Memories evoke tears
New layers of complexity were yesterday added to the controversy surrounding Brett Murray's The Spear.
A crowded gallery in the Johannesburg High Court - gathered for the ANC and President Jacob Zuma's application for an order that the painting be removed from the Goodman Gallery and from City Press's website - watched in shock as Zuma's advocate wept.
Senior counsel Gcina Malindi had been engaged in a heated debate with Judge Neels Claassen about the relevance of claims of racism in relation to the painting, the artist, the gallery and the newspaper.
Malindi was in court to ask three high court judges - Claassen, Lucy Mailula and Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane - to interdict the gallery and City Press from continued display of The Spear because the painting violated Zuma's dignity.
Malindi said the order would enable Zuma to litigate against any organisation or individual that subsequently published the image.
He argued that such an order would go a long way to soothing Zuma's battered feelings.
But Judge Claassen had asked how the case could be racist, and how the image could be banned from the internet, referring to a British court ruling that stated that such an order would be an insult to the law and the constitution.
In response, Malindi said: "Access to water is a basic human right in South Africa, but not all our people have access to water. Does this mean our constitution is [an] insult to our people?"
After Claassen expressed his dissatisfaction with his response, Malindi sat down, buried his head on the desk and sobbed loudly. Another advocate, Muzi Sikhakhane, tried to console him.
Malindi afterwards told journalists that the exchange had brought back "painful memories".
"I think it is because, as a former activist, it brought back a lot of things. The exchanges between me and the judge just brought back things that happened 25 or even 30 years ago. It [the breakdown] should not have happened but unfortunately it did," said Malinda.
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu, also in court, burst into tears too.
Correctional Services Deputy Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi blamed Claassen for the incident.
"The judge was taking sides. The judge was doing the job for the defence and they had nothing to do," Ramatlhodi said.
Kebby Maphatsoe, the chairman of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans' Association, said forcing Malindi to talk about people's daily struggles had reminded the advocate of the time when he was arrested.
"He was among the people arrested during the Vaal uprisings when he was an activist in the 1980s, and those painful memories just came back and he was overcome by emotion."
Since the hearing started on Tuesday, the ANC has called on its supporters to camp outside the Johannesburg High Court in support of Zuma.
The president's children, Duduzane and Duduzile, and ANC leaders Gwede Mantashe, Tony Yengeni and Paul Mashatile, were also in court.
Speaking to ANC supporters after the hearing, Mantashe called for a boycott of City Press, saying the newspaper had disregarded Zuma's feelings and dignity .
The call was later reiterated by Mthembu, who said: "City Press has therefore become a paragon of immorality and abuse, and a perpetrator of injustice and slander.
"[The newspaper's] refusal to remove this portrait from its website and its controlled social media is a clear indication that this newspaper does not belong to our shared democratic dispensation and values."
He said the ANC would call for a march on the Goodman Gallery.
The call for a boycott was reiterated by SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, who became the first minister to call for a boycott of the newspaper.
Nzimande reportedly said he will soon ask for his newspaper subscription to be cancelled.
The SA National Editors' Forum said last night that it was "alarmed at the call by the ANC and senior ruling party leaders for a boycott ".
"The call is tantamount to intimidation and abuse of power."