[Debate] The Spear - An open letter to Ferial Haffajee
vanessa.banton at gmail.com
Tue May 29 13:11:09 BST 2012
No I don't think McKaiser is giving too credit to Haffajee in that the
ANC is using this Spear debacle to distract. Haffajee said as much in
interviews on Thursday night, long before de Waal's article.
On 5/29/12, Hein Marais <hein at marais.as> wrote:
> I wonder whether McKaiser isn't giving Hafajee too little credit for
> recognizing that the The Spear debacle was being used cleverly by the ANC to
> distract attention and ballyhoo from other, more embarrassing matters. Mandy
> de Waal's piece in the Daily Maverick builds that case here:
> On 29 May 2012, at 9:28 AM, Riaz K Tayob wrote:
>> An open letter to Ferial Haffajee
>> Eusebius McKaiser
>> 28 May 2012
>> Politics Web
>> Eusebius McKaiser responds to The Spear's virtual death
>> An open letter to Ferial Haffajee: A response to The Spear's virtual
>> Dear Ferial,
>> You are obviously one of the country's most respected editors and
>> perhaps even, as Peter Bruce, editor of Business Day, rather
>> perceptively observed in his column today, possibly the country's first
>> truly celebrity editor. Your heart is in the right place, and it is
>> little wonder that, filled with compassion for the hurt many have felt
>> at the sight of The Spear (the art work, not the real thing of course!),
>> and fear that some might burn more of your newspapers, hunt you down or
>> kill your vendors even, you decided it is best to take down the image
>> from your website. And you have now done so.
>> I must admit, however, that I think you made a GIGANTIC mistake. You did
>> the wrong thing. Political bullying, and disrespect for the Bill of
>> Rights, won this morning. Media freedom, I'm afraid, is the loser, and
>> our democracy is worse off for the decision you have taken. Of course,
>> your article explains the relentless pressure you have felt. It reads
>> like a Sylvia Plath poem and seems like a pretty good self-preserving
>> reason for bowing to pressure. No one likes an existential crisis. And
>> Koos Bekker, your big boss, doesn't like a dent in profit. But you're
>> meant to be our principled celebrity editor, Ferial. Dammit!
>> Let me make my points bluntly for why I think you wrongly dropped The
>> Spear's balls. This should make for ease of (dis)agreement, I hope.
>> First, it is not true, as Peter Bruce claims, that taking down the image
>> is in the "national interest". It is (narrowly) in the interest of Jacob
>> Zuma, his family, his supporters, some in the African National Congress
>> who feel insulted, and members of the public who feel the same. But
>> deciding on national interest is not an exercise in simply determining
>> how the majority feels and endorsing those feeling willy-nilly. By that
>> logic, it is "in the national interest" to chuck out the rights of gay
>> people, to bring back the death penalty, and to allow teachers to smack
>> kids in our schools.
>> That's not responding to the "context" in which your paper exists,
>> Ferial. That is affirming, uncritically, what a vocally dominant bunch
>> says. We should now be mature enough to have critical dialogue.
>> This means asking yourself whether the "national interest" is really
>> about satisfying the whim of an angry segment of your readership, or
>> even an angry majority in society-at-large. Worse than this, Ferial,
>> consider whether the national interest should be politically decided,
>> depending on what Gwede Mantashe (the ANC's secretary-general) had for
>> breakfast, or how cool headed their spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu,
>> happens to be when he reaches a press briefing?
>> Second, I think your decision to take down the image undermines your own
>> front page story in yesterday's City Press. You ran an accurate, and
>> very important, cover story that tells us that not all blacks think the
>> same and that not all ANC or alliance politicians think the same. This
>> is why you chose the headline, "Spear divides ANC". And you're right.
>> For example on The Justice Factor Paul Mashatile (our minister of arts
>> and culture) had a very different take on this issue to Mantashe's and
>> to that of minister of higher education, Blade Nzimande - who has called
>> the painting an assault on the black body. (Let's leave aside the fact
>> that Jacob Zuma's body is his. It is not every black man's.)
>> Mashatile's tone was more measured. He showed no anger, and he said that
>> there was no ANC "debate" on whether to boycott your paper. His own
>> preference, he said, was for "dialogue" even though he, too, regards the
>> painting as offensive. Similarly, that brilliant old timer, and ANC
>> intellectual heavyweight, Pallo Jordan, also defended the artist's right
>> to artistic freedom on last night's episode of Interface on SABC3, even
>> while explaining that sensitivity is important on the part of artists.
