Supporters of the ruling African National Congress party carry posters with pictures of South African President Jacob Zuma as they demonstrate against the showing of a painting by artist Brett Murray, outside a court in Johannesburg yesterday. South Africa’s ruling ANC went to court on Thrusday seeking to remove from public display a painting of Zuma with his genitals exposed, saying the work is symbolic of the lingering racial oppression of apartheid. Image Credit: Reuters

Johannesburg:  A South African judge warned yesterday it would be difficult to enforce a ban sought by President Jacob Zuma and his party of a painting showing him with exposed genitals.

Satirical artist Brett Murray's depiction of Zuma — branded "indecent" by the president's ruling African National Congress — was vandalised on Tuesday amid a national furore.

Lawyers for Zuma, the African National Congress and his children went ahead with a court application against the artist, the Johannesburg gallery that displayed the picture and the City Press newspaper which reproduced it, despite the gallery removing the work and closing its doors.

Defence lawyer Gcina Malindi broke down in making his plea as hundreds of activists demonstrated outside the courthouse and former members of the party's armed wing in battledress joined riot police on guard. The judges adjourned the case without a ruling, setting no new date, after voicing doubts a ban would work.

Opponents say the depiction of Zuma in a Vladimir Lenin pose, dubbed "The Spear", is disrespectful, racist and an insult to the president, while supporters justify the painting on grounds of freedom of expression protected by the country's constitution.

‘Right to dignity'

"This image is already out there on the internet," Judge Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane told a packed court that included several of Zuma's many children and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. If a permanent interdict was granted that forbade the display of the painting or copies of it, "how will this court monitor compliance?" she asked. Arguing for Zuma and making reference to the struggle against injustices of the apartheid era, Malindi said the law grants dignity to the people and protects the president's right to dignity.

"Zuma's rights to dignity and privacy have been violated," he said.

Malindi, who was himself tortured by apartheid security forces, said afterwards that talking about the abuse during white minority rule made him emotional.

"As a former activist it brought back all of those issues," he told reporters.

The hearing was broadcast on national television and a giant screen outside the court but judges forbade footage of his breakdown to be shown.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said outside the courtroom, "we hope our courts will be able to balance the right to freedom of expression but also the fundamental right to human dignity."