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Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma same-sex painting sparks controversy

A protest painting depicting Nelson Mandela being raped by South African president Jacob Zuma has caused outrage.

The picture, called Economy of Rape, was created by Ayanda Mabulu, a controversial artist who has often portrayed Zuma in sexually explicit situations.

Speaking to Culture Review, Mabulu defended the painting, saying: “My work is about the people.

“It is about the language of the streets. It is about the language that we speak in our homes…a language that says: ‘This motherf***** is f***ing us around.

“This work is not supposed to be hung on a wall,” he added. “It must reside in the minds of the people, and that is what I am working towards.

“It is about conscientising and making sure that the people understand their worth and their position. It is about making them understand that they can decide their own future.”

Another of Mabulu’s paintings, Spear Down My Throat (The Pornography of Power), caused outrage in 2015 due to its depiction of Zuma sexually assaulting a woman who represented South Africa.

Zuma has been president since May 2009, during which time he has faced accusations of corruption and rape.

In 2006, after he left his position as deputy president and before assuming the presidency of his political party, the African National Congress (ANC), he was cleared of raping a 31-year-old HIV-positive female friend.

His reputation was most badly affected in March last year, when the country’s highest court ruled he had violated the constitution by failing to repay the government money he used on upgrading his private residence.

Zuma apologised to his citizens for the “frustration and confusion” caused by the scandal, and said he would pay back the money.

He has always denied charges of money-laundering and racketeering which originated in a controversial $5bn arms deal he signed in 1999.

The painting, which features the emblem of the ANC – the party of both Zuma and Mandela – has become so widespread that it has provoked a reaction from the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

In a statement, the charity said it “notes the public outrage it has caused and appreciates that the public is offended by it.

“The Foundation would like to express that it respects Mr Mabulu’s right to freedom of expression.

“We however find this painting distasteful.”

The ANC reacted in a less even-handed way, condemning the painting as “grotesque, inflammatory and of bad taste.”

In a stinging retort which began by referring to the picture as “art” in sarcastic quotation marks, the party said it “respects Mabulu’s freedom of expression,” but that this painting “(crosses) the bounds of rationality to degradation”.

Calling Mabulu’s treatment of Mandela “nefarious” and “callous,” the statement continued: “Such vulgarity and disdain for the dignity of others is crude, demeaning, derogatory”.

Despite earlier emphasising the importance of freedom of expression, the statement adds that this “markedly makes the point that no freedoms, including the freedom of expression, are unlimited.

“Accordingly, the ANC reserves its right to seek recourse through the criminal justice system as well as the institutions set up to promote and protect the fundamental human rights of all in South Africa.”

As well as this seemingly threatening language, the ANC also said it “will leave it to psychoanalysts and scholars of art to debate Mabulu’s narcissistic obsession with the phallus and human genitalia in general.”

In 2006, Zuma apologised to South Africa’s gay community after describing same sex marriage as “a disgrace”.

He has since said he would respect the country’s same-sex marriage law.

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