South Africa: A painting of the president’s privates

Few people knew about Brett Murray’s painting The Spear until President Zuma’s party issued a denunciation.

President Jacob Zuma should have ignored the insult, said Phylicia Oppelt in the Sunday Times (South Africa). But by overreacting, he’s sent half of South Africa to go look at the painting depicting him with his penis hanging out of his pants. Few people knew about artist Brett Murray’s painting The Spear until Zuma’s ruling African National Congress party issued a thunderous denunciation, and threatened legal action against the painter and his Johannesburg gallery. “Of course this alerted the whole world and sent all of us scurrying” downtown to see the painting; this week, two masked men were detained after defacing it. The cartoonish painting—a political commentary—shows Zuma posed like Lenin, with his naked genitals dangling from his pants. The image has sparked a nationwide discussion about respect for the presidency, freedom of expression, and the lingering, insulting stereotype of the black man as “humping, predatory sexual beast.”

Such an image would be an insult indeed applied to a generic black man, said Mondli Makhanya, also in the Times. But frankly, “our president is a stallion,” and his sexual escapades have been public since before his election. During his 2006 trial, when he was accused of raping a friend’s daughter—the sex was ruled consensual and he was acquitted—Zuma treated us all to lurid details of how he was turned on by the woman’s dress and how he made sure to shower after sex because he believed that would protect him from contracting HIV. This is a 70-year-old man with four wives, the latest of whom he married in April, and at least 20 children. Obviously, he “unzips a lot and is proud of it.” As long as Zuma is president, “his salacious side will matter more than his contribution to governance.”

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