Jacob Zuma painting The Spear removed by South African paper

Copies of South Africa's City Press paper on fire ANC supporters have staged protests against City Press

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A South African newspaper has removed from its website an image of a controversial painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed.

The Spear has been taken down "in the spirit of peacemaking... and from fear too," editor Ferial Haffajee has written in a City Press editorial.

The ruling African National Congress called for a boycott of the paper and last week went to court demanding the painting be removed from public view.

Protesters vandalised the painting.

'Tinderbox'

The Spear painting - by Brett Murray, an artist known for his political and provocative work - has sparked a storm in South Africa.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest saying President Zuma's right to dignity has been violated, while supporters say this is a question of freedom of expression - both of which are protected in South Africa's constitution.

Start Quote

That we are now a symbol of a nation's anger and rage is never the role of media in society”

End Quote Ferial Haffajee City Press editor

A court case brought by the ANC against the City Press website and the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, which exhibited the work, has been postponed indefinitely.

Nevertheless, Ms Haffajee decided to take down the image because the "atmosphere is like a tinderbox".

A City Press reporter has been prevented from covering a trade union meeting, copies of City Press set on fire and the editor and others subjected to threats, Ms Haffajee says.

"Out of care and as an olive branch to play a small role in helping turn around a tough moment, I have decided to take down the image," she said.

"That we are now a symbol of a nation's anger and rage is never the role of media in society," she said.

"For any editor to respond to a threat to take down an article of journalism without putting up a fight is an unprincipled thing to do, so we've fought as much as we could."

"It doesn't serve City Press or South Africa to dig in our heels and put our fingers in our ears," she said, adding that "the debate must not end here and we should all turn this into a learning moment, in the interest of all our freedoms."

Defaced painting of Jacob Zuma at the Goodman Gallery The painting has been vandalised with red and black paint

The ruling party said the painting was "rude, crude and disrespectful" towards President Zuma and wants all images of the painting online and elsewhere taken down.

The gallery has said it will not remove The Spear, a $14,000 (£9,000) acrylic painting that had already been sold before protesters defaced it, daubing it in red and black paint.

The BBC's Milton Nkosi in Johannesburg says the ANC has called on its supporters to march to the gallery on Tuesday.

In an affidavit served on the City Press newspaper paper, Mr Zuma said he was shocked by the work.

"The portrait depicts me in a manner that suggests I am a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect," he said.

President Zuma, who has four wives, has sued local media companies 11 times for defamation.

Some cases have been settled, others dropped, but most are outstanding.

The best-known case is a 2008 suit against one of the country's most high-profile artists, Zapiro, after he depicted Mr Zuma about to rape a female figure representing justice - this is due to be heard in October.

Mr Zuma was cleared of raping a family friend in 2006.

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