The Moral Regeneration Movement has noted with grave concern the acrimonious public debate which was sparked off by Brett Murray’s portrait currently on exhibition at the Goodman Gallery. This portrait has evoked a reaction we have not witnessed in years. Many people have been shocked, angered and outraged by what is perceived as an assault on the personal integrity of President Jacob Zuma.
MRM accepts that our constitution has enshrined in it, the Bill of Rights and one of those rights is the freedom of speech and expression. However implied within that right, is the obligation to respect the rights of others. Nobody is allowed to abuse this right by pushing their personal agenda or to the hurt of others. Similarly, it is now a maxim that not all legally correct actions are morally acceptable.
Brett’s art work has exacerbated wounds which are still fresh in the minds of especially black people. We have heard such statements as “would any of these brave artists have dared to expose the genitals of ‘Die Groot Krokodil, PW Botha?” Members of Zuma’s family are devastated by what they see as humiliation and belittling of their father and uncle.
The MRM soon after its launch, recognising the need to address some of the ills of our divided past sought to contribute to the building of a new South Africa based on common and shared values. To this end a process of consensus gathering was embarked upon over a five-year period, with consultations going into all the provinces. Ultimately, nine moral themes or positive values which could act as a social glue and ethical bedrock among our citizens were identified. The process culminated in the publishing and adoption of the Charter of Positive Values in 2008, endorsed by all sectors of society including people of faith, atheists, political formations, workers, youth, women organisations, etc.
Of these nine Values or themes, the following four are pertinent to the current debate:
Respect Human Dignity and Equality
Promote Responsible Freedom, the Rule of Law and Democracy
Ensure Harmony in Culture, Belief and Conscience
Show Respect and Concern for all People
In his defence, Murray says the portrait is “political satire” and that he meant no offence. The Gallery says it accepted that Zuma ‘might well be outraged by the work. There are however those who feel that the highest office in the land has been deliberately diminished. How do we expect young people, our own people and/or the international community to show respect for the Office of the President? Whatever differences one might have with the President the least one can do is to respect the office.
Granted, art as a communication tool is not always objective or based on any empirical or rigid rules of interpretation. The Latin expression “Quidquid reciepitur ad modum recipientis accipitur” comes to mind. It is common cause that art is seldom interpreted dispassionately and usually provokes emotions one way or another. The average consumer of products of art is seldom a trained critic and usually responds to it because of the way it looks to them at face value. Their reaction is usually conditioned by socialisation, education, religious beliefs, etc.
Artists should know or at least understand that culture and social traditions play an important role in understanding and appreciation of their creation. African culture accords special respect for their leaders. The Brett Murrays and Zapiros of this world must surely know that South African society is generally conservative. They should therefore always demonstrate some sensitivity to what they put out as avant garde art.
Most societies describe human genitals as ‘private parts’, which shows special respect for that part of their anatomy and of others’.
Could it be that the Brett Murray saga is a wake-up call to black people to take their culture seriously? Whilst we have the numbers, we have allowed the culture of the minorities to set the national culture agenda.
However, in as much as one might understand the emotions that this issue has wrought, MRM does not excuse the actions of the people who earlier this morning defaced the portrait. There is nothing to be gained by destruction of property simply because one disagrees with its sentiments.
Fr Smangaliso Mkhatshwa
Moral Regeneration Movement produced
Mobile: +27 76 431-2344
Date: 22 May 2012image