Roundup: ANC 100th Anniversary Event, SA Business Forum and Brett Murray
It’s been quite a hectic couple of weeks as this writer has been able to attend many events in London. I was able to attend the Progressive Business Forums event commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the ANC, which had as its key note speaker Mathews Phosa. I was then able to attend a business forum for young South Africans in Camden, the two events revealed an interesting contrast between the old and new generation of South Africans. The two events were completely different, the progressive business forum had their event at the Corinthia Hotel which is along the Victoria Embankment in London, while the Young SA Business Forum held there event at a South Africa themed restaurant in Camden. The ANC event was attended by Labour party bigwigs Peter Mandelson and Peter Hain while the SA Young Business forum frankly did not have the same political clout or organisational display on show. The contrast was old and young, powerful and aspiring to power; in the end the two events were aimed at developing South Africans both at home and abroad. Then there is the unfolding saga in relation to the Brett Murray painting of Jacob Zuma that has really sparked debate in South Africa.
Mathew Phosa came to London as the ANC Treasury General to raise money for the ANC and to also assure investors that it does not plan to nationalise the mining industry. The event was attended by a number of people from the business community in London and was primarily a fundraising event as the ANC sought to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Peter Hain also spoke in support of the ANC’s efforts over the years in relation to the struggle against apartheid and the post-apartheid period, rebuking the doomsayers about South Africa. Hain recalled members of his family in South Africa storing canned meats and beans for the eventual collapse of the South African state under the hands of the ANC. The reality is that South Africa has flourished since democracy and has developed a citizenry that is actively seeking to develop the country.
The active citizenry that has developed as a result of democracy was on display at the young South African business forum in Camden, London. The forum was aimed at encouraging young South Africans in the UK to make a contribution to the future of South Africa and had a number of speakers sharing their experiences. The event was a success and for this writer it demonstrated that the undercurrent of doomsaying that exists within South African media and political culture is unwarranted.
This then takes me to the Brett Murray that has sparked controversy in the last couple of weeks in South Africa. As a writer I have been seeking to get the entirety of views on this subject, frankly I feel that that the issue is just an explosion of sensationalism both on the part of newspapers and the artist himself. A white artist living in relative obscurity now has his fifteen minutes of fame in South Africa and his main call of duty has been to develop a piece of artwork with Jacob Zuma’s penis on display. Murray has argued in many forums that it is a protest painting; however it’s the kind of attack on Zuma’s dignity that would ignite praise from the likes of the Afriforum. A number of commentators such as Moshoeshoe Monare have argued rightly that this entire episode is a distraction from serious issues in South Africa.
While I respect Monare’s stance on the issue I believe that it might be time to interrogate the confines of white writing and criticism in South Africa since the end of apartheid. It is the view of this writer that Brett Murray has fallen into a stream of white writing (academic and non academic) and cultural work in South Africa that often demeans and sexualizes black people. The much coveted South African cartoonist Zapiro has been guilty of making works that often sexualize black people, the white cultural critic using sexual images to make a political point about a black South African public figure is a regular feature of South African discourse.
To be comparative Bill Clinton admitted under oath that he had oral sex with Monica Lewinsky in the White House under the presidential table, yet he has not received the same attack on his personal dignity by cultural critics in the US. The same is not the case in South Africa as sexualised images of Black people by white critics are the norm. It is the hope of this writer that we can develop an honest dialogue about the troubling and aggressive nature of white discourse in South Africa arising out of this issue with Brett Murray.