South African President's Provocative Portrait Vandalized

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Marco Werman: South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, has a reputation for being promiscuous. He currently has four wives and has fathered at least 21 children by them and by other women. So, no surprise perhaps that artists might highlight that side of Zuma. A painting of the president, entitled "The Spear", has generated a lot of controversy since going on display earlier this month in South Africa. It depicts Zuma in a triumphant stance with what appear to be his genitals on display. The painting has incensed Zuma's party, The African National Congress, and today, protestors defaced the painting, and blotted out the offending organ. The BBC's Milton Nkosi was there and Milton, tell us what happened.

Milton Nkosi: While I was there, two men, who were also in the gallery walking around, looking at other works of art, suddenly took out small tins of paint and began to deface the portrait.

Werman: And who are these men?

Nkosi: Nobody knows exactly, but one of the gentlemen who looks middle-aged was wearing a dark grey jacket. He looked very respectable, looked professorial to me, I was concerned, he looked very professorial. But there is no clear indication as to who they were. There was one elderly gentleman of caucasian decent and one younger gentleman of African decent.

Werman: Now, the exhibition at the Goodman Gallery is entitled "Hail to the Thief 2"³. Why is that and what do the other works in the galley represent?

Nkosi: Well, the artist is a man called Brett Murray. He is known for his shocking work of arts and in this exhibition he has put together a whole lot of paintings and sculptures about the African National Congress, the governing party in South Africa. And how they have changed their values since they came to power after the end of Apartheid. Remember now, Michael, that during Apartheid, the African National Congress were fighting a just struggle and they had noble causes, so everybody supported them. And now, is a party that is chasing money, power, and, of course, sex.

Werman: Now, as for the motivation of the vandals who destroyed this painting of Jacob Zuma, it's notable that one of them started to spray paint the word "respect" on the wall of the galley before being stopped. He shouted that the painting disrespected the president. How widespread is that feeling in South Africa?

Nkosi: The feeling is widespread across the length and breadth of South Africa. Many people who've been voicing their concerns in the newspapers, the local radio stations, in the busses and taxis across South Africa have said that this is un-African. Irrespective of what the president's faults may be, and he does have many, but there is no one has the right to take away his right to dignity. Which is also enshrined in the constitution. So the argument, by and large, throughout the country, is that this was rude, uncouth, and disrespectful to the president. But also, not just to him as president of the Republic, to him as a father, as a grandfather, and also as an elderly statement of the country.

Werman: The BBC's Milton Nkosi speaking with us from Johannesburg, South Africa. Thank you so much.

Nkosi: You're welcome, Marco.