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.