S.Africa’s ruling party drops legal bid over Zuma’s painting
South Africa's ruling ANC is to drop its legal bid to ban a painting depicting President Jacob Zuma with exposed genitals, the party and a Johannesburg gallery owner said on Wednesday.
The ANC, Zuma and one of his daughters went to court last week demanding a ban on the painting by satirical artist Brett Murray, charging that his depiction of Zuma was “indecent”.
In a joint agreement the two sides recognised that the painting — one of the most controversial artworks in the country’s post-apartheid history — “has conjured up past historical hurts and humiliations for some people.”
“The applicants will withdraw” the case which had been lodged before a high court, said Goodman Gallery director Liza Essers reading from the statement.
African National Congress party spokesman Jackson Mthembu confirmed: “Indeed, we are no longer taking the Goodman Gallery to court.”
He said the party would also drop its case against a local weekly, City Press, which published an image of the “terribly offensive” painting.
“We might not like many of the paintings that are displayed in here but we respect the rights of the Goodman Gallery, we respect the freedom of artistic expression,” Mthembu told reporters during a press conference at the gallery.
The red-and-black work features Zuma mimicking a pose by Vladimir Lenin in a Soviet-era propaganda poster — but with his penis exposed.
During a first court hearing, a judge said it would be difficult to enforce a ban because the image had already spread on the Internet.
Amid national furore, the painting was vandalised last week, forcing the gallery to remove it from display and temporarily pull down its shutters.
In an apparent political victory for the ANC a day after supporters marched to protest the display of the work, Essers also accepted to remove an image of the artwork from its website.
“As gesture of goodwill and because of the fact that the image is now widely in the public domain, I will now take down the image, at some point, from our website,” she said.
The gallery was set to reopen Wednesday afternoon.
Mthembu tried to downplay insinuations that the party, which led the southern African country’s struggle against white minority rule, was suppressing criticism.
“Are we fascists? We are not. We have not killed anyone, we have not even threatened anyone.”
But Essers said “there have been threats to individual gallery staff members and to the gallery. I don’t feel that marches and boycotts are the best way forward.”
“I think conversation and dialogue would have been more appropriate.”
Mthembu called for a national dialogue on the interpretation of freedom of expression as enshrined in the country’s constitution.