Bert Olivier
Bert Olivier

On the interpretation of a painting

I did not really want to write this piece, knowing full well that it would be greeted by howls of derision and by vituperative incomprehension in many quarters. But as events unfolded in the wake of the public display, at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, of the Brett Murray painting metaphorically titled The Spear, reaching the almost surreal stage where the painting was disfigured by two ‘vigilantes’, and the gallery, as well as the City Press newspaper, was virtually coerced into removing the offending piece, and a photograph of it on the latter’s website, respectively, I have increasingly felt compelled to write this.

Most conspicuously, the outcry against the painting, unambiguously proclaimed to be ‘of President Zuma’, and the insistence on its being removed, followed by public condemnations of it by members of the ANC and eventually by a protest march to the gallery, have ignored the fact that freedom of expression is enshrined in our Constitution, widely hailed as ‘progressive’. So much for the Constitution; evidently the ANC respects it only selectively.

They still have to learn the democratic value of the manner in which an American lawyer explained his decision to defend Larry Flynt, editor of the pornographic magazine Hustler, against legal attempts to muzzle the magazine, when he said that he rejected with contempt the degrading pornographic material published by Hustler, but would defend Flynt’s right to do so with his last breath. Why? Because if Larry Flynt was not allowed to print his abominable pornography, all those against it would have no right to express their opposition to it either. This is the true spirit of democracy, where – short of hate speech inciting violence against certain groups or gender – people are free to say or show what they wish, on pain of being recognised for what they are by everyone around them.

For John Stuart Mill, philosopher-author of the famous essay “On Liberty”, what recommended democracy above all other forms of government was the fact that everyone – including those on the ‘lunatic fringe’ – had the right and opportunity to say and show what they liked, which ensured that the ‘lunatic fringe’ could be recognised by everyone to be just that: some variety of ‘lunatic’, in this way disqualifying themselves in the eyes of the public as unworthy of being taken seriously. Hence, applied to our situation, the artist Brett Murray, the Goodman Gallery, City Press, as well as all those who have objected to the painting, had the right to do what they did, while those who vandalised the painting and those who insisted that it be removed, had NO right to do so under our Constitution. (Which means that Mosiuoa Lekota was absolutely right when he pointed out that the Spear-episode shows that the President has failed to defend our Constitution.)

The Spear. In the commentary I have read, I have not come across any attempt to offer a sustained, accountable interpretation of the painting. And that does not mean I believe only one such interpretation is possible, as long as interpretations are what Nietzsche called a ‘responsible’ interpretation. The reason why several ‘responsible’ interpretations of a painting, a sculpture, a film, a poem, a novel, are possible, stems from the nature of images and of language, in other words, of what semioticians call ‘signifiers’: the fact that they are not only ambiguous (having two meanings), as they move from one context to the next, but multivocal (‘many-voiced’; having more than two meanings from one context to the other).

Think of the colour red – in some contexts it signifies danger, in others passion, and in others anger. Or take the phrase, ‘the wine-dark sea’, from Homer. Some may read it in a way that stresses the word ‘wine’, associating it with the occasional revelry, as well as/or drunken misery that comes with being a sailor; others would emphasise the word ‘dark’, eliciting from it the mysteriousness and unpredictability of the sea, but read together, it epitomises what I have called ‘multivocality’: the ‘wine-dark sea’ suggests the ocean as something associated with revelry or celebration, with mystery, opacity, unpredictable changes in tide, temperament, and fortune, that is, as something to be both desired and feared. Ask a dozen people to interpret the phrase, and depending on their own personal, social and cultural context, the emphases would differ somewhat, but would probably converge.

The same is true of The Spear. Not even the artist could give one a conclusive interpretation of the painting, because, as soon as an artist or writer has completed an artwork or literary text, she or he becomes just another ‘reader’ of their own work, which, from that moment further, is like a child who has left home to live an independent life. (Remember what Umberto Eco wrote after being asked by many what The Rose in his novel The Name of the Rose meant?) Hence, it is not surprising that some people saw in the painting a satirical work drawing attention to its subject’s chief attribute, namely phallic power. That this subject has been widely taken to be (a fictionalised version of) Jacob Zuma, is not surprising either, for various reasons. I put ‘a fictionalised version of’ in brackets because there is also the large group of people who saw the painting as ‘Jacob Zuma’, or ‘President Jacob Zuma’, WITHOUT the qualifying words, ‘a fictionalised version of’. In their case we witness an instantiation of what Louis Althusser regarded as the purest expression of ideological interpellation (‘interruption’), namely the tendency to see in something that should be recognised as having the status of a REPRESENTATION of something else, (a representation of X), the thing itself, namely X. Hence, instead of seeing a sculpted figurine of Christ on the cross, for instance, such a person sees the real, bleeding body of Christ.

