Respect is the Name of the Game
South Africa is a very young democracy. We have come through centuries of either colonial rule or a rule by a minority where the majority was repressed. In the 70’s and 80’s we were heading towards anarchy and a full-blown civil war! People like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu succeeded in creating momentum towards the creation of a democracy in such a way that the world was and is till is astonished by the way we created the new South Africa.
We are currently running the danger of making all of this undone in the name of rights!
A while ago, artist Brett Murray exhibited the painting “The Spear”, depicting President Jacob Zuma in a Lenin pose, with his genitals exposed. The inspiration for this painting apparently is the Victor Ivanov poster, “Lenin Lived, Lenin is Alive, Lenin Will Live.”
As Wikipedia states, “the exhibition features various pieces that are critical of South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, showcasing sculptures and images that suggest corruption and bad governance. Murray’s works in the exhibition also include modifying ANC liberation struggle posters and flyers from the Apartheid era, some displaying the text ‘Amandla, we demand Chivas, BMWs and bribes.’”
Personally I have no problem with people being critical of the ruling party. I have no problem with people being critical of Jacob Zuma. Hell, this guy really opens himself for criticism! What I do have a major problem with, is the way Murray addressed his problem as an artist.
To add more wood to the fire, our favorite satirist, Zapiro, took up the battle cry and contributed his penny’s worth by drawing Zuma as a penis. This was also done by claiming the artist’s right to freedom of expression. Max du Preez also felt it necessary to contribute his penny’s worth in support of Murray and Zapiro.
The end result of all of this was a clear grouping of people. You had those who were absolutely delighted by the mockery made of Jacob Zuma, and who defended all of this by claiming the right to express themselves. Then there were those who saw this as an attack on Zuma and the ANC, and by extension, on the black people of South Africa.
Normally speaking I would not care too much about the sensitivities of our president, nor of those of the ANC. However, in this case, I do think we are expressing our rights at the cost of a larger value, namely the need to grow and cultivate a nation. We have been granted a window of opportunity by the selfless sacrifice of people such as Nelson Mandela. We are closing this window by getting ourselves involved in stupid short-term gratification activities, such as scoring political points against both Jacob Zuma and the ANC. In the process we are alienating large parts of the population!
For me the solution is a simple one. We need to criticize others in a way that demonstrates respect. If not respect for the humaneness of the others, then at least respect for ourselves! I would be slightly embarrassed for my younger kids and nephews and nieces to watch these paintings and cartoons in my company. Yes, it probably does have something to do with my conservative upbringing. But it also has to do with the total lack of respect by these artists for the sensitivities of the audience.
I try to teach my children to tell a person to go to hell in a manner that the person looks forward to the journey! If you do not, what is remembered is not the message, but the way in which the message was delivered. And what Murray and Zapiro have created is resentment for the manner of delivery. The message has been lost! The critics may chuckle and pat themselves on the back. The larger part of the population, however, wonder at the total lack of respect!
I am also pleading for an understanding for the dire need to go the extra mile. We as opponents of the government and the president should go the extra mile in the way we express our criticism, reminding ourselves of a bigger picture of nation building! Paradoxically, the black people would be saying that they are going the extra mile in accommodating white minority fears and expectations.
I am by no means propagating a stance where we let the ANC and Jacob Zuma get off with corruption and crime! We cannot remain quiet about gross inefficiencies, corruption, and a blatant disregard for the rule of law. As a matter of fact, anybody remaining quiet about this is not doing South Africa a favor and is contributing towards the perpetuation of a system where the end will be too ghastly to contemplate.
What I am propagating is the exhibition of respect for the population at large, towards the country at large, and towards the ideal of a unified nation. Respect is not a nice to have. It is an essentiality!
Some of you would say respect is not deserved, but it is earned. And normally I would agree. But South Africa as a country deserves respect! And the ideal of a unified nation deserves respect!
This is not negotiable!