Eugene Terre’Blanche
and his Two


See also images: The Remains


Excerpt from my Masters dissertation on South African Protest Art, graduated Cum Laude from the University of the Witwatersrand:


In South Africa, images of Afrikaner heroes and Afrikaner symbols of cultural identity became powerful reminders of the ruling ideology.

The subversion of these symbols, their ridicule or rejection was not easily tolerated. Clearly demonstrating this, was an incident where my own work, satirising the ‘heroes’ of the AWB caused a violent counter-attack.

This act of ‘informal censorship’* (Penguin 1993) occurred during the New Acquisitions exhibition at the SANG in 1991.

One of my ceramic sculptures, Eugene Terre’Blanche and his Two Sidekicks, bought by the SANG, was destroyed by six members of the far-right organisation, the AWB.

The work consisted of three sections. The ceramic caricature of the head of Eugene Terre’Blanche, leader of the AWB sat in a mock cardboard box, flanked on either side by similar boxes with heads of his men. “Slogans, such as “Blood River Forever” and “Eugene’s boy - Treurnicht’s Toughie”, were written on the heads and boxes, as well as a transcript of a message (a widely-published and ridiculed telephone plea) left on former newspaper gossip columnist Jani Allen’s telephone answering machine by Mr. Terre’Blanche” (Holliday 1992:4).

The figures were mocking, highlighting absurdities and weaknesses in the far-right leader and his movement.

An Argus newspaper reporter was later told by Stephanus Jacobson, a so-called High Commander of the Western Cape AWB branch, that a member of the public had informed him of an artwork on display in the gallery that belittled his “honourable” leader, Mr. Terre’Blanche. Jacobson said it “looked like a phallus” and defamed his leader (Argus Staff Reporter 1992:5).

After holding a branch meeting, two non-uniformed members of the organisation entered the gallery to establish where the sculpture was situated, before calling in four members in uniform armed with hammers (4). They threatened to bomb the gallery if there were similar works of art (Argus Staff Reporter 1992:5).

Alerted by the gallery director, Marilyn Martin, police on duty at the neighbouring Tuynhuis arrested them as they were leaving (Karon 1992:11). All six were charged with malicious damage to property and intimidation, alternatively contravention of the Explosives Act, or making a bomb threat (Retief 1992:1).

Jacobson was fined R6000 for destroying the sculpture and threatening the director and given an eighteen-month jail sentence, suspended for five years (Argus Staff Reporter 1992:5).

Ranging from editorials to cartoons, reaction in the press showed an image of the AWB irreparably damaged by an action that was “nothing less than barbaric. They have branded their organisation forever as a coterie of uncultured louts” (Argus Editorial 1992:14).

Cartoons and humorous comment appeared in the press following the destruction of the sculpture. Most was aimed at the AWB: “Armed art-criticism” “khaki-clad critics” (Karon 1992:11) and “The thought of an AWB cultural desk getting into the act is horrifying” (The Star Editorial 1992:12). Others used sexual innuendo: “Brolloks has it on good account that the black women in the museum complained that every time they dusted the sculpture, it grew larger” (Brolloks 1992:22).

Reaction extended to London, where the Daily Telegraph was issued with a writ from Allan’s lawyers for referring to an account of how the AWB henchmen destroyed the “ceramic, phallic-shaped bust of Terre’Blanche in Cape Town’s National Gallery (Hurry 1992:n.p. and Brooks 1992:5).

A reporter investigating legal implications concluded that politicians themselves couldn’t easily claim that representations are libellous. At least two charges of libel have been decided in favour of the artist, with the court adhering to the principle that politicians have `public’ personalities that evoke strong emotions (Muller 1992:23).

Numerous responses manifested the difficulty people had in accepting an artist’s right to make an overt political statement, in this case to critically represent a political figure. The reaction by Terre’Blanche was naturally negative:
“artists should realise that they work in an explosive political situation and they should not be provocative” [and] “it was an unasked for, misplaced destruction of a political figure in a misplaced place such as a museum.” (Argus Court Reporter 1992:1).

Without specifying to which people he alluded, he also declared that “(a)rt should serve people, not cause friction” (The Star Political Reporter 1992:9).

Coming out of court shortly after being found guilty, in an unrelated incident, on four counts of assaulting black people and a charge of wilful damage to property, Terre’Blanche declared to the press:
“It doesn’t damage me that this sculpture is made, but it damages my people. It made good, honest Christian people, one an elder in the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk, into criminals. I think it is the duty of an artist to serve his community and to be sensitive to the feelings of the people. It is a tradition through the centuries” (Die Burger correspondent 1992:2).

