Nco Dube
Nco Dube

Do we have to ask for permission to be offended?

I have resisted writing something about the Spear saga for two weeks. This was because for me the portrait was offensive but not as offensive as the portrait about Solomon Mahlangu’s last words. The words on that portrait cut very deeply into the pain hidden deep in every black person’s heart. It made a mockery of the very struggle against what everyone, including the artist, agrees was a crime against humanity. I have no problem with the artist using art to raise important issues such as the corruption that’s destroying the country. It is very important we all do all we can to clamp down on this corruption. But to make a mockery of a noble man’s last words to make a point about today’s not-so-noble men is nothing but an insult, not only to Solomon Mahlangu but to the struggle as a whole.

One can never marry the struggle against apartheid to the current corruption gripping the country. This insult is but one in a series of middle fingers shown to black people by white people and their White Inc. The South African media (as part of the White Inc) were desperate to trivialise the furore against The Spear down to that of an irrational ANC. All the anger of the black nation is played down to that of the ANC. The ANC is not the black nation, it has most of its support from blacks but not everything black is ANC. Black people in general and black people in the ANC were offended by the portrait but one hardly heard such in our media. We hardly saw ordinary black folk being interviewed for their opinion other than those that were not offended. This smacks of the bias towards the White Inc, and downright hypocrisy. The hypocrisy portrayed here was disgusting. People who always position themselves as champions of democracy seem to think democratic principles can be swayed to suit any circumstances they find themselves in.

Let me illustrate this – an artist paints a picture that some find offensive and they approach a court of law for relief. In any healthy democracy this is normal. In SA though this turns ugly as those who support the artist feel that the offended party shouldn’t be offended and shouldn’t approach the courts as this amounts to censorship! What the hell? Democracy is not one-sided! It seems black people have no right to be as offended as they feel like. They somehow need to get a cue from White Inc: “Yes, go ahead, it’s convenient for me for you to get offended now.” This is just sick. In fact it goes as far as being told how far you can be offended. A few weeks ago the DA was celebrated for taking on Cosatu by marching. This was hailed as an example of how to exercise one’s right to expression and protest. Fast forward a few weeks and the ANC is branded bullies for marching against the Goodman Gallery.

If something offends mainly black people, examples from Europe and North America are pointed out where people didn’t get offended by something similar. We do not live in those continents and their cultural and political beliefs and behaviours must not be imposed on us. People always proclaim themselves to be Africans but they don’t care to even understand African cultures, values and norms, let alone African languages. That is where the core problem lies. White people don’t feel they have to understand us and subscribe to some of our norms and cultures but feel we must understand and accept their norms and cultures. While it might me normal and acceptable to white communities to draw a man in the manner Brett Murray did, this is just not the case with Africans. So there is no right or wrong here; only understanding is needed.

The second point of hypocrisy, in my view, emanates from the entire Murray exhibition which is said to highlight corruption. Corruption flourishes in our country not because of corruption within the ANC only. For corruption to flourish, yes, the political elite who hold the levers of power need to be influenced and corrupted. That seems to have happened outstandingly with our ruling elite. What we do not see the likes of Murray, opposition political parties and the media doing is making an effort to highlight the source of corruption. That source is business and industry. We need to confront the scourge of corruption throughout its value chain and not just the corruptees and the middle men. Who is the corruptor? Why haven’t we heard anything about him? The White Inc must stop selling corruption to the public as a black thing. Corruption has no colour, only greed. We have to understand that most of what we see in the media is designed to maintain the status quo of white dominance; and the ANC is not doing well in overcoming that because of the rampant corruption in its ranks and because many of its leaders co-opted into the White Inc as middlemen to cleanse the white business and industry of the dirt of corruption.

The bottom line is that the majority of black people were offended by The Spear and we would like to see our white folk and the entire White Inc admitting to that and apologising. We need to see black feelings and pain getting the same attention in the media as we see white pain and feelings getting. No race is more feeling than another, and the fight against apartheid was no joke.

