||15 March 2009 05:00
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
This is one of the cartoons by a student, which has sparked controversy during the Rag time at the University of Cape Town. There has been a huge media focus both in print and radio.
Once a year, Students let their hair down and studies take the back seat, but all for a good cause. They raise funds for their in- house charity, SHAWCO. Cameron Arendse heads up the Rag committee.
Cameron Arendse (UCT Rag Chairperson): "In 2004, I think, we made R1.5-million and that's the goal for 2009."
For the 80-strong Rag committee the main source of income is proceeds from the sales of "Sax Appeal", which hits the streets for one day. Left-overs are then sold in four Pick n Pay outlets.
Derek Watts (Carte Blanche presenter): "Produced by students and foisted upon an unsuspecting public, Sax Appeal has its very name staked on irreverence - humorous or otherwise. It has been around for 76 years, something of a Cape Town institution."
Every year about 35 000 copies are sold, making it the largest student run publication in the world. This year's publication contained articles deemed highly blasphemous, not only by many Christians but also by other religious communities across South Africa. And as the Sax Appeal editors have found out, you need to tread very carefully if you take on religion. Remember the 169 people who died in the riots following the publication of the Danish Cartoons depicting the holy prophet, Mohammed.
Derek: "When religion is targeted and possibly torn apart things can get as hot as hell. Back in 1971 Sax Appeal was banned and publically burnt by the UCT Christian Society."
Banned by the government and burnt by some Christian students because Sax Appeal editors had dared to joke that the most important person in the Nationalist Party government was Jesus - this, at a time when apartheid was in full swing.
Many people this year think that Sax Appeal has plummeted to new depths. This is one of the milder cartoons by student, Richard Sagan: "Without God you will never be happy." The response is - "I am pretty happy when I am drunk, high on crack and have freakish man sex."
Also in the magazine, Zapiro takes a swipe at fundamentalist Christians and their stance on homosexuality and gay marriages.
Errol Naidoo (Family Policy Institute): "You know, it's not a lot that makes me take offence but I think this went beyond the boundaries of decency."
Errol Naidoo is a prominent Christian who heads up the Family Policy Institute in Cape Town. He's well known for his strong views, for example his condemnation of gay marriages.
Errol: "I don't believe that Christianity is above criticism."
Criticise us, Errol believes, but don't mock the tenet of the Christian faith - that Jesus died for the salvation of mankind.
Errol: "But that's not the same as mocking Jesus Christ."
Errol's concerns are shared by Dominee Ben du Toit, who is an expert on the interface between religion and the constitution.
Dr Ben du Toit (Parliamentary Desk - Dutch Reformed Church): "It is in bad taste to cross boundaries by attacking the convictions that people hold most sacred... and you can expect them to cross boundaries in response.
And what was the response from other faith communities?
Rabbi Suiza is the registrar of the Jewish Rabbinic Court in Cape Town.
Rabbi R Suiza (Shephardi Hebrew Congregation): "It is totally unwarranted, it is unnecessary, and Judaism can never condone anything like this."
Abdulkader Tayov is a Muslim as well as a critical scholar of religion. He lectures all over the world.
Abdulkader Tayov (Religious Studies: UCT): "They're not a statement about power, they're not a statement about politics - about society. It is really a statement about against very fundamentally cherished symbols of Christianity."
Maciek Dubla, Editor In Chief of Sax Appeal, is the under the spotlight for signing off the magazine for print.
Derek: "When this was first presented to you, did you think it was funny?"
Maciek Dubla (Editor In Chief: Sax Appeal): "Part of it were funny to me and then there was also the fact that as much as it was funny to myself that there were other people who also found it funny. But then I still have to consider the fact that there'll be people who won't find it as funny as I might."
Derek: "Really we've got to say, is this blasphemous or not?"
Maciek: "As it is... to call it blasphemy, I understand where its coming from but to myself, obviously, as well as to some other people on my editorial staff we didn't see it as blasphemy per se."
Maciek, who is agnostic, says that the Sax Appeal team is made up of students with different faiths, Christians included.
Derek: "And Maciek, they didn't voice their opinions?"
Maciek: "There was no opinion voiced."
But Errol Naidoo did have an opinion. He was livid.
Errol: "And I sat down at that computer and I wrote this email and I said, This has got to stop.'"
In that email, he urged Christians to take action and said, "It is time for Christians to stand up for what they believe." He included Sax Appeal staff names and the sponsors. Pick n' Pay, the primary sponsor which has a history of giving generously to NGO's, was suddenly the target of thousands of angry e-mails. It wasn't pretty. Jonathan Ackerman had his hands full.