Hence, those people who have objected to the painting as being an insult to Jacob Zuma as father, grandfather, president, husband, and so on, in this way infringing on his ‘human right to dignity’, seem to me to fall into this Althusserian category. They have seen in The Spear not an image or representation of Jacob Zuma, but Jacob Zuma himself, the real Jacob Zuma. And this being the case, it is evident that they are so thoroughly interpellated by ANC ideology, that they cannot make the distinction between an image of a person and the real person. Don’t get me wrong on this – I am not arguing in favour of an ‘art for art’s sake’-position. Art is never ONLY a formal presentation (abstract art), or a formal representation, with no real links with the social or natural world. Unavoidably, art also has those links. BUT – and it’s a big but – the relation or link is not a direct, one-to-one connection. It is rather like the light shining through a prism and breaking up into all the rainbow’s colours; art ‘refracts’ social reality; it does NOT coincide with reality.

Seen in this way, what could The Spear mean as artwork? Firstly, it is itself an interpretation of a figure, and clearly a political figure, as shown by the fact that it is modelled on a famous poster/picture of the communist leader, Lenin. Secondly, it is a parody, which shows by being recognisably modelled on a previous artwork. In other words, as parody, it deliberately lampoons, satirises, caricatures or – in student slang – ‘rips off’ – its subject, by highlighting the male figure’s genitals, specifically the phallus. You will note that I have not said ‘Zuma’s genitals’, because there is nothing that compellingly indicates that it is Jacob Zuma ‘as such’ who is the subject of the painting.

Remember what I said above: signifiers (in this case the image of a man) are multivocal. And even if Brett Murray had Zuma in mind (which he probably did), once he had signed off on the painting, it was ‘free’ – free to be interpreted on the basis of its appearance, in conjunction with its title, The Spear (obviously a phallic title). The latter is further a clear indication that it should be linked to Umkhonto we Sizwe – The Spear of the Nation, or the military wing of the ANC, which also explains its connection with the image of Lenin. After all, the ANC received support from East-bloc countries in the course of the liberation struggle, so the grafting of this image on to that of Lenin makes sense.

But – and again it is a big BUT – the exposed member does not only, or necessarily, suggest that the figure in question has ‘loose morals’ in the sense of being a philanderer – those who immediately jumped to this conclusion could only do so because the interpretive framework of ‘philandering’ was brought to the painting by themselves – no doubt in the light of widely publicised information about Zuma’s private life – and therefore this particular meaning of the painting resonates with the interpretive framework. But remember what ‘phallus’ means. On the one hand, it is a synonym for ‘penis’, the male organ, but on the other – more importantly – it is a symbolic term that stands for male, or patriarchal, authority.

Add to this something that a perspicacious friend of mine pointed out to me, namely, that the face in the image resembles the Nationalist leader, D.F Malan, to a greater extent than it resembles Zuma (whether intentionally painted like that or not; there are always resemblances between individuals and images), and the meaning of the painting becomes clear: This multivocal image is a parody of patriarchal political leadership, which leads more by the phallic authority that such vaunted ‘leaders’ have, than by moral integrity and justifiable, visionary leadership qualities. In short, The Spear is a parody of patriarchal, masculine political authority, and is not aimed primarily or exclusively at Zuma.

Anyone who would like to read in greater detail about the psychological mechanism of ‘identifying’ with someone, could read my paper, ‘That strange thing called ‘identifying’’; South African Journal of Psychology 39 (4), 2009, pp. 407-419.

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    • Max

      Of all the pieces of writing on the spear in the media over the past two weeks, this is by far the best. You sum up the whole debacle with remarkable elegance:

      “the artist Brett Murray, the Goodman Gallery, City Press, as well as all those who have objected to the painting, had the right to do what they did, while those who vandalised the painting and those who insisted that it be removed, had NO right to do so under our Constitution.”

      Thank you Bert. If only more people were philosophers, we would all live in a more beautiful and civilised world.

    • Trevor

      A wonderfully definitive, rational and balanced response. But don’t expect to be heard above the hysteria, bullying and coercive ‘sensitivities.’

    • Rich Brauer

      Bert! You’ve recovered!

      An eloquent disquisition.

    •!/McEwansholic Guinnessholic

      If the quality of an object of art is supposed to be measured by the reaction it provokes, then the only person who ‘gets it’ is the German buyer. He still wanted the painting when it was ‘ruined’ by the two in-bred, ridiculous thugs (who had different motivations and reasons). He had the measured reaction ON THE PAINTING!

