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#Zumaspear and the politics of the cock

When I first saw the painting of the The Spear I instinctively felt that it was wrong for one reason: if it had been a painting of a female politician with her genitalia (however small) displayed at a public art gallery, I would not have supported it. I would have felt that it was an insult to her dignity, and that it would have showed a clear lack of respect for her actions. So, I argued that this was not OK. It felt weird to be on the same side as government, I’m not going to lie.

Many people that I am friends with on Facebook and follow on Twitter thought otherwise. They argued various things along the following lines:

  1. Art is art – artists have a right to make political commentary, when you start saying that people can or can’t paint/draw/write particular things you tend to become a bit, well … dictator-like
  2. Women in SA are frequently equated with their bits, their hormones that come from those bits, and are told that they are nothing more than their bits. In fact, women’s bits are EVERYWHERE in art and in media. As yet, there has been no outcry (except before the 1993 Miss World when the ANCWL said they didn’t want such sexist pageants in the new SA – nothing since then though)
  3. Brett Murray (artist of the The Spear) is making a commentary about the way that the president has led so far – i.e. the president leads from his crotch, or perhaps that the president’s leadership style has been, well, flaccid (re Zim, women’s rights, education, poverty)
  4. We don’t have to respect the president if he has not earned respect
  5. Zuma has not voiced sentiments (apart from perhaps occasionally taking over a women’s day rally with pro-ANC rhetoric) that support women’s rights, or even said anything useful about women in his whole presidency, and so as women we shouldn’t be uncomfortable making fun of him and his ntonton

I am sympathetic to some of these, and so my feelings on the painting became more muddled.

Zapiro, quick penman that he is, made a similar drawing with apologies to Brett Murray arguing that unless Zuma was ready to earn respect he should get over the fact that people will make fun of him.

Today, two men defaced the painting at the Goodman Gallery. They walked in and painted over something which had obviously upset them. Under whose direction they did this is not yet clear. They have now been arrested. The picture now looks like this.

This defacement, and the court case that Zuma has now started, say to me that this painting went right to the core of what is not right about the president’s leadership style, and more than that what is wrong with masculinity in SA.

Zuma has characterised himself as a man’s man. He celebrates a masculinity that emphasises sexual virility and supports polygamy in the face of an HIV epidemic spread by multiple concurrent partners; a masculinity that emphasises that men take sex when they want it and, despite being accused of rape, never once says that violence against women is wrong; and a masculinity that is heteronormative and homophobic (see comments about pushing down gay men, and appointment of John Qwelane and Mogoeng Mogoeng). His masculinity has been the core of his politics thus far, and perhaps the core appeal to those who vote for him. When it is under threat the very core of what he stands for is under threat. That the painting was defaced by men is interesting and reflects that perhaps these scary sentiments about manhood and its untouchability are shared by many other men, not only Msholozi.

For now we’ll have to see what happens in court for Zuma and for the two men who defaced Murray’s painting. In the meantime state resources will be spent in court cases that focus on what it means to be a man. The politics of the cock are alive and well. And this whole saga had taught us all that they are not up for discussion.

I’d like to know what would have happened if, instead of a tiny, floppy penis, Brett Murray had drawn Zuma with a vagina.

Author

  • Jennifer is a feminist, activist and advocate for women's rights. She has a Masters in Politics from Rhodes University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. In 2010 she started a women's writing project called 'My First Time'. It focuses on women's stories of significant first time experiences. Buy the book on the site http://myfirsttimesa.com or via Modjaji Books. Jen's first novel, The Peculiars, came out in February 2016 and is published by Penguin. Get it in good book stores, and on Takealot.com

25 Comments

  1. Tofolux Tofolux 22 May 2012

    What a lot of nonsensical bullocks. Point is, despite what any person says, how better to humiliate, demean and disgrace a man than to expose his private parts. It is a fundamental tool of disrespect and of humiliation. Go and read the works of well know human rights activists. Why do you think that that there was a huge cover-up of ET’s gentalia? No person decried and bemoaned the person who covered him, they accepted it because that is our norms and values. And because Shapiro who has constantly sought to humiliate the President says its acceptable to have a person, fully exposed is just downright hypocritical. But hey, we know that Shapiro will NEVER defend the President’s right to privacy, never. He is too busy making money trampling on the human rights of the President. I wonder how Shapiro would feel if his mother’s genitalia was fully exposed for everyone to see, and media claims that she is a public figure, would he excuse and paint her? I wonder?