>> And, in an interview in your own paper one of our best writers, Zakes
>> Mda, was scathingly brilliant about Zuma's inability to live with being
>> offended. Mda also denuded silly suggestions that, uhm, nudity is
>> something only white artists dream up. (Mda's article was particularly
>> lekka for showing up the basic ignorance in many critics' viewpoints,
>> borne out of little or no familiarity with art.)
>> Here's my point. By climbing down on this issue - and following the
>> sentiments of editors like Peter Bruce - you actually do all of us,
>> including black South Africans, a huge disservice. You make it seem -
>> yes, yes, it wasn't your intention Ferial! - as if you woke up this
>> morning and thought, "My good God, they are sooo angry, I had better not
>> hold them to the high constitutional standards I preached last week, if
>> I want to still be alive next week!" I know these are not your literal
>> words. But, alas, Brett Murray is not the only one who produces works
>> open to interpretation, filled with ‘sub-texts'.
>> As editors, journalists, writers and columnists, our speech acts - our
>> words -are also subject to interpretation. And so I am sorry to add to
>> your headaches by saying that just as Mantashe, Zuma, Nzimande and
>> Jackson - The Big Men Of Politics - were offended by your decision to
>> keep the image on your website, it is my turn to play the "I'm
>> offended!'-card. I am offended - cough - that you have such low
>> expectations of angry readers, and angry politicians. I am offended that
>> you did not take seriously your paper's own recognition that not all
>> blacks think the same, and many of us have your back covered, including
>> many ANC politicians even. Hence my examples of black men who have
>> either clearly supported you (like Mda) or politicians who showed that
>> they can explain being offended by the art work but live with being
>> offended (Mashatile and Jordan).
>> The right to dignity, as you know, does not include the right to not be
>> offended. This is why Zuma's case is legally impotent. They should have
>> mounted (as it were) a defamation case or a hate speech one under the
>> Equality Act. But of course their legal advisers are not the sharpest
>> tools in the legal shed. (Those legal strategies would not have worked
>> either, but had marginally better prospects.)
>> Constitutionally, we have to set a precedent which makes it clear that
>> being ridiculed by an artist is legally allowed. Mashatile gets this.
>> Jordan gets this. And no doubt many other politicians not yet
>> interviewed on this issue, get it too. Your decision robs us of an
>> opportunity to entrench, legally, the meaning and implications of
>> artistic freedom. The aesthetic merits of the work are beside the point.
>> Bad art, like bad politicians, are allowed to exist. That's the point of
>> democracy. One can only hope there isn't a retreat by Murray or the
>> Goodman gallery.
>> Oh, and by the way, many people think Murray's art feeds into a white
>> supremacist history of reducing black men to their rampant sexuality. I
>> actually think your self-censorship feeds into a white supremacist
>> history of lowering expectations of what black people can handle. The
>> modern version of "Don't teach them maths because they won't get it"
>> seems to be "Don't demand of them what you would demand of a
>> cosmopolitan, progressive, educated white person - tolerance of artistic
>> freedom - because ‘they' won't get it!"
>> And yes I KNOW you "did not intent" to say this. I know! But we have
>> seen from the artistic rebukes of Murray from critics like Gillian
>> Schutte that it is ok to ignore intention and simply dump an art work
>> into the annals of racist art's history because, you know, an exposed
>> penis is sufficient to justify the racism card making a not-so-rare
>> appearance in public debate.
>> So pardon me, therefore, if I am being equally ungenerous in placing
>> your reasoning in the "context" of white supremacist editorials and
>> columns from years ago that you might not have had in mind this morning
>> when you took your decision. I am just being "historical" in ignoring
>> your intention, and saying you're playing into an ‘anthropology of low
>> Don't condescend black South Africans - hold us to a high standard, and
>> don't take us seriously when we bully you. We're trying our luck, and in
>> this case you caved in. Next week, Gwede will be back, and then what?
>> You must be "brave'', Ferial, as many say you are, and let go of the
>> prospects of being liked by everyone. Rather be respected for
>> consistency and principled editorial decisions; its way cooler.
>> Seriously dude.
>> As we say on twitter, a platform you love too, #JustSaying.
>> Yours in "robust debate"
>> Eusebius McKaiser
>> Debate-list mailing list
>> Debate-list at fahamu.org
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