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Editors mull Haffajee decision on Spear

May 29 2012

Newspaper editorials and cartoons on Tuesday showed mixed responses to City Press editor Ferial Haffajee’s decision to remove an image of a painting depicting President Jacob Zuma with genitals exposed.

Citizen cartoonist Siwela sketched a triptych of Haffajee’s journey through the controversy with the first speech bubble saying “I won’t…”, the second saying “…take the picture down…” and the third “…unless you bully me.”

A strap at the bottom read “The editor’s indecision is final…”

After more than a week of controversy over whether artist Brett Murray should have painted The Spear and whether Haffajee should have published an image of it, Haffajee took the image down on Monday.

She had originally said she would not but since then, in a piece explaining her decision, she said a boycott was called, she was personally insulted, newspaper vendors were intimidated and a journalist was evicted from a conference.

The Citizen said it was easy when not at the centre of a storm to pass judgement, but it was different when newspapers were being burnt, vendors intimidated and journalists evicted.

“While sympathising with the newspaper, we regret the impression that the bullies have won.”

The Times drew readers’ attention to the body of a newborn baby found in a drain in Pretoria and said the painting must not make the country lose sight of real issues.

Zuma had the resources to take the painting issue to court. “But who assisted this mother in that awful moment, when she was stripped of her dignity, as she fell into a dark place that led her to dump her child?”

The New Age welcomed Haffajee’s move and agreed with the ANC that the portrait insulted Zuma.

It urged the party and its supporters to keep emotions in check during a protest march on Tuesday to the Goodman Gallery, which had exhibited the painting.

The Sowetan said lessons learned were: trying to bury racism by throwing labels at those who believed they are being humiliated did not solve the problem, and that most who did this had benefited from apartheid.

Victims of racism could interpret their behaviour as trying to dictate how racism should be defined in the new South Africa.

Conflating criticism with racism can undermine the challenges of building a new society, the editorial said.

Business Day said that “As hard as it must have been, (Haffajee) did the right thing yesterday…”

She had taken a “third rate” ethnically targeted newspaper and contrived a bright involved read for all South Africans that had been excellent in pursuit of the corruption of powerful politicians and senior policemen and that took courage.

The lessons were that it could no longer be claimed that artistic freedom existed in South Africa and that the notion of freedom of expression “has been horribly damaged” by the ANC reaction.

It also showed how inadequate South African law was against hate speech on social media, especially Twitter.

The march on the gallery was a measure “of the almost medieval depths to which Jacob Zuma’s strange republic has fallen”.

“Beware the pitchforks and torches,” the editorial ended.

Business Day cartoonist Brandan Reynolds drew Zuma atop the now defaced painting, magic carpet style and carrying a spear, with part of the word ‘Manguang’ drawn over it, in reference to the ANC’s next conference to elect a president in December.

The speech bubble read: “I’m not one to look a gift horse in the…” - Sapa