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The ANC’s bullying will fail to quash freedom

There has been much gnashing of teeth at the decision made by the editor of City Press, Ferial Haffajee, to remove a photo of Bretty Murray’s The Spear from the newspaper’s website.

When it comes to the media, the ANC has brought all its indignant rage down on one publication – it has been useful to do so, as its single-minded bullying is reminder of who’s boss, a flexing of muscle that menacingly reminds both the media and South Africans generally of the even greater fury the party can unleash should it take umbrage to a paper’s content.

The ANC certainly has the power to intimidate the media, fostering a climate of fear, hysteria and even hatred. Its behaviour can certainly inculcate a mindset of self-censorship amongst the nation’s journalists – which is so much easier and more effective than employing the cumbersome mechanics of official censorship, although through its artful manipulation of the Film and Publication Board you could argue it is using this approach too.

But what the ANC, the City Press and the brow-furrowed chattering classes have lost sight of is that this is a changed world, one in which the old mediums (print, TV) still have an important role, but are far from being the only means by which ideas and information can be conveyed. Indeed, these entities have become absorbed into a chaotic web in which information (and that includes presidential penises or at least the depiction thereof) being shared and streamed with lightning speed and astonishing reach.

The ANC might be able to scare the City Press into removing The Spear, but it won’t be able to do the same to the thousands of other websites that have posted the image, or to the people that have shared it on social networks or emailed it to their friends.

It is for this reason, that the ruling has failed in its attempt to quash creative freedom, even as it has exposed its contempt for the constitution which guarantees it. It will again fail when, in the months and years ahead, there emerges artworks, writings, films and more that critique, satirise, mock or hold the ANC or its leaders to account.

As the events of this week has shown, the ANC’s strategies to shrink the space available for dissent and freedom of expression might sometimes seem effective. But we need to remind ourselves that this space has expanded into the online realm and beyond, to where it is out of the party’s reach.

The Arab Spring proved that social media has become a remarkable, unstoppable and overpowering force to keep information and free thought flowing; a means to challenge and criticise power. In the future, we will see this being wielded by more and more people – the massive success of MXit in South Africa is an exciting harbinger of this social media explosion.

And, thankfully for our democracy, this means that the ANC’s control of the public broadcaster and its coercion of “old” media will become increasingly irrelevant.

The genie is out of the bottle – and we’re all the better of for that.


  • Alexander Matthews is the editor of AERODROME, an online magazine about words and people featuring interviews, original poetry, book reviews and extracts. He is also a freelance writer, covering travel, culture, life and design. The contributing editor for Business Day WANTED, his journalism has also appeared in House and Leisure, MONOCLE, African Decisions and elsewhere. Contact Alexander here: alexgmatthews(at)


  1. Tofolux Tofolux 29 May 2012

    @Alexander, oh dear that is such wishful thinking on your part but let me also point out a few things in your piece. Firstly, it is not only the ANC that is outraged but society at large. I note that you conveniently forget the two citizens who you, with much disbelief, unbeknownst to each other, managed to deface the offensive painting quite successfully. Ordinary citizens. Secondly, it is quite appropriate that ANC mobilises communities around this despicable act simply because it is them and their supporters who has voted for this President to lead. (oh much to your dismay) And thirdly, as a journalist, the last thing you should be doing is to elevate yourself on a pedestal thinking that you have the authority to bring down a black govt. You see the problem with media since 1994 has been their anti-black campaign which has they have been waging against Africans in particular for awhile now. If you havent noticed, you are at odds with the majority of citizens. We have no faith in you and you lack integrity. If you believe that freedom means exposing genitals in public places then that freedom is disgusting. We have a responsibility of ensuring every person’s dignity. We will not allow any person to treat us like animals, with impunity and without recourse. Who better than ANC to articulate that pain. Could you?

  2. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 29 May 2012

    Actually even in the apartheid days information could not be restricted – the journalists that I knew merely sent the information to the international press.

    But the internet has certainly made everything much easier, and faster.

  3. Anne Coventry Anne Coventry 29 May 2012

    After watching some of the march on e-tv, I was left with a strong image of a smug school yard bully backed by his mindless followers, so I find the topic heading extremely appropriate.

