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'Humiliated' Zuma in painting storm

South African president Jacob Zuma and his African National Congress sought a court order to have a painting depicting his genitals removed from an art gallery - but two men took matters into their own hands by defacing the portrait with paint.

The case pits freedom of expression against the right to dignity, both guaranteed by South Africa's constitution.

The painting by Brett Murray went on display in a Johannesburg gallery this month and came to the African National Congress' attention a week later, after media reported that it had been sold.

Mr Zuma, who has a reputation for promiscuity, took the depiction very personally and compared himself somewhat ironically to a rape victim. Mr Zuma himself was put on trial for rape and acquitted in 2006. "The portrayal has ridiculed and caused me humiliation and indignity," Mr Zuma said in an affidavit filed with the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.

Presiding over the hearing in a court a few miles from the gallery, Judge Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane said the full three-judge bench should hear the case because the national interest and constitutional issues were at stake.

Mr Zuma and the ANC sought to have the painting, The Spear, removed from the Goodman Gallery and to stop the newspaper City Press from displaying a photo of it on its website.

At about the time the hearing was under way, two men wielding cans of red and black paint walked up to the painting hanging on a gallery wall and took turns defacing it. "Now it's completely and utterly destroyed," said Iman Rappetti, a reporter for a South African TV channel who happened to be on the scene.

Her channel showed a man in a tweed jacket painting a red X over the president's genital area and then his face. Next, a man in a hoodie used his hand to smear black paint over the president's face and down the painting.

The men were finally detained by gallery staff - the second man was head-butted and thrown to the ground before he was handcuffed - and police took them away.

In a statement, the gallery said the painting had been moved to a safe and undisclosed place and that the gallery would remain closed indefinitely.

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