He said it was made to “diminish and mock him and the whole of Afrikanerdom”. “[I]f it was created to cause friction and if it was humiliating to AWB followers he had to concede that the action was correct” (Argus Court Reporter 1992:1).

The misconception that art’s validity depended on its realistic accuracy was expressed by Terre’Blanche thus: “It had no aesthetic value. I didn’t recognise myself.” He asked what message the artist wanted to give. “Was it meant to make me a monster or a caricature? Every man is God’s creature - even me” (Die Burger correspondent 1992:2).

Letters to the newspapers reiterated his view.

I welcome the destruction of the sculpture because no-one (including the artist) has the right to ridicule in such a way. There are indeed much better ways to settle differences (Teleurgestelde Leser 1992:18).


The exhibition is biased, sectional politics. The AWB-leader is represented for ridicule. In order for objectivity, we should also see a parody of Mrs. Winnie Mandela of necklace-fame or a grey Mr. Joe Slovo toyi-toyi-ing. The South African National Gallery is a public asset. Presenting one-sided art in this present political period is playing with fire, even literally speaking (Odendaal 1992:18).


Afrikaners have at present lots to protect.... It is a pity that loyal, serviceable men try to defend the ‘dignity’ of such an incident and such a leader (Dankbare Nationalis 1992:18).

These views were contradicted by spokespeople from various organisations: “criticisms and caricatures [...] are a demonstration of democracy” (Moodley, Spokesperson for Azapo in Williams 1992:2). “[P]erhaps in a more open society, leaders won’t take things like burning effigies as personally as they do now” (Gill Marcus, at the time heading the ANC Department of Information and publicity. “[We are] opposed to any form of censorship, and believe checks against censorship should be one of the most important provisions in any constitution (Badsha, Federation of SA Cultural Organisations). “The actions of the AWB men interfered with the right of the artist to express his or her view and we certainly do not condone such practices [...] it is not in keeping with respect for the freedom of the artist” (Garth Strachan, SACP in Williams 1992:2).

Martin told the press “There are no boundaries between art and politics. If an artist is interested in politics, it is a legitimate theme for her art” (Muller 1992:23). “It was a telling and powerful comment on a particular element in South African society” (Martin 1992:1-2). But Nico Roos, alluding to his oft-stated disapprobation of political content in art, countered with, “It must still be good art” (Muller 1992:23).

These unforeseen consequences were to “draw attention to the new life of the museum [with] unheard-of interest in the exhibition” (Spaarwater 1992:4). This interest was also evident at a special panel discussion and public debate, taken up mainly by the incident, attended by 208 people. But “The fluidity of thinking, perception and understanding that one would expect from the group was not seen, instead there were signs of fixation” (Martin 1992:1-2).

Despite the controversy and discursive antagonism, Martin felt it proved that art could play a powerful role in society, that it can move, challenge and provoke. “It is the first time in South Africa that an art work aroused so much political emotion” (1-2). Once again the standard accusation of bias was raised, of protest art having a “one-sided political undertone. Apartheid politics is ridden to death. Where is the spiritual future of hopes and dreams from creative thinkers? This art is inspired by the devil and the occult” (Geestelike pottebakker 1992:16).


“It is strange that the South African National Gallery allowed such a monster to be bought for R10, 000. This state-subsidised institution should spend money correctly and in the public’s interest. This sort of spending should not be allowed” (Teleurgestelde Leser 1992:18).

I issued a statement to the press which was quoted in part by a number of newspapers (Kotzé 1992:11; Schrönen 1992:n.p.; Simon 1992:1, and Cape Times 1992:2): “Political intolerance is part of SA life. The government perfected it. The AWB are carrying on the tradition.”

Discussing the above incident, an article written in 1993 emphasises the inevitable relationship in South Africa between art and politics. It ends by stating: “Robert Hughes once suggested that no artwork ever changed society: this act demonstrated how powerfully it can move, challenge, provoke. In this society, art is a weapon of the struggle, not just an adjunct” (Loppert 1993:Weekend).

Protest art was certainly noticed. Although it was not as effective in the political field as South African literature of the same period, the examples that I have cited above all demonstrate its ability to provoke reaction. To some degree this shows its effectivity, but I contend that protest art’s effectivity extended beyond these dynamics to a much broader influence within our environment.

*I would define ‘informal censorship’ as an action that ‘removes’ the work from public display, but is initiated by members of the public rather than any official authority.