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Thinning the line between sexism, racism and freedom of speech: Is nudity our Zeitgeist?


Busani Ngcaweni is Director-General of the National School of Government, South Africa.

The ANC has led for so long because it has always advanced the superior argument. Kenny Kunene and his art can’t be allowed to drag the party into gutter politics.

The ANC is a leader of society, not just of black people.

If we all remembered that, there would be no confusion.

The ANC has led for so long because it has always advanced a superior argument, the ideology of non-racism, non-sexism, democracy, national unity and prosperity for all.  This paradigm of inclusion and national cohesion is the antithesis to the apartheid paradigm of bigotry and exclusion.

The idea of South Africa can never materialize if we follow bigots and sexists to the gutter. The idea will solidify if we continue to advance the notion of a more humane country characterized by cohesion and equity.

In other words, the principal task before all progressive minds is striving to decolonise all visible and invisible structures of imperialism, apartheid, sexism and colonialism, thus freeing the black majority from all forms of bondage especially economic inequality and mental enslavement.

There are way too many un-ANC tendencies among our ranks which plays into the hands of anti-ANC forces. The ‘pride of place’ with which Kenny Kunene towers on top of the grotesque painting of naked Zille and company is one such un-ANC tendency.

As much as Zille remains the enemy of transformation and stands as a lighthouse of white privilege, the ANC must continue to undress the perversion and myopia of the internal logic of what she truly represents – white supremacy and black subjectivity.

Kenny’s new art collection is one painting that conscientious ANC members should not associate with. It is un-ANC as much as “The Spear”, “R is for Respect” as well as Ayanda Mabulu’s graffiti are outrightly anti-ANC. I have written many papers to expose the nudity of these political manifestos parading in transparent robes as art and freedom of expression.

Reeva Steenkamp was white. She probably voted for a white party (if she did vote at all). But the ANC Women’s League (besides their many excesses) stood by her parents from day one – all because of the marriage to the principle that injustice is injustice even when it visits those who stand opposite to what you believe in. This principle is engraved in the DNA of the ANC and in fact explains why the movement could generate the biggest international solidarity in modern human history.

As much as we fight against racism, we must equally fight against sexism in all its manifestations, even if Zille is the target. Hence I caution that on this new controversial painting, we should exercise restraint. We can’t run a beauty contest of racism and sexism.

Our society must develop absolute intolerance for racial entrepreneurs, their colour notwithstanding – including volunteers in black othering like Ayanda Mabulu.

No (wo)man must be allowed to kill another (wo)man’s pride since “every (wo)man is born with a certain amount of pride in his/her humanity. But I’ve come to believe that pride is only a mortal thing, and that there are many ways to destroy it.” This citation from Mtutuzeli Matshoba’s “To Kill a Man’s Pride” applies to both racists and sexists and their victims. 

Chauvinists like Zille, Zapiro, Mabulu and Steve Hofmeyr must not be allowed to booby-trap us into gutter politics. Neither should misogynists like Kenny Kunene – at least not in the name of the people’s parliament, the African National Congress.

Besides, when the curtain of the theater of prejudice rolls, the chauvinists themselves will have no pride but shame remaining.

The thinning line between sexism, racism and freedom of speech shouldn’t turn nudity into our zeitgeist.

Lest our children idolise Es’kia Mphahlele’s Tekane “who mixed his political talk with religious proclamations and prophesies. The day would come for the white man to do the same dirty work as we were doing, earn their money the way we were earning it, live in Marabastad and enjoy the smell from the sewage works. We would move up to take the white man’s place. God had willed it that way.” 

That is not what South Africa is about. It is about building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and prosperous society relentless in its pursuit of spatial, social, cultural and economic justice. 

There is no doubt in the minds of the majority that the future will look brighter if the parliament of the people, the ANC, continues to advance a superior vision of national unity.

After all, this is the future we chose! DM

Ngcaweni is editor of the forthcoming books “Sizonqoba: Outliving AIDS in Southern Africa” (AISA) and co-editor of “Nelson Mandela: Decolonial Ethics of Liberation and Servant Leadership” (Africa World Press). In his day job, he is Deputy Director-General & Head of the Private Office of the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.


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