Home News Protest against Zuma ‘penis painting’ in South Africa

Protest against Zuma ‘penis painting’ in South Africa

Published on 29/05/2012

About 1,000 supporters of South Africa's ruling ANC marched on an art gallery Tuesday to protest a painting depicting President Jacob Zuma's genitals.

The African National Congress which mobilised the protest against one of the most controversial artworks in the country’s post-apartheid history, said the gallery has agreed to pull the painting from its website.

Decked out in the black, green and gold of the ANC, they marched about two kilometres (1.2 miles) along one of the city’s busiest roads to the gallery in the upmarket neighbourhood of Parkwood, where riot police formed a barrier between them and the gallery.

“The Goodman Gallery has agreed to remove the painting from the website,” ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told protesters.

The row erupted when the gallery put up a collection of works by satirical artist Brett Murray taking a harsh look at the ANC.

But the piece that sparked the greatest outrage was the painting of Zuma mimicking a pose by Vladimir Lenin in a Soviet-era propaganda poster — but with his penis exposed.

Critics branded it racist and a violation of Zuma’s right to dignity, arguing it is deeply offensive in African culture to expose an elder’s genitals.

The ANC claimed victory after two vandals last Tuesday smeared the work with red and black paint, prompting the gallery to pull it from its walls.

The saga surrounding the painting appeared not only to underline some racial tensions and cultural misunderstanding, but also worked to galvanise support for Zuma, analysts said.

“One should not forget that South Africa is a conservative society, despite our liberal constitution. A painting like this could offend people of all races,” said Olmo von Meijenfeldt, an analyst with the Institute for Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA).

Frans Cronje of South African Institute of Race Relations, said although there was nothing racial about the painting, the reaction by the ANC which could be attributed to “huge” cultural misunderstanding, “does seem to underline racial tension.”

Two women protestors held a sign that read: “Whites hate blacks” and “Whites are rude”.

Mantashe hailed one of the vandals of the painting — who was on stage with him Tuesday dressed in a black hoodie — as a hero who “covered” Zuma’s shame.

The gallery, which was closed last week, had on Tuesday taken down all materials from the exhibition.

“Goodman Gallery respect your right to protest,” read a sign posted on the gallery’s shop windows in big capital letters.

Protesters sported T-shirts with messages such as “President has the right to human dignity and privacy” and “We say no to abuse of artistic expression”.

Meijenfeldt said the outcry sparked by the painting could hand Zuma some points among his loyalists.

“Victim is a strong political strategy. I think he (Zuma) is using it to rally support behind him,” said the analyst.

The ANC had also applied for an injunction compelling the gallery and Sunday newspaper City Press to remove all public images of the work.

City Press had covered the painting in an art review, but on Monday gave in to pressure to remove an image of it from the newspaper’s website, following calls to boycott the paper.

Mantashe on Tuesday said ANC supporters could buy the paper again.

“You can also buy the City Press now, just not last week’s copy,” he said.