It has been a number of months since Brett Murray’s pornographic painting of President Zuma was exhibited at Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. Then there was a public outcry. After these remarkable events which left many South Africans divided on who is right and who is wrong, I would like to provide some thoughts on governance: the ways in which people govern their personalities, and the mentalities that underpin them. Now that the temperature has cooled down somewhat we can reflect in peace. There can be, in a sense, no proper public government without a complete revisit of these crucial spheres of government in the persons life.
Both Jacob Zuma and the painter are useful case in points. Jacob Zuma flaunted his own personal governing practices, he revealed the incompleteness of these practices by admitting to an adulterous lifestyle. It is not polygamy per se that is limited in his worldview, but it is his inability to take seriously the role of the woman in the home, in the public space. The speakability of woman as an entity, capable of being seen and uttering a legitimate experience of the world.
In the case of the painter, he is of a corrupt mind. Corruption of the mind entertains wrong thoughts, and is okay with the full manifestation of wrong thoughts. The result is that he is okay in revealing his wrong thoughts without fear no remorse, in fact by finding other people who are okay with wrong thinking, he inherently corrupts an entire field of expression: the arts. Under the rubric of constitutional freedoms he absolves himself from responsibility of that which he has entertained in his mind, that which he has made okay and has corrupted others to follow. Goodman Gallery was unable to see this from the onset, instead they jumped on the bandwagon of constitutional freedoms. Man is not made for constitutional freedoms. So man cannot be okay with all things that are accommodated by constitutional freedoms. How does a nation in the making address such an issue is a complicated issue?
While constitutionality puts us on par with other world systems of progressive rule, but we have an opportunity to define standards far above that. To think of the constitution as a broad baseline from which we can ourselves strive for higher standards of humanity than those set out in the document. Then we have to take seriously cognizance of those parts of our minds that are inherently corrupt, and corruptible. For example while it may be okay to imagine oneself falling of a cliff and dying, it is not permissible to enact such a thought otherwise if permitted we would face complete annihilation. So what is it that makes us prone to agree to those thoughts in the context of someone who is the president of the country?
Corruption is a deeply internal indulgence, that emerges as a result of a mind that is okay with whatever it thinks, even if it is at the expense of others. The trouble with a constitutional culture is that it is a problematizing culture. A kind of problematizing that is couched in the pretense of debate. Where constitutionality may be troubling is that it can sometimes be insensitive, without even seeing that it is doing so; forgetting that true debate itself cannot be manufactured neither can it be provoked. It arises out of specific conditions of people finding themselves in reconciling ways.
Take the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for instance. The purpose of the Commission was reconciliatory, it was not intended to spark debate, rather its intention was to harmonize. It took reconciliation as a kind of restoration. And look how much debate it spurred—not only in South Africa but in many parts of the world. Even in so called hegemonic centres. Aside from the question of whether it worked or failed, the TRC became something which South Africa gave to the world. Many other countries have gone on to use it as an example for transitional justice, in South America and parts of Africa. This is a classic example of a moment where we as a nation chose to define a standard well above the norm.
I am suggesting then a quest for far higher standards of being human and co-existing than those defined in the constitution.