What the hell is going on? The case of The Spear smearers is defined by questionable coincidences and dodgy discrepancies. Is someone managing the men who painted over Brett Murray’s depiction of Zuma? And if so, why? The answers are behind the ink, but we may never reveal the hard truth.
Don’t be surprised if you see the eNews team cashing in on their luck at the casino. They were there, camera rolling and an anchor on hand, when Barend la Grange took out his paintbrush and drew a red X over Zuma’s face and genitals. They filmed him step aside while Louis Mabokela smeared black paint on the controversial artwork. It could have been any other day on the beat as they taped the security guard savaging Mabokela.
It seems too good to be true, but the reaction of eNews anchor Iman Rappeti suggests it was little more than luck. On a day when The Spear would make top news, they had a team there on another assignment.
But La Grange and Mabokela’s claim that they didn’t know each other prior to their vandalism seems ludicrous. La Grange claims he bought red paint, entered the gallery, calmly defaced the painting and stepped aside. Coincidentally, says Mabokela, he was there at the same time with black paint and just happened to make his artistic corrections immediately after La Grange stepped aside.
If it is more than a coincidence, how did the two men, from Kempton Park and Limpopo respectively, meet? Or, why were they both there at the same time with the same mission?
When they were taken to the Rosebank police station along with Joe Moyo, who spray-painted an unfinished “res” on Goodman’s fence, two advocates appeared to represent the men. Both firms, Krish Naidoo Attorneys and TGR Attorneys, have links to the ANC. When Xolani Mofokeng from TGR was asked whether the men were previous clients, had prearranged for him to come or he just turned up, he repeatedly pretended not to understand the question.
Were the lawyers representing the men because of their links with the ANC? If so, was it to cash in, reward the suspects or control them? Did they have prior knowledge to the vandalism?
It took an inordinate amount of time to process the three suspects and, as the hours ticked by, the saga turned into a farce. The afternoon’s acting station commander tried to convince journalists to go home. His evening replacement played ham-fisted tricks on them to give the impression the men had been released.
First, it seemed he told Le Grange’s waiting son to depart briefly while the police drove a covered vehicle from the station, pretending to have the men inside. Over a matter of hours, he repeatedly said they’d gone and that journalists should go home. But the information continued to conflict with reports from other sources saying the suspects were still inside the station.
The information was false and interpreted as a strange play of theatrics to scatter the media before the men were released. They eventually appeared after 23:00.
Under whose instruction did the officer lie to the media? Why didn’t they want the three charged men to leave unnoticed? Why did they seemingly co-opt Le Grange’s son, who was waiting for his father to be released?
As the night progressed, three men were spotted with the kind of nondescript features only crime intelligence can combine. They spoke to Le Grange’s son, played dead to any questions from the media, tried to take the released men with them and followed them when they left. The same men were seen at the Hillbrow magistrate’s court on Wednesday, guiding Mabokela to a car, earpieces in.
If crime intelligence is involved, why would they be interested in a malicious-damage-to-property case between a nobody and the gallery they don’t own? Who instructed them to meet the defacers? What have they heard from Le Grange, Mabokela and Moyo? What have they told them to say?
Each question suggests that, at some point, before or after paint was carried into the Goodman Gallery, someone with power and influence got involved. “Surprise, surprise, a South African leader or faction is trying to play puppet master,” you’ll say. But the case of The Spear smear isn’t your average interference.
Firstly, it involves a painting of Zuma’s genitals. Secondly, we’ve seen a socio-cultural topic being exploited for political gain. And third, the situation is so obviously murky it’s like swimming through a reservoir of sewage.
Zuma has the most to gain from managing the situation. Not only did he remind the public that the ANC “is the only party that truly understands the black person’s suffering under apartheid, and it is therefore the only party that can guarantee that blacks will be treated with dignity and respect,” but he had a majority of ANC members talk “respect” and “Zuma” in the same sentence.
Being implicated in any sort of scandal ahead of Mangaung would unravel that work and cripple his chances of re-election. “Who knows what Le Grange, Mabokela and Moyo’s motives might have been, who else they worked with or what they’d tell the press: better pull a few strings and send down a few gents to control the situation,” might have been the phrase from Zuma’s boys.
Getting Le Grange and Mabokela to say they did it because the president shouldn’t be disrespected would have been the icing on the cake.
Zuma’s team might be the most likely candidates to hold the answers, but it might be a rogue element. The point is that the issue is as crooked as a shepherd’s staff.
Le Grange and Mabokela appeared at the Hillbrow magistrate’s court on Wednesday and their cases were both postponed until 28 June. Moyo will return on 14 June. The Goodman security guard who went WWE on Mabokela was charged with assault and will also return to court soon.
After a night with their lawyers, plus anyone else who might want to influence them, the men didn’t elaborate on their motives. They’ll have plenty of time to get their stories straight before we see them again and we may never know the story behind the questions. But we can take a broad guess – Mangaung.
The Spear is no longer on display, but we have had a brief glimpse of how to pull the strings of the criminal justice system to get your way. For now we can only guess why this is happening, but like The Spear we know it’s there. It might be hidden, but it’s not going away. DM
Nicolson left his hometown of Melbourne to move to Johannesburg, beset by fears Australia was going to the dogs. With a camera and a Mac in his bag, he ventures out to cover power and politics, the lives of those included and those excluded. He can be found at the tavern, searching for a good story or drowning a bad one.