'Sorry not enough'
City Press editor Ferial Haffajee apologised to President Jacob Zuma's family yesterday for the hurt her newspaper caused them by publishing a picture of The Spear - but the ANC dug in its heels, saying it would not accept an apology "through the media".
"Ferial knows where we are. She must come to us and say this, not in a paper which we do not read. She knows what we want. We want the image to be removed and an apology. Otherwise, we don't want to hear anything else," said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu.
"That so-called apology will mean nothing because we are not marching to the City Press. We are marching to voice our outrage and anger over the insult to another human being, that human being our President Jacob Zuma," Mthembu said.
Mthembu, along with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and the SA Communist Party, last week called on their members to boycott the paper until it apologised and removed the controversial image of Zuma with his genitals exposed from its website.
They also vowed to go ahead with a march tomorrow to Johannesburg's Goodman Gallery, which exhibited the painting before it was defaced.
In an interview with The Times yesterday, after the appearance of her apology to Zuma's daughter, Duduzile, which took the form of an open letter printed in her newspaper, Haffajee went a step further, saying she would, after discussions with ANC alliance leaders, be prepared to remove the image of the painting by artist Brett Murray from the City Press website because it was not worth "what we are going through".
Haffajee said that she and her journalists had received death threats because of the publishing of the picture.
"I would be stupid and suicidal not to open a series of talks this week because it has been a painful week for my colleagues. I had a colleague thrown out of the NUM congress. It is a political year, I cannot afford to be on the margins of reporting life," she said.
Haffajee said she has approached both the ANC and the SACP to negotiate an amicable solution to the situation.
"I am meeting the SACP [today]. I have called for a meeting with the ANC since they called the boycott [of City Press] last Wednesday and I haven't had a positive response but I will make another call and ask for that," she said.
Haffajee said she had not been bullied by News24 executives into making an apology but had received "support from them from day one".
SACP spokesman Malesela Maleka said: "We are prepared to meet City Press if that would perhaps help them better understand the outrage of our people and contribute to taking matters positively forward."
Mthembu yesterday vehemently denied accusations that the ANC was using the furore around The Spear to gain political sympathy for Zuma in the run-up to the party's elective conference in Mangaung, in December.
"I think that is bulls**t. That's nonsensical. It is not only the ANC that is against it [the painting]. We got members of civil society and of the churches. We got Barend la Grange [one of two men arrested for defacing the painting in the Goodman Gallery last week] who is not even an ANC member. Why?
"At any rate, Zuma is not threatened by any elective conference," said Mthembu. "Why would we use this insulting image to mobilise? What does Mangaung have to do with an insult to Zuma?''
But The Times understands that the ANC missed a chance to have the issue settled quietly by meeting representatives of the gallery on the day the picture was published by City Press. It is understood that the delegation was pulled back.
''We never knew about that gallery thing until I was contacted by someone from Sowetan [newspaper],'' said Mthembu.
''When we saw it, we were freaked out. Gwede [Mantashe] was with me. So there was no discussion prior to that.
"We then said let's ask our lawyers to send a letter to the gallery and that's exactly what they did. We said let's ask our lawyers to indicate our difficulties with this. So that's how we spoke to the gallery and to City Press as well. That was our line of thought.
"We said 'Take it down; this is insulting. This is by no means telling you what to display.' We put our reasons in writing and they have it," Mthembu said.
He said Zuma had not ordered the party to fight the gallery and City Press.
''It's not even Zuma who took up this matter. It's us as the ANC. Zuma has not even seen this. He did not instruct us.''
But The Times has learned that Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile missed an opportunity to defuse the controversy around The Spear when one of his special advisers failed to arrive for a scheduled meeting with Goodman Gallery owner Liza Essers.
Mashatile's office contacted Essers on Sunday May 13, a few days after the opening night of Murray's exhibition Hail to the Thief II.
The approach was made the same day that the article ''R136000 for Zuma's jewels'' was published by City Press, accompanied by an image of the work.
"I invited special adviser to Minister Mashatile, Mduduzi Mbada, to come and view the work and arranged to meet him on Tuesday May 15 at 11am in the gallery.
"I was more than willing to discuss the ministry's concerns," said Essers.
Mbada did not arrive for the meeting and Essers later received an SMS saying that he had had to catch a flight to Cape Town.
On Thursday May 17, Essers was served with court papers from the ANC and an ANC press statement.
Essers contacted Mbada again on Monday May 21 "to see what could be done to control the situation".
They arranged a meeting for the next day.
Essers said: "While I was on my way to meet Mr Mbada I received news that the artwork had been defaced.
"I had to abandon the meeting to deal with the case of malicious damage to property and the matter of temporarily closing the gallery."
Essers later received correspondence from the Ministry of Arts and Culture to the effect that the ANC was not prepared to withdraw its high court application for an order that the picture be removed from display.
Mbada also dismissed claims that there was pressure from within the ANC to discourage discussion between the Ministry of Arts and Culture and the Goodman Gallery.