  4. Lennon Lennon 29 May 2012

    @Tofolux: You race card is looking very tattered.

  5. Dave Harris Dave Harris 29 May 2012

    Actually its our media mafia that endangers our democracy by taking it down the road of corrupt British politics – corrupted Murdoch style, where Tony Blair is the godfather of Murdoch’s daughter!! Or one of Murdoch’s corporate officers is part of the highest echelons of power in the present British government!

    We will not allow our democracy to sink to the level of Britain, where the 1% rule the masses. Our 1%, the beneficiaries of apartheid who control our media mafia, been shamefully using the media to assassinate powerful black leaders and undermine African culture for centuries! This must and will come to an end soon!

    btw. MXit is an irrelevant technology funded the same corporation that controls our media mafia in a pathetic attempt to control and influence SA social media. This too will soon be cast into the dustbin of outdated technology pretty soon!

  6. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 29 May 2012

    The Communists want the painting destroyed and not given to its owner. As if the artist could not paint another tomorrow – and all the artists of the world won’t be trying to go one better with another painting on the same subject.

    This is TYPICAL communism – talk “peasants” and “workers” and promote a demigod and an elite – Stalin, Mao, Mugabe.

    But the non- communists of the ANC are very quiet.

    Plus Zuma does not want to be a demigod – he has a very different personality to the other 3 mentioned.

  7. Ngelengele Ngelengele 29 May 2012

    The public media is what the ANC is concern about, not what people share in their “bedroom” media. We know what the websites and emails of people who do not believe ANC should rule looks like. They share between themselves the images of Nelson Mandela with a face of a monkey, this painting is the least of insults that those people can share.

    ANC does and will not regulate the media but it will fight to protect the dignity of the people and those that belong to ANC. ANC has fought to restore the dignity of black people in times when parading a black old man with his genetals (under the disguise of searching) was acceptable in white communities. It fought for black people dignity when stripping naked black women for search (in full view of white men) was acceptable in white communities. Such a fight has won it admiration around the globe because it has been a fight for good cause.

  8. Charlotte Charlotte 29 May 2012

    Spot on, Alexander.
    The ANC are using everything they can think of (even resorting to trying to politicise a painting and bullying two women) to cover their own outrageous corruption and incompetence.

    However, just as everyone has seen the painting by now; and just as everyone knows why it was painted (JZ, as representative of the ANC, was, by ‘virtue’ of his personal behaviour & performance, exactly the right person to get the message across); so everyone knows why the ANC publicised it.

    With the same skewed thinking: How is the ANC going to try to restrict the ‘Picture’ from circulating on the World Wide Web? Like trying to hold back a Tsunami with an umbrella?

  9. Biloko Biloko 29 May 2012

    @ DaveHarris

    You wrote: “We will not allow our democracy to sink to the level of Britain”.

    Get it right, Dave – South Africa has a CONSTITUTIONAL democracy.

    And, whilst it is undeniable that there is corruption in the UK as in many other countries, they all have way to go to catch up with the endemic, systematic and elite-led corruption in South Africa, even ‘though this lot have been in power for a mere 18 years.

    Fast-forward another 18 years and the ANC Govt may find itself in a place it likes: one “ruling party” with no opposition tolerated, no free press, no freedom of speech, Government-controlled publications spewing propaganda (as the SABC already does), a small and obscenely wealthy elite (i.e. Govt) and a vast, poor, hungry, oppressed population.

    Is this what you really want, Dave Harris? It hardly sounds like a Workers’ Paradise to me…

  10. Biloko Biloko 29 May 2012

    Oh, I forgot: right now, in South Africa, there is already a small and obscenely wealthy elite (i.e. Govt) and a vast, poor, hungry, oppressed population. But judging by what is happening right now, it will get infinitely worse if things go on this way.

    Perhaps you should look at what is currently happening in North Africa – it could happen here.

  11. HEAD LIGHT HEAD LIGHT 29 May 2012

    The ANC have masterfully unmasked, removed the cloak that covers the real owners of opinion. It is the coin laden sponsor, the advertiser that ultimately owns the dominant opinion and we will threaten (bottom line) exposure with gentle daggers lest the spear not be removed.