  2. Just Saying Just Saying 22 May 2012

    No matter what we think of Zuma, he is still the president, and deserves some respect. There is a difference between art and satire. Murray’s picture is NEITHER. Zapiro’s is satire. He tealls news in his own unique way.

    The original picture is a LAZY excuse for art. Nothing good about it! Sis!

  3. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 22 May 2012

    No-one even knew that Brett Murray had caricatured P W Botha, because the Nats and Botha did not make a fuss. We only know about this painting, which no-one would have known about except the art community, because the ANC made a fuss – which means that obviously the ANC wants a fuss, possibly to fuel racist conflict.

  4. Wayne Wayne 22 May 2012

    Its interesting to note how these artists are quick to point out their rights and freedom of expresion. they claim rights which they didnt fight for. pres zuma is a proud freedom fighter and now he is degraded by ignorant self centred bigots like murray. why didnt murray paint anything when pw was pres.”zuma must earn respect” we dont want or need respect from people with such small minds.

  5. Rich Brauer Rich Brauer 22 May 2012

    @Just Saying: “No matter what we think of Zuma, he is still the president, and deserves some respect.”

    Why? Where in the Constitution is that part of the law of the land?

    Did you respect de Klerk? Or Botha?

    Did George W. Bush deserve respect just because he was president? Does Mswati III deserve respect simply because he was born into his position and now idles away his days spending his people’s money as they grow poorer and suffer the worst of Hiv/Aids? Does Elizabeth II?

    Do all Sudanese have to respect Omar al-Bashir even though he’s a despot with genocide on his conscience?

    I don’t agree with Zapiro: A person doesn’t need to earn respect. They deserve to start out with a reservoir of it. But if through their own actions, they empty that reservoir…

    In a free society, no office grants additional respect to a person. It’s that person’s duty to live up to the dignity of that office. Some do. Many do not. Winning elective office doesn’t make you a better man.

    This isn’t a patriarchy, and President Zuma isn’t the Father of the Nation. He’s a politician, and like most politicians, he’s in it for his own gain. He’s chosen a public life — no one forced him into it. He doesn’t have to seek a second term.

    There’s an old saying: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

  6. john carter john carter 23 May 2012

    @ Just saying. Your opinions are a mute point my friend. Try watching some of the reality shows on SA tv and explain how they are still legally on air. You and all the detractors love to flout your morals, but come the day that real totalitarianism shows itself in South Africa, you will hypocritically scream freedom and run for Australia. Art is freedom. It is enshrined in our constitution, not sure if you remember, but yes we do have one. So try not to get all high and mighty and remember again why you live in South Africa and not Saudi Arabia, Burma, Thailand, and pretty much any other African country.

  7. Thembinkosi Thembinkosi 23 May 2012

    Piffle!!! You were right on point when you said you would have felt wrong if it was a woman’s genitalia that had been exposed in this manner. Why the double standard because of the office the man occupies? There fact of being a public representative does not excuse us from displaying higher values in the interest of making a point. In any case, the point has been made over and over again. There was no need to make it in a vulgar manner.

    I congratulate the gentlemen who had the courage to do what many of us wanted done without having the guts to admit as much. Perhaps this is a lesson to all those who think their freedom to insult is absolute. It never has been and never will be. Zuma also has his rights and these should be respect by everybody. I do hope the court will make the correct judgement and take into account that being Africans, there are things that we hold sacred, chief among them respect for another right not to have their genitalia drawn and displayed as if they were an animal. The gallery should have known better. Newspapers ought to know better.

    What’s saddening about this whole process is that it actually casts Zuma in victim mode, which is the last thing that we want going to Mangaung. One hopes this will not rehabilitate his image in the same manner that being fired all those years ago made him seem acceptable even to those who disagreed with his politics.

  8. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 23 May 2012

    You have hit the nail on the head – it is men making all the fuss, not women – especially the communist men like Mantashe and Buti.

    No-one is seeing it from the women’s point of view. A stream of young women did not pitch up for sex with Zuma because he was a stud and good in bed ( that is the typical male wet dream) but because they wanted a child, not a husband, and they wanted that child to have good connections.

    This is happening all over Africa – women rejecting marriage BECAUSE of polygamy!

    Whereas in monogamous societies women decide to become single mothers because they can’t find a husband, in polygamous societies they are rejecting marriage altogether.