      Not even the painter accepted his artistic genius, as he soon scurried in the face of ANC harassment. Zuma definitely didn’t get it, and none of his supporters who ironically focused on the appendage in order to deflect attention AWAY from it. And it appears that no one in SA really fully gets the political ramifications from the ANC’s reaction.

      1 – When all else fails in Africa, discard the law and accept the ruler as King. This seems very apparent in The NuSA, and this is a very worrying trend indeed. At least Mbeki respected the Constitution. Zuma makes no pretense.

      2 – Reading the reactions of the ANC supporters, and particularly the members of Parliament who were tripping over one another to voice their outrage at these uppity whites, can you even begin to imagine a day when the ANC’s tenure is threatened? And even worse, can you think of how the library-razing-chair-chucking supporters and the members of ANC Parliament will react if the unthinkable happens and they lose an election?

      The bigger picture is how these idiots whipped themselves up into a frenzy over something so meaningless. What will they do when REALLY threatened?

    •!/McEwansholic Guinnessholic

      As a PS.

      The Larry Flynt case was never about freedom of speech, nor the protection thereof. It was a simple tort case which had very little to do with Larry’s right to sell smut, but his personal attack on Falwell who took exception to it and sued. Free speech was never even on the legal table. However, it is noticeable the effect the media has had on the case (much like how they managed to lie and paint the true American patriot and Republican Senator Joe McCarthy as being someone who was looking for Reds under every bed) and the general feelings and opinions ever since. The lawyer and Flynt were shrewd, and with the decidedly pink and anti-Right wing general media have distorted the truth of the case, manipulating the general public and massaging Left wing sentiments.

      They most certainly have you duped, Bert.

    • Perry Curling-Hope

      I also ‘recognised’ the facial features of the painting as that of D.F. Malan.

      Assumptions about stylised images are necessarily individualistic….I know a few old geezers who it could be claimed are credibly represented by the Colonel Saunders image of the ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ franchise.

      Some people decided the image was ‘unequivocally’ that of Jacob Zuma with the rather successful goal of hammering some political mileage out of it.

    • Dave Harris

      Typical denialism using pseudo-intellectual arguments.
      1. To now make the bizarre claim that its resembles DF Malan or is some representation of the “bleeding body of Christ” is cowardly and insane!
      2. This incident has nothing to do with Larry Flynt ‘s right to peddle porn! Its the duty of our government to protect our children from this kind of art.
      3. Our Constitution give us free speech but also protects EVERY individual’s right to dignity, so our President IS protecting our Constitution.
      4. Claiming that their are multiple interpretations of this “abstract” artwork is disingenuous, since its obvious to everyone that this is a blatant character assassination using smut to propagate negative stereotypes of black males with the old “rooi gevaar” theme still ingrained in the apartheid mindset.

      Bert’s view comes as no surprise since, just like our judiciary and mainstream media, this apartheid mindset, like a cancer, still festers in academia as well.

    • Paul Whelan

      That there are as many meanings to be taken, all of them legitimately, from a piece of art as there are people to look at it is clear enough.

      But the straightforward reason for Homer’s (or the many people ‘Homer’ possibly was) wine dark sea is that when you are in Greece you drink a lot of wine and see a lot of sea. After a few bottles of Mavrodaphne, nothing could be more natural than for the two to appear in the same light.

      Similarly, we really would miss the point of The Spear if we do not see that it is first and foremost a political comment on the here and now.

      What has raised the ire and dread of the elite is that the figure is instantly ‘recognised’ as President Zuma and, by extension, as the ruling ANC.

      That is what makes it a devastating threat that must be destroyed.

    • John Patson

      If you analyse the painting using an Image, Icon, Symbol method, it seems to me as though the symbolic importance is magnified beyond even the racial aspect by the title.
      Many, even most black South Africans are convinced that they fought against apartheid and so to mock the ANC’s armed wing, which has for various reasons been written up as the most effective way in which apartheid was fought, is to touch them to the core.
      It took the French 50 years for the “every French citizen was a resistant” history to be looked at objectively, and accepted as being a post-war nation building myth, so South Africa probably still has some time to go.

    • Paul Whelan

      On my point above – if you’re interested:

    • Mark

      Bert – there is an infinite spectrum of inference between interpretation and interpellation. A sliding scale, I’d say.. and this is where artwork in general, and satire specifically, finds its voice. This certainly gives rise to the most cogent point that the ‘scandalous’ reading of the work only exists because of Zuma’s own behaviour. It’s even clearer the other way around: without his behaviour, the painting would make a lot less sense.

      But now I’m wrestling with the notion that it is not Zuma’s image (or the silly debate about whose penis it shows) that has been interpellated into ‘reality’.. but the painting, somehow. It is no longer an image or a representation, but an object that is construed to be a racial and cultural assault.. readings that no-one can claim reside within Murray’s painting at all.