  12. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 29 May 2012

    @Beddy,one can’t call this artist anti-black when this painting was done by a black artist. The leaders in the ANC are attacking the people for showing this painting and not the artist. This artist could have easily put his work on Youtube and Facebook to be seen all over the world. The ANC has become a group of head cases and it’s sad.

  13. jack sparrow jack sparrow 30 May 2012

    Tofo, why are you yapping on about the “media”? Does this include the SABC? Or is not the media? Last time I looked the SABC was the largest single “media” entity in SA and almost completely pro ANC. You need to take your blinkers off.

  14. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 30 May 2012

    @Beddy, SA/Africa have developed a generation gap and the young people all want to develop Africa not dwell in colonialism or apartheid. In SA the ANC thinks that they have the rights to rule because they fought apartheid and not develop the country. The young people want to be liberated from the pass and develop the economy of SA. If one look around in Africa, one can see all of these presidents for life are being kick out of office for more progressive leaders.

  15. Anne Coventry Anne Coventry 30 May 2012

    What I’m finding fairly amusing about the whole thing is that the painting in its present form is even less dignified than the original – and what grounds could the ANC give to have THAT removed from websites and newspapers?

    Talk about egg on his face – it’s now everywhere, and it’s rotten… The new version of the painting makes him look like a complete fool.

  16. RubinB RubinB 30 May 2012

    The painting has been a God-send for Zuma. Instead of seeing him as corrupt, immoral, incompetent, which is what he is, the painting is being depicted as an attack on black culture! Politically it is an extremely smart move on Zuma’s part, because all attention is drawn away from his deficiencies, and the White Man is focussed on as the external enemy attacking Black Culture! And that is all he needs to be re-elected.

  17. David David 30 May 2012

    Harris. I’m quite concerned about you. I know you like Wikipedia – please look up Schizophrenia.

    And Tofolux, the supporters voted for the party and the party decided who will lead us. Big difference.

    Quite frankly, this whole thing has been blown way out of proportion. This quest to make this thing a race issue is now all-consuming and is doing more harm than good. If you don’t like the painting, say so. If it offends you deeply, say so. Just for goodness sake can we leave race out of it just for once so we can actually engage meaningfully on the issue.

  18. Gumrol Gumrol 30 May 2012

    It’s a New Struggle. New heroes need to emerge.

  19. Peter Joffe Peter Joffe 30 May 2012

    Respect or Disrespect? I have changed my attitude on this after all this Spear Hullabaloo. The OFFICE of the President deserves the utmost respect for what it represents to the country and its people. The person who occupies that office does not qualify for that respect unless he earns it but if that person, in this case Zuma, disrespects the office that he occupies he earns that disrespect and even contempt of the people who can tell the difference. Nelson Mandela exceeded the prestige of the office he occupied and has become an icon to the world, which is richly deserved. Zuma has become a disgrace to South Africa and has abused and used his office for his own purposes at the cost of us all. The march to the Goodman Gallery was a political stunt designed to restore ‘dignity’ were none existed and used a rent a crowd to ‘impress’ the nation that the search for ‘dignity’ was justified. The road to the next elective conference is littered with the trash that the marchers (don’t any of them ever do a day’s work?) left in their wake. Those who cannot tell the difference between respect of the office and disrespect of the office holder will continue to support undeserving and even totally unsuitable persons. What was our ‘respected’ minister of education doing there whilst her education system is in a shambles?? She clearly has no respect for her ministry and in this we agree with her totally and she qualifies for our undying disrespect as does Zuma.