    This is well described by Phil Deiutch in his book “Witchdoctor’s Son-in-Law” where the women in Botswana told him outright “women only get married if they want money”. The children belong to the woman, not the man, if they don’t marry.

    Of course, once Zuma was president, marriage did mean money – lots of it and a state pension.

    “What’s Love got to Do With It?”

  9. frans frans 23 May 2012

    To “Just saying”: art can be satire and satire can be art.

    As for Zuma’s privacy: copy this title into the Google box, read from page 137:

    “A critique of the Rape of Justicia, with emphasis on seven cartoons by Zapiro (2008 – 2010)”

    Remember: no one is a bigger role model than the supreme leader of a country. “Bigger”, not “better” is the key here.

  10. The Creator The Creator 23 May 2012

    There was a huge cover-up of Terre’Blanche’s genitalia because the Afrikaner right-wing is homophobic and was embarrassed about the evidence that Terre’Blanche was a pederastic paedophile.

    However, the essence of the matter is that Zuma was entitled (as an individual) to sue the gallery claiming that his private rights were being infringed. By getting his party to do it, and by organising demonstrations against the gallery and inciting thugs to attack the painting, he went beyond this right into state terrorism. That’s the problem that we face; anyone who supports Zuma against Murray now is basically supporting the right of the state to silence all criticism and do what it pleases to its critics.

    Which is unsurprising, given the kind of people who tend to support Zuma, but still rather scary.

  11. Peter Peter 23 May 2012

    Jennifer

    Interesting debates, but actually more interesting comment from your readers.
    My comment to “tofolux” is, polititions theses days have no more right to “privacy”. They behave like rock stars and want to be more public than anyone else. They make a host of laws that repeal “OUR” right to privacy and further employ and encourage people like Richard Mdluli……….
    They have CHOSEN a public life…………they therefore don’t get to choose what situation suits them………in the public life……..”you’re either in, or your’e out”
    When you chose the “adulation” of the masses, you then have to accept the criticisms of the minor few!!!
    With regards to RESPECT, its something you earn……..and sadly JACOB ZUMA has earned none. In fact, some would be able to argue he’s done more to tarnish his name in the past 4 years then ever before.
    Yes, we do respect the position of head of states, but if you look at some of the heads of states the world has had……HITLER, STALIN, MAO, MUGABE, BURLESCONI, AMIN………sadly, ours is just an inept womaniser, and involved in some highly debatedable financial transactions…….RESPECT……..he doesnt deserve it!!!

  12. Peter Joffe Peter Joffe 23 May 2012

    1994 many of us will remember EGBOK? Everything’s gonna be OK?
    What a sad version of democracy we now have where all disputes are resolved through intimidation, violence and destruction. Crime and corruption are the order of the day and we still talk about ‘democracy’?
    ENGBOK is what we have, “Everythings Not Gonna be OK? But don’t worry it’s going to get worse as totalitarianism draws nearer and nearer. Destroying a bad painting is just a microcosm of the whole South African scene. Perhaps the painting should be renamed the “Death of Freedom”! What a cockup!

  13. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 23 May 2012

    At the time that all these single women got themselves inpregrated by Zuma, he was a sitting duck and virtually single.

    His first wife, his childhood sweetheart, has always been his rural wive and totally seperate from his political and city life.

    His second wife,and first town wife, had divorced him – despite which fact he still spends more time with her than with any of his post-Polokwane wives.

    His third wife,and second town wife,who sounds like she was both brilliant and eccentric, had killed herself, in what appears to me an undiagnosed or untreated state of depression – judging from her suicide note.

    He was under attack from Mbekites and in all kinds of trouble. As I said a sitting duck – and the only man in the upper escelons of the ANC who was available and “single”.

    What makes you think women can’t be practical and plan ahead?

    In fact, to me, Zuma seems to understand women as little as Tiger Woods does.

  14. Walter Pike Walter Pike 23 May 2012

    This is an interesting commentary and perspective – Did you read Ms Schutte’s rant?

    But what is the real issue here – Pure politics, its only an issue because its a heaven sent opportunity to get everything else off the front page of the papers, Sanral, Mduli and so on.

    Whether you support the painting or not is a personal decision – should the artist be permitted to use a phallus (I doubt that Zuma did a cock posing session) to protest – YES. Should our opinions regarding the manner in which he expressed his art affect our freedoms because it makes someone uncomfortable – because we feel personally
    uncomfortable – ABSOLUTELY NOT

    I have noticed a good thing though in the midst of all these extreme reactions there seems to be a group of sensible, smart people who refuse to be polarised – some phoned in on 702 this morning to say – enough now – this is lunacy.