      This is a fantastic example of the layers of significance that surround any artwork, and that are brought by society to the artwork. But it is also an alarming example of how this can backfire.

    • Maria

      Bert, the subtlety of your reasoning is bound to be lost on most people who read this, although – thank the little gods of the forest – not all. What makes me fear for your country, my friend, is that the ANC seems to be getting away with their blatantly unconstitutional behaviour. Bullying tactics often scare people into submission, which is unfortunately what has happened here. By now everyone knows about the Canadian prime minister who, when presented nude on a couch, with a dog, simply instructed his PR people to respond by reminding readers that he was a “cat person”. That is the way politicians should treat this kind of thing, by taking it in their stride and laughing at it. Besides, that is the best way to preserve your dignity. Perhaps I should also share the piece by Paul Whelan (which you alerted me to), which is compatible with yours, by pointing readers in its direction via the link you sent me:

    • MLH

      Good one, Olivier.

    • Enough Said

      Thanks Bert. Clarified a lot of things for me.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Red symbolises communism to me – the red shirts, which come from Garibaldi’s original red shirts, worn by his men to hide the blood. Garibaldi regarded his worst enemy as the papacy, but was stopped from final defeat of them at the gates of Rome – but did, however, manage to get them confined to the Vatican for 29 years, untill Mussolini, needing a state religion to back fascism, let them out.

    • Max

      @Dave Harris
      More silly extremist fanatical nonsense from you.
      Bert did not describe the painting as abstract art. You did. Bert shows that he actually knows what abstract art is. You clearly do not know what abstract art is.
      Bert didn’t describe the painting as Jesus on the cross either. You did.
      The parallels between the case of the spear and the Larry Flynt case are higly relevant and very interesting. Both go to the issue of censhorship, don’t they?
      If the president is so precious about the constitutional right to personal dignity then why has he consistently drawn so much attention to the activities of him and his penis over the years? And further, why does he attack the character of you and me and insult the dignity of people like you and me by saying only blacks and Afrikaans speaking white people are true South Africans?
      You attack, ridiculously, Bert’s “rooigevaar” thinking while fomenting wit-gevaar thinking yourself. You buy into classical binary paranoid thinking by projecting the sickness of residual racism in academia. Perhaps you should volunteer for the job of cleansing our society along ethnic lines or become a school inspector so you can remove pages of art history textbooks that inform children on issues of representation of the nude throughout history (including the nude in African art history.)
      The arrogance of your one-dimensional viewpoint is staggering.

    • Garg Unzola

      Spot on, prof!

    • Die Spier

      What max said….

    • Dave Harris

      @Max, try addressing the issue instead of hurling useless insults.

      “Art is never ONLY a formal presentation (abstract art)”
      Bert’s own words.

      “…such a person sees the real, bleeding body of Christ.”
      Bert’s own words, implying that some people could see this or they could see DF Malan!!! He goes on to make the bizarre claim that since this art has many interpretations, blacks should not make a big deal if they feel insulted, because they its just their simplistic interpretation of a complex masterpiece!

      Bert, being a beneficiary of white affirmative action, is representative of the this apartheid mindset that still festers in our academic institutions – totally out touch with reality.

      Yes, all school textbooks should be age appropriate. Anything wrong with that?

    • blogroid

      Well done: I add my agreement to many, justifiably made. This was one of your most thought through pieces: [notwithstanding that i’m not entirely convinced about para- graph 4]. Thank you. This shall become part of the classroom debate [relevant to the topic ‘the constitution’ and worker’s rights] that has raged on and off for a few weeks.

      And sorry you couldn’t see the show[at UNISA}. I’m told the Prof from Athens U. sat up all night, with peers discussing revelations brought on through the performance. We got an sms… and that made it all worthwhile.Regards. That was a most congenial addition to the debate.

      I cannot help feeling btw, that we have all just taken part in a glorious piece of performance art… possibly unparalleled in recent times. I imagine the new owner of this “Zuma/whoever” piece, could stage one of the most provocative exhibitions in ages should he so choose.

