Cartoon capers are nothing to laugh at

2008-09-12 00:00

It is revolting and outrageous, vicious and unacceptable. Certainly it is beyond the pale of acceptability.

No, not the controversial cartoon by Zapiro, the nom de plume of award-winning satirist Jonathan Shapiro, depicting African National Congress president Jacob Zuma about to rape Justice. Rather, one is referring to the continued spew of threatening vitriol from within the ANC and its allies towards the judiciary and now the media.

Prior to yesterday’s Pietermaritzburg High Court ruling on Zuma’s application to stay his prosecution on fraud and corruption charges, the rhetoric notched higher. Those who stood in Zuma’s way, including presumably the judges who meet “in secret chambers”, would be “eliminated” or “crushed”.

Congress of South African Students’ president Kenny Motshegoa warned that if the High Court ruled against Zuma, South Africa would face the youth’s anger. “If the judges think they can take Zuma away ... we don’t promise them peace.”

Police officers were injured and rubber bullets and stun grenades used against rioting Zuma supporters. It was the ANC state versus the ANC party, a bizarre, frightening surrender of power to thugs.

It is also a situation where unfolding events, more than any reasoned defence of satire and press freedom, serve to justify Zapiro’s harsh but accurate caricature. Justice is being prepared for rape and perhaps the ANC acronym is better rendered as African Nonconsensual Congress.

The now infamous cartoon, published in last week’s Sunday Times, depicts a struggling young woman pinned to the ground by leaders of the ANC, the SA Communist Party, the ANC Youth League and the Congress of SA Trade Unions. She is blindfolded, clad in a toga, with a sash bearing with the words “Justice System”. The scales of justice lie abandoned beside her. Facing her is the leering Zuma, and, encouraged by his cronies to “Go for it boss”, he is unbuckling his trousers.

Clearly, she is about to be raped by Zuma who — dating to when he was acquitted of rape but justified unprotected sex with a HIV-positive young woman by explaining that he took a cleansing post-coital shower — has a shower protruding from his head, the cruel trademark that Zapiro has ever since visited on the ANC leader.

Cartoonists offer us a visual critique on current events, politics and politicians. The best do it with incisive wit but it is only in exceptional cases that a cartoon manages to define the discourse in a particular issue.

Zapiro’s cartoon has done just this. It draws an unambiguous intellectual line that delineates the thinking on Zuma’s judicial predicament. On one side stand representatives of the most powerful political groupings in the country, on the other stands an independent judicial system as defined by the Constitution.

While the ferocity of the attack on the integrity of these political leaders is unprecedented, so too is their assault on the judiciary. And it is the latter that poses a great danger to us all.

The ANC alliance is trying to subvert justice to their political will and deflect the true focus of the debate. Zapiro’s cartoon powerfully reminds us that the central question is not whether the judiciary is impartial — there is no credible contradicting evidence — but whether Zuma is corrupt and took substantial bribes while in public office.

Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya has shown courage with his many exposés of ANC abuse and excess. He has, unfortunately, also allowed some sloppy journalism that proved to be incorrect and which has provided ammunition to the many critics demanding his axing. One must hope that the Zapiro cartoon is not the final straw.

• The Zapiro cartoon can be viewed at: www.thetimes.co.za or at www.mg.co.za

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