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    • Tofolux

      It seems that delusional paradise is an ever-present paradigm for some.
      eg:@Guiness-alchie” africans are always crying out to whites” @gumrol”corruption is an African culture thing @Arnie”the poor writer will never rise above his “entry level” @ Frits”sadly the outburst could be construed as racist” @cyberdog @ bleet etc etc.
      Post after post contains the worst of racist thinking.Post after post indicates that these people have not moved from their practises and beliefs in white supremacy and is simply unapologetic. Not only do they believe that there is nothing wrong here, they believe that africans in particular should feel no anger or grief at their disgusting conduct. Not only have we given the worst of racists such as Steve Hofmeyr or Gogo Zille platforms to express these evil ideologies, we have allowed ourselves to be continuosly dehumanised. Why should we accept this non-sense that we should start dialoguing now, Why should we accept this speil that we should have summits and conferences for whom? It is not us Africans who have these aryan tendencies, so why should we be talking to anybody about their evil doings. I think that these people should realise that the time will come when someone does something that will rock their delusional world. If they thought ET was untouchable, then then prove is in the pudding. You are going to need the help of ordinary thinking africans to assist you and yet all you do is insult us, At your own peril.

    • Lennon

      @ GarethV: You’re wasting your time.

      They’ll just tell you to go to Canada or Australia if you don’t like it.

    • Peter Joffe

      @garethV. Demand an apology from the ANC and Zuma when they think that all that they do is right and that they will be in power until the next coming? They approve of all the things that your list is demanding and apology on, as its the “African Solution to an African Problem”. Name one country in Africa that has come out of white control and not sunk into the depths of despair because of the African Solutions that they have. Reinvent the wheel, destroy the medical profession, the schools and the services, accountability and whatever else once worked. Get rid of those who know and replace them with people who don’t know that they don’t know and you end up with the African National Circus and Kleptocracy.
      An apology? You have more chance of growing a third ear!

    • Mr Brown

      Dube misunderstands the nature of irony. Solomon Mahlangu’s words on the artwork described (“…continue the struggle for Chivas Regal, Merc’s and kick-backs”) are obviously not quoted to insult Mahlangu. Rather they show up that the current culture of corruption is an insult to those who gave their lives for the vision of a free & just society. Dube says, “One can never marry the struggle against apartheid to the current corruption gripping the country.” Yes, well, it seems that in the minds of many today there is, exactly, no connection and they can continue, through corruption, to subvert democracy and advance their personal agendas without criticism. In fact, Dube argues it is hypocrisy to criticize government corruption. (Because whites are ultimately to blame for that!? Shame)

      The article in general seems to miss the essential point of the issue too. It’s not a question of whether people have a right to be offended (of course they do), but whether art and artists (in a democracy) have the right to offend. That’s the debate we should be having without so quickly latching onto easy phrases like “White Inc.” and implying, as he (Dube) does, that anyone who disagrees with him is a racist.

      As to the logic of the last paragraph that whites owe all blacks an apology because a white artist painted a picture that offended many blacks; would Dube also say that all blacks who weren’t offended by Ayanda Mabulu’s similar painting should apologize to all those…

    • Eva B.

      Great article Nco. I think the Spear got far too much attention for being a work of poor thinking and art. It only wanted to be controversial and I actually cannot believe the news even made it to The Economist (this week’s edition).
      I agree with you completely (and I am white). Thanks for the great insight!

    • mdk

      Despite the president’s advocate conceding that this was NOT about race you still keep on plowing the same old furrow? Black people in general, White Inc. You write as if race is a real and a legitimate means for discrimination.. and we all know where that ended last time.

    • jack sparrow

      I’m fascinated by Tofolux’s implied threats of violence “I think that these people should realise that the time will come when someone does something that will rock their delusional world. If they thought ET was untouchable…”. To me this is exactly how Rwanda, Nazi Germany and the Bosnians articulated their frustrated hatred and their intention to commit violent murder (hence the ET reference from Tofolux).

      But why? Whites don’t really have much power or real wealth in SA. Simple arithmetic will expose that most power and wealth is in ANC hands (or in the hands of anonymous shareholders whose race cannot be determined). So I feel it must be well orchestrated propaganda as per Josef Goebbels and the Hutu politicians. We are seeing history being made.