    • Rene

      Thanks, Bert! This puts things in perspective. I hope the ANC guys read this. Actually, I wish you could square off against one of the spokespeople for the ANC in a television debate on this topic…He He…

    • Tofolux

      @Bert, I think we forget that we are dealing with human beings and emotions. If I remember when ET was found, his private parts were exposed. But when media got to the scene a person had covered it. Now media could have insisted like you are doing that this is freedom of whatever and that a picture must be taken. But a person, moved by emotion had covered these and it was easily respected and accepted by media. Human emotion vs constitutional rights? Also, the stark reality that is exposed here is the two sides of the argument. These sides are totally split along racial lines and what does this say about our society.I think that when it comes to insulting a black person it is ”accepted” by yrs as critiscm. If one thinks about the insults of Mulder, Steve Hofmeyr, Helen Zille, tweets by models, what a deafening silence from those who should have spoken aloud against this. I think that Steve Biko in his articulation of “Black man, you are on your own” speaks to this stark reality of underlying racism by “liberals”. What u & others r doing is a contradiction. There r two rights and not only those of the artist or Goofman G. The painting was loaded with certain messages and yet most of you ignore this. Also you forget that a respectable request was initiated to withdraw the painting by those u critiicise. I find it wierd that you can protect white genital exposure and disrespect black genital exposure. “Black man, you are truly on your own”

    • Garg Unzola

      @Dave Harris:
      1. In what way is it cowardly or insane to insinuate that the painting represents D.F Malan or the bleeding body of Christ? Doesn’t that shoe fit on both feet, namely it’s just as cowardly and insane to insinuate that the painting is an insult to African culture (which,
      according to Africans, is not a homogeneous beast at all).

      2. No, it has everything to do with Larry Flint’s right to peddle porn. More so, it concerns a statutory body overseeing the press. I don’t know when you went to school, but if you went to school during apartheid, this is exactly what apartheid censorship was.

      The FPB thinks it has a mandate to censor any visual material, but the constitution explicitly forbids censorship of art works and the media. This means the FPB is shooting blanks.

      3. Our constitution protects certain fundamental rights. One of which is freedom of expression. The point of the Malan/bleeding body of Christ comparison is that this painting does not attack the person of Jacob Zuma. In context, it is a commissioned painting and attacks his position as the leader of a revolutionary party. It’s intertext and a parody of a Lenin portrait, not a Zuma smear.

    • Garg Unzola


      4. It’s not only disingenuous, it’s a proverbial ‘feit soos ‘n koei’. When the painting was first unleashed, many people commented that it resembled Vavi more than it resembled Zuma.

      Now you have an empirical observation that the painting is in fact interpreted in more ways than one, as a portrait of more than one person.

      If you didn’t cherrypick the bits that protect your superficial panchreston, you would’ve seen Bert’s quote in context:

      Art is never ONLY a formal presentation (abstract art), or a formal representation, with no real links with the social or natural world. Unavoidably, art also has those links. BUT – and it’s a big but – the relation or link is not a direct, one-to-one connection

      That’s rather clear: There is no one on one mapping between the image and Zuma as a person at all. In short, it’s not a Zuma portrait, it’s a portrait of Lenin that has been modified to poke fun at the ANC’s delusion that they’re somehow still a revolutionary party.

      Just like there is no mapping between ‘white oaks growing up during apartheid’ and a ‘privileged upbringing’ or being ‘beneficiaries. That’s complete and utter nonsense, as Gerard Sekhoto would tell you. Was he a ‘beneficiary’ of apartheid because he received bursaries and went to live in Paris?

    • Richard Clarke

      Interpretation is mainly an individual response and mostly impulsive reaction in the heat of the moment.
      Murray has a history with political satire and propoganda pics. I am not suprised that this backfired and has served as propoganda for the Zuma reelection campaign.
      Was it good art? I think not but that is merely my perspective and interpretation.
      For me the most dangerous result has been the use and abuse of the race factor by the ANC. Not satisfied with registering their disapproval and taking it to court they had to turn it into a black/white issue.
      Research on social media, radio stations and pepers will tell anyone that not every black person was offended by the spear and not every white person supported the pic.
      Blacks and whites are no longer segregated into neat compartments based on stereotype. Methinks that the pro Zuma ANC faction through Gwede Mantashe has misread the impact on South Africans who are more worried about lack of delivery, corruption, incompetent cadres and arrogance of those in power.
      In time to come the spear might define a turning point in South African perceptions and self awareness. Dare I say it, a reinterpretation of stereotype and history.

    • Tumble

      There are always multiple interpretations of art, unless you somehow want to reduce us all to automatons with a universal nature, intellect and background. The mere fact that Bert and Paul Whelan provide different interpretations attests to this. I do agree with you that the general opinion of the painting will be one of “character assassination”, but then, in general, people have grown estranged from art and the ability to interpret it critically.

      More importantly, sine when does a picture of a male penis equal smut? If my memory serves me correctly there was definitely a picture of a penis in my high school biology textbook. Smut! And in tons of Hellenistic and Renaissance art as well. Smut!

      Thankfully we have people like Zuma, and you of course Dave, that can protect our children’s fragile minds from traumatising images of the frightening penis, and the horrible naked human body as a whole. Maybe the constitution should force us all to start wearing face veils and long robes too. Then we will truly be protected from all the smut.