Jonathan Ackerman (Marketing Director: Pick n Pay): "It is fascinating to watch a viral email campaign spread."
Errol Naidoo and a posse of clergymen demanded a meeting.
Jonathan: "I was very upset that he named us."
Because Jonathan had not been aware of these cartoons, and yet now Pick n Pay was being vilified.
Jonathan: "And he did admit to us that he did act very spontaneously and angrily when he saw this article."
Pick n' Pay did pull Sax Appeal from its stores.
Jonathon Shapiro (Cartoonist): "I thought it was particularly cowardly of Pick n Pay to remove it from the shelves."
There are no holy cows with Jonathon. With his biting satire he will take on anybody, any religion.
Jonathon: "I can understand where Jonathon is coming from. His cartoons are thought-provoking, clever and intelligent. We at Pick n Pay deemed this article offensive and we have our right - our own freedom of expression - we have the right to remove something that we deem offensive."
But Jonathon Shapiro defends the students' rights to freedom of expression.
Shapiro: "It is intellectual blackmail for these religious groups - and I put them all in the same boat - to think that they have that kind of exceptionalism' that they've got to be treated differently from every other way of thinking in society."
According to the freedom of expression institution, the cartons do not constitute hate speech.
For Rabbi Sweeza, freedom of expression and responsibility should go hand in hand.
Rabbi Sweeza: "It should be done responsibly and it should be done carefully that it continues to be freedom of speech but not offending or insulting other individuals or cultures."
Since death threats have been flying around, we assume this to be the reason that the author of the cartoons, Richard Sagan, would not meet with us. We did, however, receive a written response. These are some of Richard's points:
He admits that he did deliberately sensationalise.
He has expressed great surprise at the controversy and debate, especially in the context of a satirical and non-sensical magazine.
Although he is an atheist, he acknowledges the role of religion within our society.
He also believes that some of his content was misunderstood. For example, the caption in which he pokes fun at Jesus was meant to be seen as satirical commentary. Jesus died for mankind and yet look at the state of the world.
Well everybody is apologising. Richard has apologised to the Vice Chancellor of UCT, Dr Max Price and also to Jonathon Ackerman for increasing his workload. Eroll Naidoo has apologised to Pick n' Pay and has sent another round of emails saying that Pick n Pay were the victims. The Vice Chancellor has added that next year's Sax Appeal will not be censored but that there will be a stronger advisory board in place. This does not sit well with philosopher Jacques Rousseau, a lecturer on the campus.
Jacques Rousseau (Management studies: UCT): "I fail to see how senior staff members aren't going to present a sort of chilling effect on future publications and if we start censoring free speech then we enter onto a slippery slope whereby the person who complains the loudest or is the most outraged gets special protection."
Derek: "Jacques, your students, how have they reacted?"
Jacques: "I've talked to my students. Unfortunately they haven't reacted much because most of them aren't aware of what's going on."
Well, our cameras proved that, remarkably, most students were unaware of the fuss.
Student 1: "Nah, I haven't seen that."
Student 2: "I didn't even see it..."
Student 3: "No, what's this...?"
Derek: "You haven't seen this? But didn't you sell it... on the street?"
Student crowd: [shakes No']
Derek: "Did you see this?"
Student 4: "No, I haven't seen that."
Derek: "Are you disappointed by that?"
Jacques: "Very disappointing. This is a key defining moment for the university for its attitude towards free speech and rationality and the students, in terms of the brand value of their degrees and their universities should be concerned. And by and large they aren't..."
Perhaps they should be for there is a bigger picture here. What many South Africans don't know is about one particularly problematic resolution called The Defamation of Religion. Introduced by Pakistan, it's been voted on and adopted every year since 1999 by the International Human Rights Organisation at the UN.
Dr Agnes Callamard (Executive Director: Article 19): "The resolution is basically an attempt to place blasphemy as an international human rights norm and anything blasphemous becomes a violation..."
Dr Agnes Callamard heads up Article 19 with a mandate to protect freedom of expression. The resolution against blasphemy makes it unlawful to criticise any religion. But in some countries, citizens, including journalists, have been arrested, imprisoned amend even killed for doing just that. The council is about to vote again. Remarkably South Africa has voted several times in favour of this resolution.
Dr Callamard: "A position that we quite cannot understand and comprehend, given the history of South Africa, we would expect the government of South Africa to be at the forefront of the fight for the protection of freedom of expression."
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