Guest Column

Can Zapiro please just stop?

2017-04-16 06:03

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WATCH: Mixed feelings about Zapiro cartoon on CT streets

2017-04-13 13:31

We took to the streets of Cape Town to find out what the public thinks about Zapiro's latest controversial cartoon.WATCH

Rhodé Marshall

This week another work by South Africa’s best-known cartoonist, Zapiro, real name Jonathan Shapiro, hurt many.

For the fourth time, he used one of the most violent and disgusting crimes, rape, as satire – he calls it ­“metaphor” – to drive home a message about his feelings towards President Jacob Zuma, the Gupta family and attempts at state capture.

In the cartoon a woman is held down as Zuma zips up his pants, after “raping” South Africa – as represented by a black woman clad in our national flag. Zuma then tells a Gupta brother: “She’s all yours, boss!”

The sight of the cartoon was nauseating. I felt stripped naked. While I might not have been raped, I was facing my biggest fear – one I walk around with daily, whether I am in public or at home.

Rape is a crime that Zapiro doesn’t statistically have to worry about. Yes, men are raped as well, it’s a serious reality; yet, men probably don’t construct their entire lives and daily decisions around the fear of rape, assault or harassment.

It is black women who bear the brunt of the intersectional struggles in this country. Zapiro’s insistence on further traumatising black women in his work adds to the problem. It doesn’t lessen it. And his insistence on showing black men as rapists just entrenches the tropes around rape.

The normalisation of rape by unimaginative artists such as Zapiro, who deem their art more important than the humanity of others, invokes painful memories for so many women and men in our country. This reality overrides any depth or irony in this satire of his.

In my opinion, he’s able to deliver only one note with his work. He lacks the sophistication of a real artist and he in no way speaks the same language as the new generation of South Africans. To us it looks like Zapiro’s work is all about him and his fame. Every time he does one of these rape cartoons, he trends on social media and is all over the news.

And his defence of his work is generally puerile. He says it was hard for him to draw this cartoon. Shame, poor Zapiro. Almost as bad as being sexually assaulted?

This cartoonist uses the power of his pen and his male privilege to constantly impersonalise issues, saying: “It isn’t actually graphic in the sense that it does everything by suggestion, and nothing by being lewd or overly graphic. I would also challenge people to look at the cartoon and see whom they empathise with. Do they empathise with any of the perpetrators holding the ­metaphorical person down, that is, South Africa, or do they empathise with the metaphorical person? There’s nothing in the drawing that enjoys or revels in the idea of rape or gang rape.” That’s not the response rape ­survivors had on social media this week.

Why is it so easy for Zapiro to enact violence – metaphorically and otherwise – on black women’s bodies without any consequence? Why was the dignity of ­women and men who have been raped compared to the current state of affairs in the country? How dare some of you think there are degrees to sexual violence and that anything can be compared to a vicious disempowering act such as rape?

Using the brutal image of rape as a metaphor in itself is an act of violence by Zapiro; it both makes light of and perpetuates rape culture. It takes away from the seriousness of the crime and the work that those that have been raped put into finding some sort of peace.

It’s easy to use something that will probably never happen to you as a metaphor to create shock and to build your fame, but who exactly is supposed to be shocked? One in every four women will suffer rape in their lifetime – a crime that’s notoriously underreported. And Zapiro says this is an appropriate metaphor to shock people with? He should pack it up already.

Read more on:    zapiro  |  jacob zuma
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