Man guilty of vandalising the 'Spear'

Louis Mabokela was found guilty of malicious damage to property on Friday.

The 'Spear' painting by SA artist Brett Murray sparked outrage from the ANC and its alliance partners last year. Picture: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG - The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has welcomed the guilty verdict handed down to one of the men accused of defacing the controversial 'Spear' painting.

Louis Mabokela was found guilty of malicious damage to property by the Hilbrow Magistrate's Court on Friday and was given a six-month suspended sentence.

The Limpopo taxi driver used his hands to smear black paint over a painting depicting President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed at the Goodman Gallery in May last year.

Mabokela and Barend la Grange were charged with malicious damage to property, after they were filmed defacing the controversial painting.

At the time, the men claimed to not know each other.

The painting by Brett Murray sparked much outrage from the ANC and its alliance partners who said it violated Zuma's constitutional right to dignity.

It led to a demonstration where hundreds of ANC members marched to the Goodman Gallery, where the painting was on exhibition, calling for its removal.

"We hope the sentence will promote responsible citizenship. People must learn that they can't take the law into their own hands. When they are aggrieved there are relevant platforms where their grievances can be handled," said the NPA's Phindi Louw.

La Grange reached an out of court settlement with prosecutors in November last year and agreed to pay a R1,000 admission of guilt fee.

He said he painted red crosses on the painting to defuse potentially dangerous racial divisions that the painting had caused.

La Grange said the court settlement was also in his best interests and that of the country.

"That's a price that I have to pay. From my side I'm not a 20 or 30-year-old political activist, so I would prefer rather to plead guilty, to try to diffuse racial tensions."

Murray has defended the portrait, arguing it is not meant to disrespect President Zuma.