gallery, in Johannesburg, one of South Africa's biggest churches called for artist Brett Murray to be stoned to death.
Enoch Mthembu, spokesman for the Nazareth Baptist Church, commonly known as the Shembe church, said: "This man has insulted the entire nation and he deserves to be stoned to death.
"What he did clearly shows his racist upbringing because art does not allow people to insult others.
"This is an attack on the culture of the majority, the black people of South Africa. With our culture we are allowed to marry many women. And white people must understand that and tolerate our culture as we do theirs. We are not like some of them who prefer prostitutes as they regard women as sex objects," said Mthembu.
The furore that started on Thursday afternoon - with ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu issuing a statement criticising the gallery and Murray, and City Press newspaper for publishing the painting on its website - has shown no signs of abating.
Mthembu yesterday urged ANC supporters to gather in the Johannesburg city centre today "as an act of solidarity to the president and the ANC .
"We view this portrait and the depiction of the president by Brett Murray and the Goodman Gallery as distasteful, vulgar, indecent and disrespectful," he said.
Further condemnation came from ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who described the painting as disrespectful and "racist", and encouraged marches against the gallery.
"We have not outgrown racism in the 18 years of democracy. I can tell you, if you depict a white politician in that form the outcry will be . totally different," Mantashe said.
Five members of the Film and Publication Board visited the gallery yesterday to assess the artwork, The Spear, part of Murray's "Hail to the Thief II" exhibition.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said yesterday that the painting was an insult to most South Africans and, "If that is art, I don't know what an insult is".
Pamela Stein, of law firm Webber Wentzel, representing the Goodman Gallery, was yesterday unaware of the Justice Department's view that "the conduct under scrutiny amounts to no less than crimen injuria".
Department spokesman Tlali Tlali said: "We are giving it serious consideration and will probably approach the police to request them to conduct a criminal investigation into the matter. Should we pursue it, we will do so on behalf of the president ."
The Johannesburg High Court will hear an urgent application by the ANC and Zuma today.
The founding affidavit states that the portrait depicts Zuma "in a manner that suggests that I am a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect. It is an undignified depiction of my personality and seeks to create doubt about my personality in the eyes of my fellow citizens, family and children."
In responding papers, gallery owner Liza Essers said: "The Goodman Gallery must respect the decisions of the artists that have solo shows as to what work they wish to display. No member of the public should be able to tell these artists which art works they should exhibit and which they should not. In turn, the Goodman Gallery cannot be a gallery of integrity if I let any individual, even the most powerful, dictate as to its content."
Though officially closed to the public yesterday, there was much activity at the gallery even as a security guard turned away visitors.
Essers told local and international journalists - and the five members of the Film and Publication Board - that Murray has been recognised as a satirical artist for over 20 years and had criticised the apartheid regime in his works when the National Party government was in power.
"The exhibition is not about one piece of work. There are 60 works that make up the show and The Spear should be viewed in its full context.
"Brett has always taken well-known icons and trademarks and represented them in a different context - this is his chosen mode of artistic expression."
Raymond Louw, a member of the board of the Freedom of Expression Institute, said: "It's not what I regard as something I would enjoy looking at.
"But it makes a pointed, political message that needs to be put out in the public domain for people to think about."
But not everyone was offended by The Spear. Tselane Tambo, daughter of the late ANC struggle icon Oliver Tambo, said on a social networking site: "So the Pres JZ has had his portrait painted and he doesn't like it. Do the poor enjoy poverty? Do the unemployed enjoy hopelessness? Do those who can't get housing enjoy homelessness? He must get over it. No one is having a good time. He should inspire the reverence he craves. This portrait is what he inspired. Shame neh!"
Jonathan Shapiro, aka Zapiro, currently being sued by Zuma for his cartoon showing the president preparing to rape Lady Justice, said yesterday: "I support Brett Murray in so many ways.
"This is a powerful piece and depicts Jacob Zuma as he portrays himself to the public.
"The ANC is characterising Brett incorrectly as a racist. Brett has a long struggle history. He has done vicious pieces against apartheid since the 1980s. The entire exhibition is a very powerful critique of the ANC and how they have slipped away from the Freedom Charter's ideals and from their own moral high ground. The Spear shouldn't be seen in isolation.
"If the ANC succeeds with the interdict, it will be a very sad day for all of us doing similar work, and it will change things for all of us doing similar things. It would be unconstitutional."
The litigation between Zuma and Shapiro will begin in the Johannesburg High Court in October. - Additional reporting by Mhlaba Memela, Chandré Prince and Amukelani Chauke