  20. Tofolux Tofolux 30 May 2012

    @Jack Narrow, actually the tunnel-visioned virus is all consuming when one reads the tunnel-visioned articulation and let me give you an eg @ Charlotte, what this will do world-wide is show how divided we are and how superficial some of our citizens are. Not only is is embarrassing, it is embarrassing for whites in particular because it is them who will be tainted with this brush. It will ask questions about their morality and their values. Some SAns will find it very difficult to explain or reason this type of animalistic behaviour. It simply cast You in a bad light and not JZ. So for all this bravado by really very narrow-thinking individuals, I think their type of sexual indulgences, morals, values and integrity is once again called into question. Talk about egg on the face,

  21. David Merrington David Merrington 30 May 2012

    Ho ho ho! It is really the best larf of the season. A satirical artist satirises a ‘part’ of an infamous Phat Satyr, and it becomes the latest political bandstand for the African Nationalists. While they fail to realise how they expose Master Willie to further, ongoing and enduring ridicule. Foot in mouth, to say the least. Cringe, The Beloved County, cringe and giggle…

  22. MLH MLH 30 May 2012

    RubinB: ‘Politically it is an extremely smart move on Zuma’s part, because all attention is drawn away from his deficiencies.’

    I’m not entirely sure about that. My Zulu domestic helper is spitting mad with JZ’s behaviour and it’s possible that every wronged wife is glad that the criticism has hit the news so dramatically. She had an answer ready for me yesterday when I asked how she felt; she has clearly conversed about it at length. For those who missed yesterday, what she said, I repeat: ‘Zuma painted exactly that picture of himself long before the artist got it down on paper’.

    I am still utterly amazed at quite how astute her answer was. I could have searched for words for days without getting there, although we clearly share an opinion. Oh, and my (also Zulu) gardener was also sniggering about it when he came to work over the weekend. He, however mixes with a greater range of people in his full time job, so I expected a fair degree of sophistication from him.

    Tofolux: Beware of using ‘we’ so flagrantly. Your opinions are not shared by as many as you automatically suppose.

  23. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 30 May 2012


    There are 2 paintings of Zuma with exposed genitals – one by a black arist and one by a white artist – it is the one by the white artist they are making a fuss about.

  24. Rich Rich 30 May 2012

    An accusation of racism where it does not exist a serious matter. When done by those in responsible positions to forward their narrow agenda is disgusting.
    Our Unholy Alliance sickens me!
    And they wish to be taken seriously? Ha ha ha….
    One last this: Destroy the painting? What a bunch of dumdasses.

  25. Jack Sparrow Jack Sparrow 30 May 2012

    I think a lot of the rants about the painting expose some deeper rage and frustration that seem to froth out in writings seemingly written a red mist with Bakunite threats of destruction. Somehow they end up focussed on whites but I suspect that this is just a distraction largely invented by the ruling party to draw attention away from their incompetence and looting. Nothing to do with race. So where does the rage come from?

    Is it because the promises of the ANC have not materialised? No education, jobs, dignity, respect, free hold houses, land, cars, etc etc for all. Basic arithmetic, reading and common sense should show that the whites cannot give South Africa this. So look elsewhere; just maybe to the very ANC that has substantially failed to deliver. Don’t take the racist bait.

  26. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 30 May 2012


    A middle class of educated young people is emerging BUT it is very small, does not include the older generation who are still uneducated, and does NOT include the 21 million people still living under tribal chiefs in the Homelands which, 18 years after the end of apartheid, still exist.

  27. Mdizman Mdizman 30 May 2012


    Your Zulu domestic worker cannot be honest with you because her livelihood is linked to the salary you pay her every month. I bet you when she is elsewhere out of your earshot, she sings another tune. A domestic servant cannot differ from her employer & you know that.

  28. MLH MLH 31 May 2012

    BS, Mdizman, how little you know about what gets said and done between people! Your comment assumes that everyone in this country with a white employer shakes in his/her boots every day. Doesn’t always happen.
    So perhaps it’s time you found out more about what really is going on around you instead of taking fable for granted.
    And just in passing, although the habit has always been attributed to victimhood because there aren’t urinals on every street corner, I can’t count the number of men who flash casually and contendedly at the roadside without so much as turning their backs. So don’t give me any more tripe about anyone’s dignity!

  29. Trevor Trevor 31 May 2012

    Zuma is a conspicuous disgrace, unprincipled, opportunistic and lacking in integrity. Look up ‘Zuma’ on Wikipedia. It says it all. That’s the man’s legacy. Forget the painting.

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