      Great article! As usual, as soon as a person tries to express him/herself politically, Brett Murray in his art in this case, he/she is quickly reminded that political expression is limited and selective in our lovely ‘democratic’ society (poor Malema comes to mind). I’m sure there are dozens of paintings of penises still hanging in art galleries around SA – on the condition that they are not political in any way of…

    • Tumble


      Well argued! You completely put Dave’s conservative views to bed. Although I would dearly like to see his counter-argument 😀

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      What I was really looking forward to seeing was the march of naked black men “swinging their Big Dicks” – I am really disappointed it was cancelled!

      “Swinging Big Dick” is the term New York Stock Traders use for one of them who has pulled off a Big Deal.

      Apparently when men get rich they like to have penis symbols – yachts with tall masts, skycraper buildings, cigars.

      Monkeys sit withb their legs open and their penises exposed when guarding the troop as a signal of aggression to outsiders.

      One female anthropologist has proposed that apes started walking upright just so that they could “swing their big dicks”

      You notice not many women are making an issue of this don’t you?

    • Tofolux

      @Garg & Tumble, I find it quite amusing that you make these arguments using the constitution when the right of dignity exists in that very constitution you now flaunt as the holy grail. What I find quite amusing is this notion that scrutinising body parts is art. You see in our culture, we do not ogle body parts to satisfy some sexual depravity noting that now you argue for the rights of Flynt. I mean even to quote American version of liberty is such a contradiction simply because it is them who have perpetrated the most heinous crimes against humanity. And yet, you flaunt this too, as some holy bible that sets the bar for us as Africans. What worries me, is the insulting debauchery and insiduous attitude that you are foisting on us as Africans, and telling us its good for us. It is not and we do not accept your weak and unconvincing explanations. But let me say this, you have not fought for our freedom, you did not fight for this constitution and you never fought for any of the rights you now pretend to defend. It is us who are the warrriors of any of the freedoms you are enjoy today so too will we fight for the dignity of any person. Hence history will always favour us, the ever-constant freedom-fighters.

    • Garg Unzola

      Have you read our Constitution? For the record, I disagree with many of its clauses because they’re evidently logically inconsistent.

      But dignity is not defined in our constitution as clearly as freedom of speech and its limitations are (read it, don’t take my word for it).

      You’d find that America’s most heinous crimes were in contrast with its constitution too. I’m not trying to set a bar for Africans, but unlike ‘us African’s, I do not expect two sets of rules to apply – one for Africans and one for the rest of us makwerekere.

      Rather, I expect you and myself to find each other with one common set of principles that does not limit either of us to express our cultures. This is the idea of having a constitution and after a bit more soul searching, you’ll find that it is mutually beneficial – to all of us Africans.

      Aren’t you trying to set an African bar for us un-Africans?

      Are these artworks not made by Africans for Africans?

    • http://none Lyndall beddy

      Apparently “Big Dick” men in America and Britain also like to urinate, and mark their territory, in public – like in the garden, in the fireplace etc. No doubt this primate behaviour ensured the best choice of women in the patriarchial past – but I am dubious that today, when women have choices, it attracts anything other than predators.

      The oldest daughter of the American missionary, Daniel Lindley, stuck in America to mother her younger brothers while they got their education, wrote to her parents in Zululand that she did not like America, American arrogance and American slavery, and also that

      “One day Africa will have to send missionaries to America”

    • Max

      Oh Dave Harris!

      You typed the following:

      ‘“Art is never ONLY a formal presentation (abstract art)”
      Bert’s own words.

      “…such a person sees the real, bleeding body of Christ.”’

      You picked two quotes completely out of context, as if they were cherries and you ascribed to these quotes the meaning that Bert actually believes the spear is abstract art and that it can also be seen as the body of Christ.

      If that is the level of attention and understanding with which you read what Bert actually said, then I fear for your intellectual capacity.

      It seems clear to me that you are so blinded by your fanaticism that you have become incapable of hearing or understanding what another mind has to offer.

    • mike venter

      Bert, thank you for a very well thought out and argued article. If only some others that lack such insight could read or even understand your article it would have gone a long way in race relations in SA.

      @Garg, stunning post there sir.

      Hell it is painful to read Dave and Tofolux responses, rational thinking is not for everybody.

    • Dave Harris

      @Garg Unzola (& Tumble)
      1. That’s the problem with apartheid indoctrination, it makes it hard you you to understand how that painting is an affront to African culture. The cowardice comes in trying to excuse the painting, similar to how apartheid was excused for over half a century by the same lot.