  15. Thandinkosi Sibisi Thandinkosi Sibisi 23 May 2012

    Just one question. Does ” freedom of expression ” translate into ” freedom to insult ” ? As one commentator pointed out, Zuma almost certainly did not pose for that obscene drawing. ( art my foot!)

    Zuma may or may not be ” promiscuous”, but he is almost certainly not a ” pornstar” ( unless some people know something that I do not???)

    Yes, we may want to criticize Zuma for his controversial ( at least to some people) lifestyle. What we do not need in our ” free society ” is pornography masquerading as at artistic criticism of Zuma. Of course pornography has a place in a free society, provided consenting adults are involved and it is kept out of the view of those who do not appreciate porn.By the way, pornstars also pose for the portraits photos and videos revealing their ” manhood ” ( or ” womanhood “)

  16. Perpetual Emigrant and Immigrant Perpetual Emigrant and Immigrant 23 May 2012

    in order to b art/satire, there has to be clever meaning. the painting was not clever. more like crud graffiti or a comedin who swears every second word for cheap laughs.

  17. MLH MLH 23 May 2012

    Good comments from Thembinkosi, The Creator and Peter, I believe. And for once I enjoyed Jennifer’s take on a situation.
    I can but ask how she relates this to Slutwalk, where she believes that women who allow everything to ‘hang out’ should not be judged accordingly. I am afraid I find it impossible not to judge our president according to how much he allows to ‘hang out’ and I have made it known in the past that I think women need to protect their own images. I think the same about JZ; if you don’t protect your own image, no one else should be required to.
    I was amused by the JZ comment in one of the iol papers, that he felt ‘violated’.
    Once again, the real meaning of English words escapes some people.

  18. Enough Said Enough Said 23 May 2012

    I don’t feel sorry for Zuma. He has done more harm to this country than that painting can ever do to him or his family. Its called karmha. As you sow, so shall you reap.

    If on the other hand he had provided moral leadership for the betterment of the people of South Africa, I would defend him to the hilt. Anyone who thinks this is a race issue has not thought it through. Zuma is a presidential cock-up or gigantic proportions..

  19. citoyen citoyen 23 May 2012

    I think there is an argument to be made that there is ugly precedent for white men stripping black men
    viz. white mine bosses forcing black men to shower in communal showers in mining hostels, forcing them to strip at gold and diamond factories for security reasosn (where they were paid abysmal wages while rich white man sipped champers in Houghton), possibly forcing black men to strip at places of torture like Vlakplaas and John Voster Square and so on.

    So there is a strange little echo from the past when (white) Murray strips (black) Zuma.

    Will we all be OK if a black artist paints Helen Zille with her vagina exposed, or a black artist paints a white woman like paedophile Advocate Barbie or some white SA Playboy model with her vagina drawn in detail.

    If we are fine with all that then equal opportunity art is at work and I guess we must accept it.

  20. Julian Frost Julian Frost 24 May 2012

    @Thandikhosi Sibisi:
    “Just one question. Does ” freedom of expression ” translate into ” freedom to insult ” ?”
    Yes it does. Otherwise, dishonest and wily individuals can shut down freedom of speech by shouting “That’s offensive!” Freedom of expression means the freedom to offend. It doesn’t mean you have a right not to be offended.

  21. Khomotso Khomotso 24 May 2012

    And I quote “He celebrates a masculinity that emphasises sexual virility and supports polygamy in the face of an HIV epidemic spread by multiple concurrent partners; a masculinity that emphasises that men take sex when they want it and”…. Does this mean that HIV spread through polygamy? I advice you to research on polygamy or enter into one to write better about the subject

  22. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 24 May 2012

    citozen

    Men had to strip for inspection for medical reasons – so that any sign of diseases like measles or smallpox could be spotted before contagion was brought into the mine. Many of these miners were from across the borders where there were many epidemics.

  23. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 24 May 2012

    I agree with the woman who says Zuma’s genitals don’t outrage her – but such a picture of Mandela would.

  24. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 25 May 2012

    Are you not all missing the point? All this unprotected sex did NOT result in anyone getting AIDS, but in a lot of babies being born, by adult women who also chose to have unprotected sex, presumably because they wanted a child.

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