South African Students Congress

On Freedom of Expression, Consolidating our common cultural outlook and "The Spear"!

20 May 1012

As the South African Students' Congress (SASCO), we have noted the impunity with which, at most, the South African media in general, and in this case cartoonists and artists, have sought to arbitrarily determine what constitutes freedom of expression with total disregard for the varying understandings of the freedom in question amongst the peoples of our country. The depiction of President Jacob Zuma in a portrait by the artist, Mr. Murray, with his genitals hanging for the whole world to see is indeed an expression of an opinion. An opinion, in our view, that carries on its back the most obscene form of human disrespect and degradation. It also expresses a one dimensional and Eurocentric ideological drive towards the determination of our cultural and value outlook as a people; that is the cultural and moral outlook of the new South Africa, a nation born out of the consolidation of various cultural persuasions into one.

The very depiction of President Zuma with his genitals hanging in the open is disingenuous, rude, disrespectful and, moreover, an attack on the social standing of the President both as a political leader and a father that has nothing to do with political squabbles for public office. Conversely, opinions about the superiority of one race over another are categorically opinions held by individuals whose right of freedom of expression, as human beings, must be guaranteed. However, there is relative consensus that such expressions of racial undermine and hatred are intolerable and therefore criminal in the face of the law because the cultural persuasion of majority South Africans has mutated to a point of recognition that there is such a thing as human dignity whose existence is must be protected.

What stands out quite arrogantly is the fact that an adult, let alone that he is a President, is subjected to public ridicule by exposing their private parts. This arrogance is ideological and an attack to the very value and moral systems of the majority African people and many other religious persuasions. Only the liberal and right-wing intellectual persuasions find it acceptable that an old man can be depicted with their manhood exposed. All of this is veiled under the now weak curtain of appealing to freedom of expression. Satire or not, there is nothing politically acceptable about a personalized attack on the President by drawing his genitals and putting them on public display. All forms of art work should be sensitive to the volatile process of a South Africa still striving to form and consolidate an inclusive cultural identity and value system geared at cementing social cohesion amongst the people of different cultural backgrounds.

The less we say about the populism echoed by some actions of David Shapiro, famously known as Zapiro, the more dangerous the attack on our social cohesion becomes. Notwithstanding the degenerate impressions his earlier depictions of President Zuma sought to fly through other cartoons, it was quite populist of him to validate the work of Mr Murray by venturing into the same inappropriate antics as well. On the Sunday Times of 20 May 2009, Zapiro's cartoon of a shower coming out of President Zuma's pants was nothing more than a populist exploit of his excess to public platforms and undermine of Zuma all in the name of denigrating the person of the President in the same manner as Mr Murray. We are not against people opposing corruption, cronyism, patronage and any other form of degenerate political relations. However, no opposition to these justifies the use of inappropriate illustrations at the expense of people's rights to dignity and the African value of respect for the elderly.

As the South African Students' Congress, we remain committed to the pursuit and protection of all freedoms and consolidation of our democratic identity. In the same light, we view the limitation of freedoms as necessary so long as such freedoms overlap to the infringement of other people's freedoms; in this case, the dignity of President Zuma being the right under attack. We do not express the above views from a purely partisan vantage point. On the contrary, we are opposed to any systematic consolidation of an exclusivist determination of our national culture, including what is acceptable within the democratic discourse that all South Africans are committed to hegemonising.

All that is appropriate for the safe pursuit of our democratic consensus on matters of expression and all would be the removal of the portrait of President Zuma from the gallery concerned and an apology from Mr Murray. After all, there is such a thing as a weakness in judgment with no deliberate intention to cause harm.

Ngoako Selamolela, SASCO President, 071 875 2224
Themba Masondo, SASCO Secretary General, 079 199 3421