South African President Penis Painting Debated in Court
Paintings have power, and in the case of the satiric portrait of South African President Jacob Zuma, they have the power to make men cry.
The country's ruling African National Congress went to court on Thursday, May 24, looking to remove a painting of Zuma in a Lenin pose with his penis exposed that had been defaced two days earlier. According to Reuters, the proceedings stopped when ANC lawyer Gcina Malindi "broke down in tears when a judge asked him how the court can halt viewing of an image widely distributed on the Internet."
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The ANC is arguing that the art is a symbol of lingering racial tension in the wake of the end of apartheid and demeans the leader's dignity, while others say that it is a comment on the political failings of his rule.
Blame has been thrust to both the "white capitalists" for not helping the country's economy enough (from the ANC side) and to the ANC itself for playing fast and loose with taxpayer money, helping themselves at the expense of the country.
Black unemployment in the country (according to Statistics South Africa) is almost five times higher than that of whites (29 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively), and whites make an estimated seven times more money on average than blacks (as determined by IHS Global Insight).
ArtInfo reports that the Goodman Gallery, which displayed the painting, has just been temporarily closed due to "numerous threats of intimidation."
Brett Murray, the artist behind the portrait and a "white, anti-apartheid activist," used to lampoon the white-minority rulers from the age of apartheid. He has now become an equal opportunity offender with his satirical take on the country's black leader in a comment on the ANC's corruption.
Zuma, a polygamist married six times with 21 children, is viewed by some as an "ineffectual leader of the continent's top economic power."
This week, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told Reuters the painting was "racist" as well as "crude" and "rude."
"The more black South Africans forgive and forget, the more they get a kick in the teeth," he said.
Lucy Holborn, research manager at the South African Institute of Race Relations, shared the precise opposite view with Reuters. She said, "The response by ANC follows a pattern seen in the past where criticism of the party by white people is said to be racist, instead of dealing with the issue."