A Zapiro drawing of Muhammad in the Mail & Guardian newspaper on 20 May 2010 had angered the Muslim communities nationwide and the South Africa Muslim Judicial Council as it continued to express “condemnation and disapproval” of the cartoon.
At the time, The Council of Muslim Theologians tried to interdict the newspaper from publishing the cartoon but this was not granted by the concerned Court and it was on the following day that M&G editor-in-chief Nic Dawes and his staff were flooded with calls and emails from angry communities, most of them Muslims, on their disgust of the publication of cartoon.
The angry response was believed to have been fueled by the council’s appeal to the Muslim community to “express the deep hurt [they felt] at the caricaturing of the Prophet Muhammad”.
The newspaper staff and Zapiro himself received death threats, with one of the angry reader who said: “You’ve got to watch your back” as the cartoon was likely to “cost him [Zapiro] his life”.
Apparently the “depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and for that matter all the Prophets in any form is unacceptable” as it was “simply against Islamic belief”, according to one Muhammad in response to the cartoon’s publication by the newspaper.
Another Muhammad said that although he did not “dispute the freedoms of democracy or the media”, he however found the publishing of the cartoon as a “deliberate and desperate act of provocation” for it only continued to serve and “promote an animalistic existence where everything is fair game”.
“Zappiro (sic) u are one dumb f…ing hero”, said another reader, Imraan Shaik (I hope that’s his/her real name, hey).
It is worth noting that despite the disgust other Muslims and the general communities may have felt, others people like Franz Kruger, the M&G Ombudsman had said at the time that the “cartoon was not intended as a gratuitous insult to Islam and saw nothing wrong with the cartoon as it certainly [was] not hate speech”.
Terry Bell, a political analyst also said “there should be no restriction whatsoever on freedom of speech and expression” as it will not be in accordance with our Bill of Rights (15.1) that says “Everyone has the right of freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion”.
What about Mandela dead?
In Mandela’s case, many seem to think and believe that Mandela will never depart this earth or is not going to die at all. How low of them? And where in the Bible is it said that we, Mandela included, will live forever on this earth and not die?
Are those who are dead stupid or was it of their own doing that they are no longer with us?
One is asking this because some people, as previously reported by Mail & Guardian newspaper, unknowingly and ignorantly believe that Mandela’s autopsy painting was irresponsible, insensitive and was some kind of a sin or that people wished Mandela dead. He’s gonna die anyway, like everyone else who has. Hell, who isn’t going to die?
The fury was a response to an autopsy painting by an Artist Yiull Damaso who is apparently not new to Mandela controversy. M&G reported on May 10, 2010 that Damaso had a “painting depicting Nelson Mandela as a corpse”, an artwork that had “caused an upset” by those close to the Mandela family.
According to the newspaper, the autopsy is performed in front of a small group of spectators many of whom are “[politicians] who paid to be included in the painting”. The “small group of spectators” in the Mandela version include: Nkosi Johnson, an Aids orphan who is performing the autopsy; Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu; former apartheid president FW de Klerk; now State President Jacob Zuma, a businessman Cyril Ramaphosa; former SA Finance minister and now Minister of the National Planning Commission in the Presidency Trevor Manuel; opposition Democratic Alliance party leader Helen Zille and the “recalled” and former SA president Thabo Mbeki.
Since the reported autopsy painting Damaso received a call from person claiming to be a friend to the Mandela family that: “Mandela’s daughter (whoever that is) was very upset about the painting”. The artist was also informed that given the “death in the family [at the time of the painting's publication] and that they are still very bereaved”, the painting was a bad timing (my emphasis).
Although Damaso admitted to the painting seen as controversial, he however defended it, saying: “The eventual passing of Mr Mandela is something that we will have to face, as individuals, as a nation”.
In 2002, he reportedly painted Mandela “dreadlocked” and “wearing boxing gloves and a title belt”. The artist alleged at the time to have been told Mandela’s images were “copyrighted”, something he has questioned: “But how can you copyright the image of a public figure?”
In a 10 May 2010 M&G report Damaso said we, South Africans, should “confront a subject that remains almost taboo: the future death of Mandela”.
Of course the African National Congress, Mandela’s political home, was not impressed at all with the latter’s depiction in an autopsy. The party spokesperson Jackson Mthembu told the newspaper how the ruling party was “appalled” at the painting.
“The ANC is appalled and strongly condemns in the strongest possible terms the dead Mandela painting by Yiull Damaso”, Mthembu is reported to have said. “It is in bad taste, disrespectful, and it is an insult and an affront to values of our society”, he said. Mthembu said it was a “foreign act of ubuthakathi [bewitch] to kill a living person [Mandela] and this so-called work of art … is also racist”. This, he continued, went further by “violating Tat’ uMandela’s dignity by stripping him naked in the glare of curious onlookers, some of whom have seen their apartheid ideals die before them”.
Because Mandela is (was?) an “international icon who should be cherished and respected”, according Mthembu, it was for this reason that the ANC was “more shocked and disgusted [at] this so called art that depicts a dead Madiba”. He wondered why anyone would of dream Mandela dead.
Asked Mthembu: “Why would newspapers including the Mail and Guardian put to prominence this work of rubbish in their publication? Why would a respected public space and business site, Hyde Park, be a home for the creation of such insulting work to our icon, our leaders and all of us?”
Congress of South African Trade Union also “expressed outrage” at the painting. Its spokesperson Patrick Craven said it was “despicable that the artist and the Mail & Guardian who published it, should exploit our icon’s [Mandela's] image to produce a painting which he must have known would provoke an angry reaction and thus increase its profitability in the sale room”.
In another report Mthembu said the paining “strengthened the ruling party’s resolve to establish a media tribunal, a proposal which has been strongly criticised by the opposition”. He “strongly condemn[ed] the practice and promotion of the freedom of expression and freedom of the arts which knows no bounds and only sees itself as the most supreme freedom that supersedes and tramples other people’s constitutional rights to dignity and privacy, and undermines our values”.
Following publication of the painting at the time, Mthembu said the ANC would remain “resolute and unmoved” in its call for an “independent arbiter in the form of a media appeals tribunal to monitor, regulate and chastise the kind of gutter, soulless and disrespectful journalism of Mail and Guardian”, something SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande also called for but one which the DA and other commentators and many in legal fraternity disagree with.
Despite criticism, M&G deputy editor Rapule Tabane defended the artistic work saying it depicted the “the state of the country’s current politics, and the meaning of Mandela in that context”. Tabane said the painting “should not be seen as a reflection on or anticipation of the literal death of Madiba as a person, but as a inquiry into the state of the nation and its iconography”.
Quoting from that controversial Zapiro’s cartoon that “other prophets have followers with a sense of humour” – is it then safe to say that some people (Muslims and ANC at al) do not have a “sense of humour” altogether and that they will always, if not most of the time, have difficulty in finding humour in some artistic work?
NOTE: This is an edited version of the article I first published on 11 May 2010 in my previous blog site which has since been sold to a third party by the host.
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