For the past two weeks South Africa has been engaging in discussions and debates about the Spear. This portrait which depicts the genitals of President Jacob Zuma has created a lot of racial controversy, with some people saying this portrait was aimed to defame black people. As journalists and artists with our democratic right to express ourselves where do we draw the line? Where do we say this is where I end, I cannot go overboard, I need to pay respect to this situation?
When we look into South African Constitution, we are given the freedom of expression. This right simply allows people to express themselves either verbally or non-verbally. On the other hand we have the right of human dignity, which says everybody has to be respected. Now with the Spear we have two rights which are in conflict. Who has to compromise his right? Murray has a right to express himself and President Zuma has a right to human dignity.
For me all these rights are equal and important. Compromising one of them would bring us into inequality and having one of the persons living in a tight space. As all rights come with exceptions and responsibilities, I would say before we come to exercise our rights, we should look into some aspects that might have a potential to contradict or bring conflict amongst people
In South Africa, as a rainbow country, we have many cultures. We ought to pay respect to everyone’s even if we do not agree with them. The artist, Brett Murray had a democratic right to express his thought. For him, drawing a portrait with the genitals, it might have meant that Zuma sleeps around with women like nobody’s business. We cannot deny the fact that Zulu people lawfully practice polygamy and is promoted over private affairs. I am also not in favour of this practice, but I cannot criticise it because people doing it feel that it is the best. This is where one has to compromise their right, so we can bring peace. Who should have compromised his right? For me, Brett could have because it would not harm him than what it has done to Zuma and his family.
Above all things, not from any country I have heard that a president has been mocked. Even if we do not like the person elected to sit in the president chair, we still need to respect his office. As the president governing the country, he has to be respected and be recognised.
Having a right to voice out what we feel might not be important as paying respect to the people in authority.
When I spoke to the eThekwini Municipality official, Mr. Loggie Naidoo about this portrait, he said Murray became an opportunist, he realised that if he could make a painting which disgraces South Africa, surely European countries would buy it. As it happened, the portrait had been sold for R136 000. A question which may rise is that, “Where was this buyer taking the portrait to? And why out of all portraits drawn everyday did he decide to take the Spear? A value of money might end up messing our relationship with people around us. We may not know his reasons of drawing this but if it was money-driven I would say he got it wrong; you cannot have money in expense of other person’s dignity.
On the other hand, I am not in favour of what people have created out of this entire saga. We have seen and heard a lot of people saying this portrait is about racism, I do not believe so. Why every time in South Africa when a white person does something wrong, it has to do with racism? It looks like as South Africans we are not going anywhere because of this word ‘racism’. There has been a lot being done to bring people together. We should get over the skin colour and language but live in this democratic country with harmony.
It is time we as a journalists start looking into what we are writing and ensuring that it does not affect other people. We have this democratic right but it is not as important as giving a space for right to human dignity.