The African National Congress (ANC) said yesterday it would step up its call for readers to boycott City Press newspaper over the controversial painting, The Spear, amid early indications that the first day of the boycott had failed with the paper selling out in many venues.
The boycott call - which extended to advertising in City Press - came last week after the paper refused to remove a photo of The Spear, a satirical painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed, from its website.
The ruling party is also organising a mass march tomorrow to the Goodman Gallery in Rosebank, Johannesburg, where the painting was first exhibited.
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ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said the party was confident that its members had heeded the call and the boycott would gather momentum until City Press removed the photo from its website.
"I have not read City Press today and we as the ANC have cancelled the subscription. I wish you could see the pain we feel especially knowing what we went through under apartheid," Mr Mthembu said.
"I am not speaking for individuals but for many who feel the same - churches, traditional leaders, student movements. It is right to criticise the ANC, but it’s not right to insult us. How would you feel if this was done to your father?" he said.
In her column, City Press editor Ferial Haffajee apologised for the hurt caused by the paper publishing the portrait, but stood by her decision not to remove the photograph from the website.
Ms Haffajee could not be reached for comment yesterday, but executive editor Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya said initial indications were that the paper had not been negatively affected by the boycott. "Sales went very well in most parts. The only negative was a report that came from Polokwane where the numbers did not equal normal Sundays. There were no reports of disruptions."
The newspaper reported yesterday that the ANC was divided on the boycott, citing interviews with senior members. It devoted 10 pages of its editorial space to the saga.
In a column, Ms Haffajee addressed Mr Zuma’s daughter Duduzile, whose opinion was also published by the paper. "I understand that what is a work of satire to me is a portrait of pain to you.
"Would I publish the image again knowing what I do now? Probably not," she wrote. Ms Haffajee had considered placing a "strategic flower" over the part of the image which had caused offence. However, after the ANC called for a boycott of the paper, she changed her mind.
The newspaper also published an opinion piece by former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema who said he opposed the boycott.
"The banning, boycotting and call for the closure of City Press not only amounts to media censure, it undermines the judiciary, which is still in the process of determining the right and wrong of what the ANC believes are absolute truths," wrote Mr Malema.
The Congress of South African Trade Union’s (Cosatu’s) Patrick Craven said the union federation backed the boycott until the newspaper reviewed its decision. "We have no evidence to say whether the boycott was a success but we are sure Cosatu members would have heeded the call to boycott," he said.
However, it appeared readers had ignored the boycott call. A Rosebank CNA employee said it was the first time the paper had sold out at the store, while a vendor outside the Rosebank Mall ordered 30 additional copies after selling out his first batch of 80.
Social network Twitter was abuzz with the issue. An overwhelming majority tweeted support for the paper and undertook to buy a copy.