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AFRICA BRIEFS: Semi-naked portrait sparks debate

Smoldering anger over a full-length painting of South African President Jacob Zuma, with his genitals exposed, has forced a confrontation between those who support free expression and those who see racism "alive and well and living on the tips of the tongues of most white South Africans."

"The Spear," by satirical artist Brett Murray, had been hanging at the Goodman Gallery until the gallery owners removed all of Murray's works this week, bowing to growing pressure from ANC loyalists and others.

At a march by thousands of ANC supporters, handwritten signs read: "President Zuma has a right to human dignity and privacy,' "We say no to abuse of Artistic expression," and "Draw your white father naked, not our president."

The painting – which forms part of Murray's "Hail to the Thief II" exhibition – has already been sold.

Buti Manamela, national secretary of the Young Communist League, weighed in, saying: "The movement has always promoted freedom of expression, but you cannot denigrate important figures."

Ferial Haffajee, editor of City Press that carried the picture, fired back: "We take down the image in the spirit of peacemaking – it is an olive branch. But the debate must not end here and we should all turn this into a learning moment, in the interest of all our freedoms.

"Of course, the image is coming down from fear too. I'd be silly not to admit that. The atmosphere is like a tinderbox: City Press copies went up in flames on Saturday; I don't want any more newspapers burnt in anger."

City Press's stance had an unlikely defender in Julius Malema, the expelled president of the ANC's youth wing. Malema said he intended to buy two copies, explaining: "Banning newspapers simply because we disagree with them, and boycotting them on the basis of believing that our conception of truth is absolute, poses a real threat to our democracy."

Nigeria's new oil law is foreign-firm friendly

Nigeria's long-awaited oil reform bill is a Christmas stocking stuffed with goodies for the multinational oil companies who have been feasting for years on the nation's rich supply of crude oil.

Provisions that would have forced the government to publish how much oil it pumps and all the payments it receives from oil firms – in an industry where secrecy is blamed for corruption – have been stripped from the bill.

"I expect the petroleum industry to be happy. I expect many Nigerians to be upset," said Pedro Van Meurs, an oil and gas expert, in a press interview.

The Petroleum Industry Bill, stuck in committee since 2009, was fast-tracked this year by President Goodluck Jonathan. Under the new law, anyone who "interferes" with the oil minister will be fined or imprisoned. And it allows the oil minister and the directors of state institutions to receive gifts, which will not please civil society groups calling for an end to graft.

Meanwhlle, tempers are flaring over the failure of President Jonathan to punish those who orchestrated the $6.8 billion fuel subsidy scam, uncovered in a probe whose findings were released last month.

African leaders look to Diaspora support for development fund

A fund to harness the financial resources of African citizens abroad was endorsed this week by African leaders at the wind-up of the Global African Diaspora Summit, held in Johannesburg.

The fund, managed by the African Union Commission, would lure the Diaspora to contribute to Africa's development. According to the AU, the continent needs about $60 billion in the next 10 years to meet its infrastructure needs.

But unity on the continent was poorly displayed in the host city, which has seen anti-immigrant sentiment growing among locals.

Jason Chiwuzie Osuafor, president of a Nigerian immigrants organization, cited systematic prejudice by those who are supposed to protect the law.

'The main problem is one of police brutality. Between last year and this year, we've registered 10 Nigerians killed by policemen in mysterious circumstances," said Osuafor.

Anti-immigrant fever is spreading outward. In Namibia, residents of a shanty town area have been threatening action against Zimbabwean squatters whom they claim have started "grabbing land" from native Namibians.

President Jacob Zuma gave the summit's closing speech.

"Africa is rising," he declared, "and no one will stop us because we have what it takes to make it work."

Source: Global Information Network

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