THE African National Congress (ANC) has urged supporters to gather outside the South Gauteng High Court today in solidarity with President Jacob Zuma, as an urgent interdict is heard seeking the removal of a controversial painting depicting him with his genitals exposed.
Artist Brett Murray's painting, titled The Spear, has been widely criticised in some quarters, sparking debate over the tension between freedom of expression and the right to dignity.
The Film and Publication Board announced yesterday it was considering whether the painting should be classified - which would put an age restriction on it.
Board spokesman Prince Mlimandlela Ndamase said yesterday classifiers had visited the Goodman Gallery and were compiling a report, and the board hoped to issue a statement in the afternoon.
However, by 8pm, the classifiers had not finalised their decision.
On Friday, Mr Zuma and the ANC filed papers in the South Gauteng High Court seeking an interdict to have the portrait removed from display in the gallery, and from the website of City Press newspaper.
The ANC was set to argue in court today that the painting violated Mr Zuma's right to dignity and made a mockery of the office of the president.
Goodman Gallery owner Liza Nicole Essers has filed notice to oppose the application, saying in her answering affidavit: "The reason I am opposing this application is because, as a gallerist, my role is to keep open a neutral space for my artists and my audiences, sympathetic and critical alike.
"The Goodman Gallery has come to be known as a neutral space that embraces the voice of dissent, presenting work that confronts the contemporary sociopolitical climate," the affidavit says.
"The Goodman Gallery held shows that spoke out against the repressive apartheid regime, and following the country's entry into democracy continues to present work that does not complacently accept the political status quo."
Further criticism of the painting continued yesterday, with Justice Minister Jeff Radebe calling it an "insult" to South Africans, and the Black Management Forum saying it was an "attack on the dignity and institutional office of the president of the republic".
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said yesterday after a national executive committee meeting at Luthuli House in Johannesburg that the painting was "rude, crude . and racist. The painting means as black people we have no value . we are objects of ridicule."
Mr Mantashe said he believed there was widespread condemnation of the art work and felt it was polarising society along racial lines. The only threat to freedom of expression was people who used it without understanding it, thereby destroying it, he said.
The South African Students Congress said the painting was an attack on the morals of African culture.
However, not everyone in the ANC is behind the interdict application. Speaking during an interview with Business Day on Sunday, the president of the party's veterans league, Sandi Sijake, said he did not understand why ANC energy was being expended on defending Mr Zuma, when the matter was personal, and a family issue.
Mr Zuma said in his founding affidavit : "The continued display of the portrait is a grave violation of my right to dignity as it depicts me with my private parts showing."
To this point, the gallery's answering affidavit responded by saying that "the first applicant did not pose for the work, and the picture is not a photograph".
"The figure represented in the work is drawn from the artist's imagination. Further, the genitals painted on the work are not a depiction of the first applicant's actual genitalia. The genitals are a work of fiction," the affidavit said.