24 May 2012

Kenya: Democracy Should Uphold Decency


A debate is raging in South Africa about whether democracy and freedom from censorship should override an individual's right to privacy and dignity. For those who have not heard, an artist painted a picture of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals showing.

The artist defended his work of 'art' and said he would not take it down. Supporters of the President have been holding demonstrations against 'abuse of artistic impression'. The work was later vandalised. Zuma and the ruling ANC party have taken the artist to court over what they see as an insulting work of art. In most other African countries, powerful elites are known for being more brutal.

They don't use the courts to get their way. The artist would probably be on detention without trial by now, had it been a less tolerant community. The debate about the painting and its defacement yet again how strong, and at the same time how fragile, South Africa's democracy is.

Are these signs of growing political intolerance? Or the spin-offs of unhealed wounds, as the Rainbow Nation grapples with life after apartheid?

The type of indecency and disrespect shown by portrait has the potential to reverse all the gains made in democratic South Africa. The fact that the artist was White could even give credence to claims that racism motivated the work. Democracy too should protect individuals and their rights to live in dignity.

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