      2. Larry Flynt did not insult Native-Americans, African-Americans, Jews, Mexicans etc. or any other racially persecuted group. He simply fought for his right to peddle young girl porn, which at the worst case might have offend people of ALL races, religions, ages and classes.

      3. So tell me what you think might happen if Obama was depicted as a slave with a big dick? How long do you think the careers would last of American celebrities exhibiting racist tendencies? Why does the UK, with all its “free speech” have the most stringent libel laws on the planet?

      4. You continue to claim its OK to offend because there are other multiple interpretations that may not necessarily offend. So in effect, you’re telling blacks how to feel? Can’t you see how this makes no sense whatsoever?

      Lastly, white South Africans, benefited enormously from the spoils of apartheid for CENTURIES and still do! To deny this is utterly delusional.

    • Tofolux

      @Garg, which version of the constitution are you reading? So the premise of the case, as heard by a full bench, had no business being in court? The withdrawal of Goofman G, CIty Press etc etc?? You see Garg, what you so-conveniently-called “Africans” want to do is now debate DIGNITY! That is so backward. You see in this country, the majority is sick and tired of being held ranson by a minority. We are always protecting YOU at our expense. There is only one majority and that is the majority that exists in this country. You are trying to impose your beliefs and practises on us and let me tell you now, if this is the way you intend on doing it, its going to be at your own peril. So be warned, what you have seen is an underlying tension that is brewing and brewing and if you want to fuel it, go ahead. But be warned.

    • Garg Unzola

      @Dave Harris:
      1. No,not everyone received your apartheid indoctrination. You are missing the point. Kindly reread and note that one signifier can have many signified meanings. It’s called the multiplicity of meaning and if you were schooled in semiotics, you would understand this. Start with a sign.

      2. And porn offends a great deal of people, if not the majority of the population. But you are right: the Zuma Spear painting is not pornography at all, it’s only the principle of freedom of expression that protects both Flint and Murray to produce the pictures they like to produce.

      3. The UK does not have ‘free speech’ like the Americans have. Obama has been portrayed as a slave and has been called all kinds of racial slurs – mostly by African-Americans. It has happened and nobody was censored. Your point being?

      4. I’m not telling anyone how to feel. I’m telling everyone to grow up. As I have shown you, ‘blacks’ is not a homogenuous group of people and many black people support Brett Murray.

      This is on record in a South African court:

      If you or I or any black person gets offended by it, they should voice their disgust by all means but not prevent someone from making art they find obscene.

    • Garg Unzola

      I linked you to the constitution. You can read it for yourself and see that there is a clause that protects human dignity, but human dignity is not defined.

      Within the context of the constitution, human dignity refers to your right to privacy and not to have your person searched, as well as the right to life.

      Freedom of expression, on the other hand, has its limits very clearly defined.

      Coincidentally, the court proceedings went more or less that way. The notion that the president’s office has certain airs and graces about it was denied.

      The notion that Zuma’s personal dignity is at stake was given attention, but the ANC withdrew the court case because their lawyers told them they had a snowball’s hope in hell.

      And you cannot warn me about anything. My rights are not mine at your mercy and South Africans aren’t here at the mercy of African culture. If you want to threaten me, know that my culture has been here for hundreds of years and we know how to protect ourselves against violent brutes.

    • Tofolux

      @Garg..garg..gargle…How can you possibly be threatened when we are dialoguing? I mean this is a bit extreme isnt it? And yet this is exactly the point I am making. A little bit of fact leaves you reaching for whatever and when we are insulted, degraded, affronted, made fun of, we should submit to some lesson that you selectively pull out of the very constitution. Yep, ”black man, you are definitely on your own”

    • Garg Unzola

      I believe you said:

      You are trying to impose your beliefs and practises on us and let me tell you now, if this is the way you intend on doing it, its going to be at your own peril. So be warned, what you have seen is an underlying tension that is brewing and brewing and if you want to fuel it, go ahead. But be warned.

      Be warned about what then? What is it I am fueling? Strenuous dialogue?

    • Bert

      Thanks for all the constructive contributions; Garg, we’re certainly in agreement on this one! And to all those who have demonstrated their incomprehension, and/or their disagreement with the constitutional enshrinement of freedom of expression, start reflecting on the claim – which I would dearly love to be substantiated in practice – that South Africa is supposedly a ‘democracy’. With all the intolerance shown by some contributors, it does not really seem as if this can be substantiated. I am surprised, once again – as on several earlier occasions – that there are still people around who don’t realize that many whites ALSO opposed apartheid, and not only black people.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Dave Harris

      Apartheid only lasted for 40 years, not for centuries – and the Afrikaner built up a viable socialist state with VAST resources – which were handed to the ANC 18 years ago, and all have been sold.


