The ANC was right not to let sleeping dogs lie | by Pearl Mathibela

by Jun 4, 2012All Articles

Pearl Mathibela says Brett Murray’s painting was disrespectful both to Zuma and the nation
Nation building is being undermined, not the Constitution
As the furore over the much-publicised (and now defaced) “painting” of one Brett Murray erupted, my initial reaction (and that of some South Africans) to the ANC’s criticism, in particular, was that the ANC should have ignored the matter.
The rationale was that by threatening legal action against those concerned, the ANC would be instrumental in causing the Streisand effect – exactly what Brett Murray must have been aiming and hoping for when he “painted” the “portrait” of Mr Zuma.
It would appear that those sentiments have been proven right. With the assistance of technology, the “painting” has gone viral and obviously propelled Brett Murray into what some, including, presumably, the man himself, may call stardom.
The more I considered the matter, however, the less convinced I was that the ANC should have let sleeping dogs lie.
Listening to Professor Anton Harber during a radio debate on the matter attempt to suggest that the ANC has only taken issue with the “painting” in an effort to divert attention from more pressing issues, in particular the UNICEF’s yet to be released report on the plight of children in South Africa left me in a state of utter disbelief.
The Prof’s further frivolous assertion that the “painting” would strengthen our democracy by facilitating debate on the issues it raised had me irritated, to say the very least.
The Prof’s defence of the “painting” was predictably premised on the much beloved constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.
Throughout the debate, as in earlier public statements in defence of the “painting”, the Prof gave a stunning performance of feigning ignorance on the extremely offensive nature of the “painting” or the fact that Brett Murray had failed to observe the concomitant duty to respect the Mr Zuma’s right to human dignity.
Unsurprisingly, like the Prof, those opposed to Mr Zuma or the ANC and all aligned in any manner to the organisation have readily sought refuge behind the very same thin straw (in the present matter) known as the right to freedom of expression in an unconvincing effort to disguise their outright hatred for president Zuma.
In the pre- and post- Polokwane periods, what I found particularly striking about those who were opposed to a Zuma presidency and with whom I engaged on the topic was how scant their knowledge of Mr Zuma’s contributions to the country and continent was.
My assertion that Mr Zuma had earned his stripes was often met by blank stares, followed by the regurgitation of the negative media reports doing the rounds at the time.
I doubt that many of those who harbour strong feelings of hatred towards the president are any more knowledgeable than the characters I have interacted with on Mr Zuma’s contributions to South Africa and the continent in both his capacities as deputy-president and president of this country.
Nonetheless, as a South African, I feel affronted by the “painting”.
It matters not how much one hates Mr Zuma or how little respect one has for Mr Zuma, he is a human being and, like all human beings in this country, he has inherent dignity and the right to have his dignity respected and protected in terms of section 10 of the very Constitution that grants the likes of Brett Murray the right to freedom of expression.
In addition, Mr Zuma holds the highest office in the land and that office ought to be accorded the respect it deserves – with particular regard being had to the fact that we live in Africa and thus most of our values are different from the values of those who live in the western world. Yes, yes, I know that some consider all things (Black) African as backward and accordingly not worthy of respect and/or protection.
Portraying the president of the Republic of South Africa with his private parts hanging out of his trousers is not only  disrespectful to the office of the president but also to the nation and the country as a whole – or at least the portion of the country and the nation that recognises itself as South African.
I am aware that there are some among us who, despite living in this country and enjoying the attendant benefits, have never recognised any of our post-apartheid State presidents as their leaders – although today one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who does not regard Mr Mandela and even Mr Mbeki as “great” State presidents.
Considering how those whose conduct is inflammatory and divisive are quick to refer us to “similar” examples in other democratic states, I believe that it needs to be constantly restated that our democracy came at a huge price to many people in this land.
Many suffered unspeakable indignities and harm; many put their lives on the line; many sacrificed their education; many sacrificed their relatively comfortable surroundings; many lost their lives; many mothers, fathers, grandparents, sisters, brothers, children, nephews, nieces, great-grandchildren, friends, etc lost their loved ones in a cruel and inhumane manner and many still await news of their loved one’s whereabouts or the whereabouts of their remains.
I also believe that it needs constant restating that our country – culturally, racially and linguistically diverse as it is,  in addition to its shameful history and the reconciliatory spirit and values on which it was re-established at the end of apartheid – has very few, if any, equivalents in the world.
The habit of superimposing foreign practices onto our land does more harm than good to our fledgling democracy and should therefore be discarded.
It may be the intention of some to plunge our country into civil war or civil unrest in order to present the country as ‘another failed African State’.
However, I would like to believe that those of us who still have vivid memories of the savage nature of the so-called Black-on-Black war incited in the dying days of apartheid and who have taken a personal pledge to respect and uphold our Constitution and country will not be distracted from our duty to help make our country work and help it shed its racially divided and divisive image.
I take my hat off to those who have defaced the “painting”. They have done what some of us did not have the courage to do.
Section 16 of the Constitution does not provide a closed list of matters protected as freedom of expression and the conduct of those who defaced the “painting” should, in my view, also be seen as an expression of their right to freedom of expression.
Nevertheless, as the “portrait” has been widely publicised, the damage to Mr Zuma as a human being and his office has been done. As a result, instead of the development of the country being central to our minds, we are likely to find ourselves once again engaging in the never-ending and counterproductive debate on race relations in this country.
My interpretation of the “painting” is that it primarily sought to demean Mr Zuma because of his polygamous marriages as well as his extra-marital relationships – notwithstanding Mr Zuma’s constitutionally guaranteed right to participate in the cultural life of his choice.
I wonder what direction public opinion would have gone had it been the former president FW de Klerk who was portrayed with his private parts hanging out of his pants. After all, the man reportedly had an extra-marital affair with a wife of a friend/acquaintance.
I wonder also whether those who have come out in support of Brett Murray would have done the same had the “portrait” been of Dr Mamphela Ramphele – with her private parts exposed, of course. By her own accounts, Dr Ramphele had an affair with a married man (presumably even during her own marriage) and bore that married man two children.
There are innumerable political and other public figures with questionable moral standards when it comes to matters of the heart (and/or of the flesh).  Perhaps we should attempt to compile a list of all of them and have our very own Brett Murray portray them with their private parts exposed and have Zapiro tell them in a Sunday paper to ‘earn the respect they want’ through  spoofs of the original “portraits”.
Perhaps all people whose partners enjoy playing the fields should commission similar “portraits” and “caricatures” of their partners for public display as well.
Perhaps all married (respected) executives of corporate entities who are known for their penchant for sexual relations with members of staff should also be portrayed in a similar light.
After all, in our democratic dispensation, the right to freedom of expression is above another’s inherent dignity and the right to have that dignity respected.
Perhaps it is high time we allowed ourselves to deteriorate into anarchy. If our collective desire is to tear the country apart, why defer that dream?
22 May 2012
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