    • Marianne

      I know that there are some black people who have changed the profile pictures on their facebook pages to one of the ANC logo, except the ANC flag has been replaced by the flag of the old apartheid South Africa. How is that different to what Brett Murray has done, and what does that say about the nature of protest art, and more importantly, what does it say about the ANC?

    • Clear Call

      I am surprised that Tofolux is able to get away with her discriminatory and insulting verbal abuse, name-calling, hate speech and threats. … “at your own peril” and other remarks such as Jack Sparrow has highlighted.

      Her remarks are racist and highly offensive – and could be construed as an incitement to violence; … and as far as I am aware, are disallowed in the rules given for the submission and publication of this ‘comment line’.

      I also found the author’s snide referrals to ‘White Inc. and even ‘white folks’, irritating and offensive.
      His three words “this is sick” about summed up his hackneyed, specious, whining and tedious treatise.

    • Charcoal

      There have been so many absolutely excellent comments which have taken the author to task for his blatant racism and distortion of why the Spear was painted – as well as its imaginary and fictional implications!

      Amongst the many memorable ones – (which express exactly what many of us would like to say – only so much better) – are comments from (randomly)
      Gareth V; Peter Joffe; Guinnesholic (please answer his questions, Nco!);
      Sterling Ferguson; Max (and thanks for the ‘outstanding’ picture); Don Quixotte, bernpm, Gunrol, Arnie, Fritz, Charles, Musa, Jack Sparrow, Mr. Brown, Cray, Graham … the list is too long: there are simply too many to mention … but take a bow if you deserve it.
      However, if you appeared in one of Tofolfux’s racist rants, put an extra feather in your cap – and hats off to all of you!

    • Brian B

      Clearly The Spear and other works by Murray are exhibitionist and designed to create offence. The attention gained serves to stroke the artists ego and not much else and should be rejected with contempt.

      Are the ruling elite not denigrating the sacrifices of those who died in the struggle for freedom from apartheid by looking after their own privilege and prosperity at the expense of improving the quality of life of the masses? http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=72

      The White Inc concept is a delusional notion to attempt to blame a minority for the ills of the nation instead of invoking the strength skills and goodwill of all for a better future for all .
      A sort of fancy pants race card.

    • Charlotte

      @ Nco ..You sound like a parody of the inebriated guy in a bar with the pick-up line “My wife doesn’t understand me.” – except in this case it’s “The Whites don’t understand us.”
      Ag, shampies man! Try understanding yourselves:
      Understand why you support and vote in a corrupt, self-serving and inept government – rotten to the core – who (speaking of penises) ‘stand up’ for nothing except their own money gluttony?
      Why do you swallow their lies, cheating and stealing – and continue to make excuses for them? Why do you allow them to screw you over and over again?

      The whites in this country represent no threat. They are a minority and have no stake in the country’s ruination by a government hell-bent on corruption, nepotism and simply lining their own pockets – and stuff the poor.

      Furthermore, they are not concerned with black mens’ penises; nor do they categorise all black men as representative of a penis drawn in a picture.
      Why do you? You put your own people down and do them a great disservice.

    • Tofolux

      @Charcoal, oh ok, so when I & others have an alternative view and I express myself its offensive but when you and your ilk express yourselves, its Freedom of Expression…this sounds all too familiar doesnt it?

    • Charcoal

      Tofolfux! …. Congrats! You got it right at last. You are offensive.

      Read above what ‘Charlotte’ says: And she is absolutely right!

      “Understand why you support and vote in a corrupt, self-serving and inept government – rotten to the core – who … ‘stand up’ for nothing except their own money gluttony?
      Why do you swallow their lies, cheating and stealing – and continue to make excuses for them? Why do you allow them to screw you over and over again?

      The whites in this country represent no threat. They are a minority and have no stake in the country’s ruination by a government hell-bent on corruption, nepotism and simply lining their own pockets – and stuff the poor.”

    • Nikki Downes

      Once again, the actions of a few are used to paint all whites with the same brush. I OBJECT!