The art of sti­fling free think­ing

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

NEWS of the fear­ful sort has reached us here at the Ma­hogany Ridge. It seems that, once again, the rul­ing party has been ter­ri­fied by works of art of a satir­i­cal na­ture.

Grate­ful thanks, then, to the ANC in KwaZulu-Na­tal for alert­ing us to the of­fen­sive ar­ti­cles in ques­tion. Were it not for pro­vin­cial spokesman Senzo Mkhize we may have never known of the T-shirts on dis­play at the Westville Boys High School ma­tric art ex­hi­bi­tion in Dur­ban.

As a re­sult of the sub­se­quent “po­lit­i­cal row”, as some news­pa­pers have called it, the school’s head­mas­ter, Trevor Hall, has is­sued a state­ment in an ap­par­ent bid to put the mat­ter to rest. There was, alas, lit­tle chance of that hap­pen­ing in a hurry.

The school’s vis­ual art syl­labus, Hall ex­plained, in­cluded a sec­tion on so­cial and po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary. Over the years this pro­duced art “ex­pres­sive of a wide range of opin­ions” – pupils were free to com­ment on society as they saw fit, as was their con­sti­tu­tional right.

“I note,” he con­tin­ued, “that the art work of some of our learn­ers, in the form of printed T-shirts on dis­play, has caused of­fence to a po­lit­i­cal party. The three art­works in ques­tion were cre­ated by free-think­ing learn­ers as part of their art port­fo­lios for ex­am­i­na­tion.”

In ad­di­tion to fan­ci­ful no­tions that young peo­ple en­joy con­sti­tu­tional rights and are free to think for them­selves, Hall’s ref­er­ence to the ANC as a mere “po­lit­i­cal party” was most un­for­tu­nate.

It seems blas­phe­mous to think of Africa’s old­est lib­er­a­tion move­ment as a fea­ture­less, anony­mous en­tity when it is com­monly held that, of all the par­ties out there, it alone has been or­dained by God to lead us into the promised ubun­tu­land.

This, at least, is the gospel ac­cord­ing to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, the sub­ject of one of the Westville T-shirts. He ap­pears as the avun­cu­lar gro­cer in the logo of a bis­cuit man­u­fac­turer, with “Bak­ers, est 1851” al­tered to “Fak­ers, est 1994”. An­other fea­tures Nel­son Man­dela as Colonel San­ders in a sendup of the KFC logo. Both fea­ture the colours of the ANC.

While we sort of get the for­mer, the lat­ter is a bit lost on us, and it’s per­haps a pity that Hall didn’t also of­fer an anal­y­sis of the pupils’ work in his state­ment. Un­like the rul­ing party, not all of us are ex­perts, you know.

Mkhize’s in­tem­per­ate out­burst re­vealed a cer­tain ex­per­tise when it came to the cliché. The crip­pling blows he dealt the English lan­guage re­minded Ridge reg­u­lars of the leg­endary Brian O’Nolan, whose Cat­e­chism of Cliché pieces for the Ir­ish Times, writ­ten un­der the pen name Myles na cGopaleen, are worth re­vis­it­ing, if only to imag­ine the field day he’d have with the mod­ern ANC me­dia state­ment. These are T-shirts, are they not? “They are an out­rage, an at­tack on the ANC and the coun­try. They re­flect how demo­crat­i­cally elected African lead­ers are un­der­mined.” By whom? “Cer­tain in­sti­tu­tions.” And the ANC? “Is con­cerned that pupils are be­ing used to fur­ther their in­ter­ests.” What kind of pupils? “In­no­cent ones”. And these in­ter­ests? “Nar­row.” What sort of cit­i­zen would bring all this to your at­ten­tion? “A re­spon­si­ble one.” To what then does the party com­mit it­self ?

“To mo­bil­is­ing our society to re­ject all racist ten­den­cies.” Where are these ten­den­cies? “In our midst.” Where is it that the ANC wants to get with this? “To the bot­tom of the mat­ter.” When will the per­pe­tra­tors be ex­posed? “Ul­ti­mately.” Where will they be found? “Be­hind this an­ar­chy.” Their deed? “Is de­spi­ca­ble.” What sort of tac­tics are used to fuel this ha­tred? “Un­der­hand.” On what does it bor­der? “Racism.” Their vendetta? “Per­sonal.” How bent are they in their pur­suit? “Hell.” What do you want from the school? “An apol­ogy.” Granted. The school has apol­o­gised. What now? “The apol­ogy is re­jected.” And so on. If any­one is to blame for all this, it could pos­si­bly be Gwede Man­tashe, the party’s bad-tem­pered goblin. As gen­eral sec­re­tary of the ANC, Man­tashe led the great pop­u­lar charge last year against Brett Mur­ray’s The Spear, the flat­ter­ing paint­ing of the pres­i­dent. So com­pelling was his fiery, rhetoric­choked dis­play that it seems ev­ery­one has been in­spired to be a critic.

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