Cartoon furore

2008-09-10 00:00

In last weekend’s Sunday Times a powerful cartoon by Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro) depicted African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma preparing to rape a woman representing South Africa’s justice system. She is being held down by ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe (saying “Go for it, boss”), by Julius Malema of the ANC Youth League, by Blade Nzimande of the SACP and by Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. The four have all been working to have the 18 corruption charges against Zuma dropped before next year’s elections, and the cartoon was in part a response to Cosatu’s threat to take to the streets if the charges aren’t dropped and to Mantashe’s accusation that South African judges are “counter-revolutionary”.

The ANC is, of course, outraged, and cries of “defamation”, “vile, crude and disgusting”, and “racist” have filled the air, as well as claims that the cartoon abuses press freedom and violates “the rights and dignity of the ANC president”. It demands that Zapiro and the newspaper apologise for what it sees as an un- forgivably low blow.

Zapiro refuses to apologise. The cartoon is harshly satirical, pointing out those tactics of the ANC and its alliance partners that alarm him and many other South Africans. “Our Constitution and our legal system are under threat,” he says. Clearly, the satire is intended as a counterpoint to blackmail and bullying by the ANC alliance (such as the Cosatu threat and Malema’s inflammatory rhetoric about “killing for Zuma”).

In other words, the cartoonist was actually striving for an outraged reaction, hoping that it might spur some in the ruling party to self-examination and, perhaps, to some understanding of the effects on the country of their apparent disregard for democracy.

Coincidentally, yesterday’s Witness included contributions from several commentators —writing before the cartoon furore had begun — expressing views Zapiro might share. Rivaan Roopnarain deplores the mindless thuggishness of Zuma supporters and their intention to create an anarchic shambles. William Gumede in turn deplores the lack of dynamic 21st century political leadership and believes younger ANC members with leadership qualities and a grasp of the required new values and ideas are being overlooked. ANC MP Carl Niehaus cites the ANC’s tendency to equate patriotism with party loyalty and discipline, so that many members view the judicial and democratic institutions of the state as tools for carrying out ANC policy. He suggests that those holding political office now do so more to use it as a “platform to launch personal ambition and for self-enrichment” than for service.

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