Jacob Zuma painting - have the bullies won?

  • 28 May 2012
  • From the section Africa
  • comments
Copies of South Africa's City Press paper on fire Image copyright AFP
Image caption Copies of the City Press paper have been set on fire in protest at The Spear

Never a dull moment.

If you've followed the raw, bigoted, bullying, petty and profound debate triggered by the depiction of President Jacob Zuma's penis in an art gallery exhibition, you'll know what an absorbing and energising cauldron of a country South Africa remains.

Where else do anger and eloquence rub shoulders so routinely?

The latest twist came on Monday when the editor of City Press - a newspaper that had published a photo of the offending picture and firmly refused to remove it despite mounting pressure - announced on a local radio station that she had changed her mind.

Ferial Haffajee noted that the "debate has become a clash" and, sounding deeply bruised by the whole experience, spoke of the need to put national reconciliation ahead of principle.

So - have the bullies got their way again, or has common sense prevailed? A bit of both, I'd say.

But above all, I'm reminded of the extent to which the stain of apartheid endures in the lives of South Africans, despite two decades of democracy.

I spent most of the 1990s in the former Soviet Union, where many people shrugged off communism like a bad dream.

Racism is a much more resilient beast.

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