I was having coffee with two guys yesterday and the conversation drifted onto the topic of kids, how many and what to do to not have any more. Yes, we know that storks don’t deliver babies and birds and bees don’t make a difference to THAT outcome. So one guy talks about a friend who has had a vasectomy and what it involves. That it’s done with a local anesthetic and you are quite conscious of the group of nurses and doctor working to give you the snip on a part that is usually not open to public scrutiny.
So I sympathize with Jacob Zuma personally finding the painting “The Spear” deeply embarrassing just on a guy level. On a cultural level many African, Asian and Middle-Eastern cultures find it offensive to view the nakedness of elders. I get that too. (Western culture is out on a limb on this one).
What I find disturbing are those banging the drum about the damage done to the office of the president and to his dignity. Damage? The promiscuous lifestyle our dear Zuma is reported to have lived, his trial for alleged rape, and his comments about showering to reduce the risk of HIV probably has done more damage than we would care to know. For lack of our male leaders standing up to be counted, our people are dying of AIDS. (I heard a councillor say yesterday that in our municipality the rate is as high as 1 in 2 men testing HIV positive.)
Yes, our former president Thabo Mbeki was labelled an “AIDS denialist,” but so too is President Zumu, not in what he preaches, but what he practices, the type of manhood he is advocating. If there is a link (and I have a hunch there is) between the type of masculinity espoused by South African men and the rape and abuse of our women, then damage is being done to the status of Womenhood and dignity to women everywhere. Speaking of dignity, there is also little dignity in dying when you are fading away with sores and pain and weakness where another person has to bath you and tend to your toilet needs. The debate about “The Spear” needs right sizing.
The painting of President Zuma parodies a 1967 Russian propaganda poster of Vladimir Lenin by Victor Ivanov. The stance of Lenin and Zuma is the same. The colour scheme and shading is very similar. The hammer-and-sickle emblem are absent from “The Spear.” So are the words “‘Lenin Lived, Lenin is Alive, Lenin Will Live.” Those words remind me of an ancient Christian proclamation, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” (Difference is, Lenin is dead.) Zuma is on record as saying that the ANC will govern until Christ returns. It’s a very high view of the ANC. George Orwell in his book “Animal Farm” mocks the revolution of Joseph Stalin, who consolidated power after the death of Lenin. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” is a well known quote from his writing. The sentiment that “All South Africans are equal but some South Africans are more equal than others” has long resonated throughout the history of our nation. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Maybe there is more to the painting than what first and very obviously catches the eye!
So what really matters? The high level engagement over one very important man’s embarrassment or the lack of engagement over a multitude of concerns affecting the dignity of ordinary South Africans? The priorities and passions of God, as Chris Wright puts it, are for the lost (spiritually) as well as the last and the least (socially, culturally and economically); for those dying in their sins as well as those dying of hunger, disease and war; and for the landless, homeless, family-less and stateless as well as those who are without Christ, without God and without hope in the world.