Jacob Zuma wins either way in penis painting court case
Is the South African government's fury over Brett Murray's painting of Zuma's genitalia all it seems?
SOUTH AFRICA'S president Jacob Zuma has been in court today to argue that a portrait of him with his penis exposed should be banned.
The country's ruling party, the African National Congress, has been driving a furious campaign to have the painting removed from the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, describing it as "disrespectful" and "racist".
Despite the gallery unexpectedly closing after the portrait was defaced on Tuesday, Zuma and the ANC are still intent on having it taken down permanently and preventing the image from being published anywhere else.
But as the trial is broadcast to the nation and hundreds of ANC supporters wait outside the court to hear the outcome, critics have suggested that the party might have a different motive at play.
The Spear, painted by artist Brett Murray, is likely to have remained unknown to the vast majority of South Africans if the ANC had not decided to launch the campaign against it, observes Geoffrey York in The Globe and Mail.
At a time when Zuma's poll numbers are low and his political rivals have been on the offensive, York suggests the ruling party "hopes to rally blacks to support Mr Zuma".
"The ANC has shrewdly seized on an issue that hits all the hot buttons of South African politics: race, sex and culture," he says.
The ANC claims the painting is symbolic of the lingering racial oppression of apartheid – insisting it implies that "black people feel no pain and can be portrayed walking around with their genitals in the open."
Yet its artist Murray is well known for his anti-apartheid work. So why might the party linger on this point?
David Smith writes in The Guardian today that "deploying the revolutionary rhetoric of the anti-apartheid struggle, the ANC's massive attack on The Spear may be a symptom of a need to rally against a common enemy – putting off, a little longer, the war against itself."
Smith points out that the party has remained silent on the subject of corruption, Aids in South Africa and human rights violations in Zimbabwe. Yet it just can't "shut up about this crime against humanity".
"Shouldn't the movement of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo be big enough to ignore a man with a paintbrush and concentrate on governing?" asks Smith. "Aren't there genuine crises in South Africa, and Africa, more worthy of whipping up an existential frenzy?"
For ANC core voters, most likely to choose the party because of the country's past, the campaign will act as "a clear sign that only one party in the land understands their issues", says Sipho Hlongwane in South Africa's Daily Maverick.
"Contrary to many an opinion, the ANC's best friend these days is the by now infamous painting by Brett Murray," he says. Murray has given the party a unique opportunity to secure core voters from the "liberal infidels".
"As long as the majority of voters were born long before 1994," says Hlongwane, "the ANC will continue to use this dog-whistle tactic to good effect." ·