The 1,85-metre-high painting, entitled The Spear, has bitterly divided South Africans, with the governing African National Congress describing it as “rude, disrespectful and racist”, but others defending the artist Brett Murray’s right to freedom of speech.
South Africa’s Eyewitness identified one of the vandals on Tuesday as a university professor, and said he “took a small can of red paint and slowly marked two large ‘X’ symbols over the genitals and the face with a paintbrush.
“After a while, another man with a small can of black paint smeared the painting using his hands.”
The ANC is also demanding that the City Press newspaper remove a photograph of the painting from its website.
The National Heritage Council (NHC) said Murray had insulted African culture by painting the portrait of Zuma.
“In our African culture and tradition this painting amounts to the most extreme indecency and misnomer,” NHC CEO Sonwabile Mancotywa said in a statement.
“It is almost like verbally uttering the most vulgarised insult to the president. Imagine what that picture would sound if it were in words,” he said.
The NHC believed Murray and the gallery were undermining the cultural value of respect which formed the foundation of African traditions.
“It is unacceptable that people can seek to get away with such a demeaning behaviour even when they are made aware of its immorality,” said Mancotywa.
In an affidavit served on the paper, Zuma said he was shocked by the work saying: “The portrait depicts me in a manner that suggests I am a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect. It is an undignified depiction of my personality and seeks to create doubt about my personality in the eyes of fellow citizens, family and children.”
“It is an undignified depiction of my personality and seeks to create doubt about my personality in the eyes of fellow citizens, family and children,” he said.