The Fuck White People "art" displayed in the South African National Gallery does not contravene South Africa's hate speech laws, a black magistrate ruled this week.
The Equality Court magistrate‚ sitting at the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court in Cape Town, ruled on Tuesday, compared the piece by Dean Hutton to the messages of struggle expressed by ANC liberation stalwarts like Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela.
In the strange, convoluted ruling, it was found that “white” and “people” were not directed at all white people, but only at “a general system of white oppression” as a result of “white domination”. Apartheid ended more than two decades ago.
The court ruled that the “artwork” displayed at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town was not discriminatory against all white people, despite the “artist” publicly saying it was directed at all whites. Hutton told The Huffington Post: “Whiteness is a powerful drug and no one is immune.”
Cape Party leader Jack Miller, who brought the case against Hutton, said the ruling went against the protection of minority rights.
“This court case… was about ensuring that the laws of the country are balanced and applied equally to everyone, that it protected minority rights, and ensured common respect and decency between our many different cultures and races,” Miller noted.
“In 1994, the South African government under Nelson Mandela promoted a vision of a ‘Rainbow Nation’. Today, Fuck White People is art. Where is this country going?”
Justice Daniel Thulare
In his judgment‚ Chief Magistrate DM Thulare said the work had achieved at least one thing in forcing “South Africans to a moment of self-reflection” since there were still “structures keeping whites racist”. He said the work prompted viewers to “[R]eject‚ confront and dismantle structures‚ systems‚ knowledge‚ skills and attitudes of power that keep white people racist.”
The “artist” said the ruling was “very thoughtful” because it has made “racists afraid again”. Hutton told News24: “This judgment is a beacon in a perilous time where we are seeing a global rise of white nationalism. Brexit, Trump and the rise of fascism in Europe and other settler colonies. Let’s make racists afraid again.
“My work is an amplification of the words and intellectual labour of black people who have been critiquing white people’s actions for hundreds of years. When black people talk, we white people must listen and learn.”
Hutton said the work was meant to provoke whites, a small minority and already under siege. “White people made racism and made sure it is deeply embedded in our social systems, laws, economies, institutions and individuals. So this provocation is here to make you feel that ‘white pain’.”
Hutton is Master of Fine Arts student at the University of Cape Town and the work forms part of her Masters project. The lawyer for the Iziko museum‚ Jeremy Klerck‚ welcomed the ruling: “This is a landmark decision. It came to the defence of freedom of speech. And it came to the defence of artistic expression.”
The Freedom Front Plus in January had called for the removal of the piece, calling it racist and an incitement to racial hatred.
“In times where racial relations are extremely sensitive, and where people who are guilty of making racist comments are severely punished by courts, the exhibition is short-sighted, and it is experienced by many people as inflammatory,” FF Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said in a statement at the time.
“The responsible officials at the museum will have to account as to whether they would hold an exhibition with a reversed racial message, or even an exhibition which displays the brutality of more than two decades of farm murders.
“The FF Plus is of the opinion that the relevant exhibition does not belong in the country’s National Art Gallery. It is offensive and causes friction and should be removed immediately,” Groenewald told FWM.