Writer: Kholeka Shange
Artwork: Ayanda Mabulu
“Akadeleli uqhuba intwala ngewisa” is an adage used by IsiZulu speakers to describe a person’s unrelenting insolence towards another. In the context of Ayanda Mabulu’s numerous visual depictions of President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma’s phallus, a number of conservative (IsiZulu speaking) traditionalists, ANC loyalists and some sectors of the South African public have utilized respectability as a tool to question Mabulu’s “Africanness” for “failing” to honour the elder-child dynamic wherein the child is expected to show respect for his or her elders at all times. The elder in this case is the head of state while Mabulu is expected to occupy the position of the infantilised,aberrant Black artist who is out of touch with “African” customs.
In his latest work, Mabulu depicts President Zuma and the late former President Nelson Mandela through what he calls the “visual language of nudity”. In this painting, the ANC emblem (which is representative of the ANC’s precarious politics) serves as a backdrop through which the spectacle of the Zuma/Mandela sexual encounter that Mabulu terms the “economy of rape” is reified. When asked about the use of the traumatic experience of rape as a visual metaphor in a country where rape is a pandemic, Mabulu retorts, “We are dealing with a president who is a rapist (in reference to the rape of the late Fezekile Kuzwayo who was commonly known as Khwezi). It would be something else if I were painting a person who is not a rapist as a rapist. Here we are talking about a rapist”.
However, Mabulu also states that in this work, rape may be used as an allegory of the ruling party’s (which he terms the “black elite” or the “black bourgeoisie”) exploitation of the country’s resources at the expense of what he refers to as “peasants” or the Black working class. According to Mabulu, the ANC has become the oppressor, which safeguards white monopoly capital (that continues to reap great benefits from poor Black labour) and “inflicts pain, violence and hunger, while it pushes the masses to a perpetual corner of submission”.
When asked how he feels about his work being labelled vulgar and banal, he states, “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 motherfucker is fucking us around”. Mabulu emphasises that his work does not necessarily explore queer politics, rather it uses the idea of a same sex relationship between cis het men as a visual device through which the shifting narratives between Mandela’s rainbow tinted ANC and Zuma’s ANC are explored.
Mabulu notes that as a result of not being a “gallery-type artist”, he is able to be a voice of dissent, which represents the concerns of ordinary Black South Africans. He asserts, “A gallery cannot contain the voice of the people because I am the people. This work is not supposed to be hung on a wall. 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”.
With such a contentious subject matter at the centre of Mabulu’s “Economy of Rape”, it is only expected that this work will not only be enshrined in the minds of the people but that it will spark dialogue across political spectrums.