I feel for Ayanda Mabulu. He has, in 2010, painted a flagrantly explicit Un-mute My Tongue which didn’t get any tongues wagging. That painting features the Prez JZ’s Presidential chiz held up by crutches and a bizarre image of The Arch Bishop Emeritus with his chiz exposed, being cradled in the lap of the pope. Where was the outcry, the march, the outrage, the crowning of an idiot with a Basotho hat? Nowhere.
Now Mabulu has painted something at which even I am aghast. Is it getting the same outrage as the Murray? I don’t see it. It’s thoroughly more absolute in it’s intent to insult. One can safely say it is unequivocal in its disrespect for the Prez JZ. Is there any noise? Narry a peep. I saw the painting in Mail and Guardian. Where is the voice of Mr Mthembu “Don’t buy Mail and Guardian, don’t buy”? Silent. Ayanda Mabulu was called an attention seeker. But, why is he not getting the attention he seeks?
It took six days for the ruling party to gather a furious mob to descend with threatening intention on The Goodman Gallery and call for the head of Murray. Why is a furious mob not calling for the head of Mabulu? After all, Mabulu’s painting is a much more vicious tirade of vilification.
Have we matured? Have we learned that bullying a person for holding an opinion is pointless? Have we learnt to respect freedom of expression and artistic freedom? Some people have said that they are sick of the subject of the presidential chiz . We really have more important things to worry about. Does it matter if someone insults the first citizen? No. Does it take food from someone’s table? No. Mabulu thinks that JZ is a dick, so does Murray. I was surprised that anyone cared what Murray thought. He can think whatever he likes. What difference does it make? We’re not required to like it. I can see why, this time, the complaint of offence by the presidency is met with – *shrug* So what.
When the president says that he is offended, I’m sure the artist nods his head in satisfaction and says “Good”, because he is also offended. He’s offended by the actions of the police at Marikana, for which the state is charging the victims. He is offended that mothers cannot afford to feed their children. He is offended by the lack of care for the future of the youth. He is offended by excessive unemployment. He is offended by the lack of service delivery . He is offended by crime. He is offended by AIDS. He is offended by the state of the health system. He is offended by the inefficiencies of the education system. He is offended by homelessness. He is offended by the textbook fiasco. He is offended by the atrociously low wages of the miners. He is offended by corruption. Ayanda Mabulu is offended. He is offended by the obscene displays of opulence by the few in the face of the exorbitant poverty of the masses. I’m offended. Aren’t you?
Mabulu is so violently offended that he has been galvanized into returning the offence in equal measure. Hence his painting, Mshini Wam (Weapon of mass destruction).
We the citizens, I think, are offended about the wrong thing when we are offended by a painting; when we are offended by a man expressing his opinion. The president’s face is there because he is our leader, but we are all indicted. We should superimpose our own faces.
People are offended by a painting? Why are we not outraged and affronted by seeing a child die of hunger next to a platinum mine that produces such wealth? Why are we not offended by the scandalous informal settlements that we hide behind walls en route from Cape Town airport? Why are we not offended by the levels of poverty in our townships? Are we anaesthetised against such abominations? If we are then we are all offensive.
How dare we jump up and down over a painting and threaten to take to the streets when we see the tragedy of decent people forced to beg on those streets in order to survive; the streets of the wealthiest country in Africa. Mabulu and Murray are not the ones we should rage at. We should look in the mirror and rage at the person we see there because that person is criminally complacent. How dare we speak of dignity? What dignity is there in a nation that refuses to take care of it’s poor and disenfranchised? Mabulu has shown us what we are and we should do something to change that image, not complain that we are exposed.
Are we not offended by the bigotry that leads to a muslim man being punched to death because he is muslim? Are we not offended by the brutal beating and shooting of Tatana? Are we not offended by the abuse of children? Are we not offended by the rape of women? Are we not offended by the brutality of attacks against homosexuals? What atrocity against humanity will be sufficient to offend us? Or can we only manage outrage against a painting.
So, after our initial response of “Haibo, uyencile! He’s gone too far”. Umshini wam (Weapon of mass destruction) should be relegated to dinner party conversation. We cannot ever again take to the streets because we are offended by a painting. When we are confronted, daily, with what is truly offensive, that would be ridiculous.