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!


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4 Responses

  1. Mark Human says:

    I generally agree with your comments Johan, but I think the two pieces of art referred to (or rather one piece of art and one piece of junk) should be judged separately. Initially when I saw the painting by Brett Murray I rejected it out of hand, but then I read the comments by satirical artist Ayanda Mabulu who also painted Zuma with exposed genitals two years ago, and he changed my opinion.

    In his painting Zuma’s penis is supported by a crutch, a metaphor used by Mabulu for the perception that Zuma’s sexual escapades were out of control and that he needed help.

    Mabula in his comments made two points that speaks to the peoples’ perception of Zuma and which I found relevant in Murray’s work:

    1. He argued that if a president disrespected the people he or she was supposed to be serving, then there was no other way of depicting that president.

    2. “What other way of depicting the president than how he is understood in the township?”. I.e. his sexual escapades are out of control and he needs help.

    The fact is that Zuma has burdened himself with sexual stigma and therefor this should be reflected in satire. In this regard I think the showerhead portrayal by Zapiro was absolutely brilliant.

    Having said that I find the penis drawing by Zapiro offensive and vulgar and unworthy of his talent. It makes no contribution other than simply being derogatory. I see it as a personal frontal attack and part of a private vendetta which I don’t want any part of. It is simply name calling by picture, similar to showing a middle finger, and I feel he exploited his position as journalist and artist to score cheap points.

    As always your comments have given much food for thought, thank you!

    • Manuel Longueira says:

      This puts me in mind of the old cliche,
      “Two wrongs don’t make a right”

      Just because the governing party has messed up, does not mean you are justified in disrespecting them.

      A higher degree of emotional intelligence will demand a more mature approach, where the critics maintain there own high values and standards…

      Thank you Johan

      • johanhburger says:

        Hi Manuel, it is exactly what I am pleading for. However, I am not so much about respecting the governing party for the sake of respecting them. I am more about respecting the bigger picture, the bigger ideal. I am about respecting the country and the nation – all the parts thereof. This should be our point of departure when making decisions about what actions are good and what are not. Criticize Zumabas much as you want to, but keep the bigger picture in mind! Otherwise a few thousand will laude you and millions will be alienated! Then you will have gained nothing!

    • johanhburger says:

      Hi Mark, thanks for this input. I would like to refer you to my comments to Manuel above. A couple of thousand would agree with the art appreciation part of your comment. A few million more would see the painting as an unacceptable method of communicating our displeasure with Zuma.