Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Julius T-shirt joke falls flat

Image meant to 'poke fun' at Malema 'racist, sexist'

Nov 10, 2009 10:34 PM | By LAUREN COHEN and NIVASHNI NAIR

Satirical T-shirt company Laugh it Off posted an electronically doctored image of Sara Baartman's body featuring male genitalia and Julius Malema's head - in a bizarre attempt to ridicule the ANC Youth League president.

The image, titled "Hermafrotiet", was posted on the Laugh It Off website because the company is "considering some [Julius] Malema T-shirts and is testing the market".

But the government yesterday described the posting as "tantamount to laughing about the Holocaust".

Laugh It Off spokesman Ruan Kemp said the image, which he designed in "a few minutes", was "meant to poke fun at Malema" and comments he made regarding the Caster Semenya debacle, in which South Africa's women's 800m world champion was forced to undergo gender testing.

Malema said that "hermaphrodites do not exist" in his language, Pedi, and therefore Semenya was not a hermaphrodite as claimed in international media.

Baartman was shipped to England in the 1800s, given the name Hottentot Venus and paraded as a sexual freak before the public.

After her death, parts of her preserved body were exhibited in a museum in France.

Her body was returned to South Africa in 2002.

But Kemp says he meant to ridicule Malema - not Semenya or Baartman.

"The media handled it [the Semenya issue] as though she was a freak. I used the image of Baartman and put Malema's head on to question who is the actual freak. I am drawing parallels between what she went through and what Caster went through," Kemp said.

"They are both strong women with a lesson to teach us," he said.

Kemp said people were "offended by different things".

But Oageng Tsatsi, a visitor to the website, was not impressed.

"I am shocked - is this allowed? Is it even funny?" she commented on the website blog.

Lisa Vetten, a researcher for the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, said she did not "get the joke".

"The image displays the long and ugly history of eroticising and presenting black women's bodies in a freakish way and that is racism and sexism."

Last night, after The Times contacted Laugh It Off, the company tried to contextualise its posting by adding to it Malema's comments about hermaphrodites.

Sibani Mngadi, spokesman for the ministry of women and children, said: "Whoever thought this was a joke, has no regard for the traumatic history of exploitation of African women.

"The graphic undermines the efforts that have been made to restore the dignity of Sara Baartman. The insinuated link to the recent abuse of Caster Semenya makes it even more disgusting."

Malema did not comment at the time of going to print.


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