Activist Johan Pienaar was granted a final protection order against musician Steve Hofmeyr on Monday morning at the Stellenbosch Magistrate’s Court.
Hofmeyr reacted to an art installation at Woordfees in Stellenbosch last year – an old South African flag with the names of those Pienaar believed were either the “enablers” or “architects of apartheid” – including Hendrik Verwoerd, AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel and Hofmeyr himself – with viewers invited to walk over it – by offering a R1,500 reward to anyone willing to remove it from the pavement.
Pienaar laid charges of harrasment and conspiracy to commit theft against Hofmeyr, resulting in an interim protection order in March, 2018 which has now been made permanent by way of a final protection order, after the magistrate found Hofmeyr had violated the the Protection of Harassment Act.
In a twist, this is the same one that Hofmeyr himself attempted to use against comedian and ventriloquist Conrad Koch and his creation, puppet Chester Missing. In that case, however, the move by Hofmeyr and Dan Roodt – who represented him despite not being a lawyer – resulted in failure when an interim protection order granted to Hofmeyr against the puppet (and presumably its creator) was overturned.
This followed Chester Missing launching a campaign for brands and individuals to distance themselves from Hofmeyr.
The offer of a reward was tweeted by Hofmeyr, who said in another tweet he was looking for the artwork because he wanted to “bash it up”.
A man responded to the singer’s bounty, removing the flag and handing Pienaar a piece of paper saying that it had now been “expropriated without compensation” before running away.
In a statement, Pienaar drew a link between what happened to his installation and other art works that have faced vandalisation – Brett Murray’s The Spear, Dean Hutton’s F**k White People and Ayanda Mabulu’s Nazi Madiba.
Art, Pienaar says, sometimes causes discomfort. “This discomfort should be addressed not by physical attacks on the art, which is where fascism starts, but with proper engagements with these installations,” he adds.
“The judgment which I have now had time to study is a complete vindication of the points we raised in our original application before the court and amounts to a condemnation of Mr Hofmeyr’s actions in this regard as harassment which caused harm to myself,” Pienaar writes.
“Mrs Sprag found that Mr Hofmeyr’s tweets were aimed at the removal of the contextualised apartheid flag by any means and rejected his explanations of his tweets as improbable.
“As such, she ruled that I was entitled to protection under the Protection of Harassment Act and issued a final interdict which ordered Mr Hofmeyr to cease and desist from this type of behaviour and tweet that the bounty that he placed on the flag is rescinded.”
Pienaar’s lawyer, Tracy Nixon-Lomax, told The Citizen that part of the victory is that Hofmeyr was forced to withdraw the bounty he put on the flag, something he has already done on Twitter.
I hereby withdraw any reward I previously made to anybody who would steal or remove the contextualised South African flag belonging to Johan Pienaar.
— Steve Hofmeyr (@steve_hofmeyr) July 22, 2019
According to Nixon-Lomax, “even after the interim order was granted Hofmeyr didn’t comply” and continued to harass Pienaar online.
“This is the court basically saying your conduct is unacceptable and you must stop,” she added.
In his statement, Pienaar also calls out organisations such as Joburg Art Fair and WordPress for their reactions to controversial artworks, which he describes as “similar though more restrained”. He says this is even worse than the reaction to these artworks by “thugs”.
Pienaar told The Citizen that Wordfees reacted to his artwork by trying to remove the flag, even calling the police before backing off after they realised the installation was on public land.
Joburg Art Fair, meanwhile, removed Mabulu’s Nazi Madiba following complaints.
“One would hope that in the future the Joburg Art Fair and Woordfees would allow spaces of engagement when confronted with protest art,” he said.
Pienaar ends the statment by saying that while Hofmeyr’s lawyers have said they will appeal the judgment, he is “confident such an appeal will have no reasonable prospect of success.”
Hofmeyr had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication of this article.