      Don’t also forget that many blacks ALSO opposed the ANC because they opposed communism, which is WHY the ANC started the black-on-black township war in the mid 1980s (ref:”People’s War”)

    • Dave Harris

      @Garg Unzola
      1. “No,not everyone received your apartheid indoctrination.”
      EVERY white child was subjected to apartheid indoctrination for generations schools, churches, media etc. unless of course they were educated overseas.
      2. Nobody is taking away Murry’s meidocre art, we just want to protect children under 16 years from being subjected to this smut.
      3. So you’re admitting that we a more advanced democracy than the UK?
      There is a BIG difference if a black engages in racial stereotyping of blacks or if a white engages in racial stereotyping of blacks! Why is it so hard for you to understand this?
      4. “I’m not telling anyone how to feel. I’m telling everyone to grow up.”
      You’re contradicting yourself.

      @Lyndall Beddy
      Sorry, I misspoke. Good catch! I meant: “Lastly, white South Africans, benefited enormously from the spoils of apartheid AND white supremacy for CENTURIES and still do!”

    • http://Newstime Paul Whelan

      Bert – As you know, democracy does not consist in everyone being ‘tolerant’, but in people developing and honouring institutions that can accommodate and work with our natural intolerance (or loyalties, if you want a kinder word).

      In a democracy you can take sides without being ‘intolerant’ because everyone accepts there is the possibility of changing the govt. You can’t in a party-state. Opposition cannot escape looking ‘intolerant’ of the ruling party and its values and the people in the ruling party cannot fail to be intolerant of opposition.

      That is why SA is not a democracy yet.

    • Garg Unzola

      1. What if I were educated overseas? Your prejudice does not allow you to consider that possibility so you stick to sweeping, biased statements that protect the views from your pigeon hole.

      2. Many children under 16 have a penis too. Do you want the FPB to cover their eyes while they take a leak? Do you cover your table legs too? Are you sure you grew up during apartheid and not in the Victorian era?

      3. No, bigotry is wrong because it is logically flawed. It does not matter who does it to whom. Black bigots are no better than white bigots, otherwise your principles are contradictory. All bigotry starts with sweeping categorisations like ‘all whites…’ and ‘African culture’.

      These are not logically consistent sets so the attributes you project on them are invalid for whomever you want to put in them.

      4. No, I am not contradicting myself. I am having a hard time pointing out your contradictions to you.

      Sure, you can feel shocked and disgusted by seeing a penis or a pair of tits. Sure, you can protect your children and raise them as small minded as you appear to be. But I also have a right to raise my children with an appreciation for art and an ability to contextualise an artwork beyond falling back on their cultural red herrings or their vulgar blut und boden air guitaring that some cultures are more rightful than others.

    • Maria

      @ Paul: good point about democracy. Unless I’m very much mistaken, I think what Bert meant with his reference to “intolerance” is what comes across as a “threatening” attitude on the part of some commentators, who are supposedly engaging in rational debate.

    • Brittney’s Spear

      @ Garg.

      Bravo. Blut und boten indeed! Harris is an unashamed and ardent proponent for Lebensraum and ethnic cleansing.

      And yes! I also think the painting is a far truer likeness of Vavi. No resemblance to Zuma at all.
      The rest is a storm in a teacup, hysteria whipped up by the media in an immature democracy and fervently seized upon by the rigidly righteous.

    • Mikhail Dworkin Fassbinder

      @ Dave Harris

      I am frankly shocked that you are prepared to allow innocent 17 year old girls to view a picture of a huge penis. Did your elitist overseas education implant a western libertinism? I say there should be at least a 21 year restriction on this degrading racist filth!

    • Garg Unzola

      Anyone still flogging a dead worse? (WARNING contains scenes of naked cartoons. I guess that’s scenes of suggested nudity? PG 13 watch it with your parents!)

    •!/pages/Applied-dialectical-method-of-improving-participants-quality-of-life/137824809676592 Alon Serper

      I have come to the New South Africa seven weeks ago to do a a NRF and NMMU Post Doc Research Fellowship on and in applied dialectical method for transforming participants’ wellbeing and quality of life. I am overwhelmed by how much potential this country embodies to be a Utopia of Greatness for the majority of its citizens and residents. I met truly beautiful and hardworking people, English is widely used and mastered. Richness. Resources. Incredible beauty. The thing to do is dialogue dialectically: Lets truly talk about, listen to others, co-inquire and co-reflect on what annoys us, our dreams, intentions, hopes, happiness and how to improve our quality of life. South Africans. Once we take control over our fate, our lives and future and really participate in the Nation-Building, we can form and create something great for more and more people. I have great hopes for this country: the New South Africa.