Zapiro has tongues wagging... again

By Drum Digital
10 July 2012

Zapiro's latest cartoon is an attempt to re-ignite a debate that needs to be had -- or it is simply crude and insulting, according to the views of various analysts on Tuesday.

"If the purpose is to influence opinion and to be taken seriously, I don't think that cartoon is a particularly good way of doing it," said political analyst Steven Friedman.

The cartoon by Jonathan Shapiro depicts an erect penis with a showerhead and legs standing before a mirror with an accompanying limerick about Zuma.

Headed "The Spear to be raised at Social Cohesion Summit", the cartoon was published in the Mail & Guardian on Friday.

Analyst Nic Borain said it continued the as-yet-unresolved debate started by artist Brett Murray's painting The Spear, which depicted President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed.

"I think it is a deliberate attempt to re-raise the debate and raise it in as challenging a form as any newspaper would dare to publish," he said.

"Jonathan takes incredible care... in what he is talking about and in the manner he draws it. Everything he does is very, very deliberate."

Borain said Shapiro and the Mail & Guardian editorial team would have purposefully published this cartoon in the same week as government held a social cohesion summit in Soweto.

"Their agenda is they believe the debate has to be had, no matter how painful it is.

"The compromise that was reached around the now defaced 'The Spear' was not healthy for our society, our democracy, or for the future of social cohesion," said Borain.

"The Spear" painting led to an outcry in May, with the African National Congress applying to court and taking to the streets in efforts to have it removed from the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, before the painting was defaced.

Cabinet formally condemned the painting and the ANC called for a boycott of City Press newspaper for publishing a picture of the painting, and for displaying it on its website.

The boycott was called off after the newspaper removed the image and apologised. The Goodman Gallery also removed the painting from its walls.

Borain said Zapiro was not known for taking cheap shots.

"This is not someone who is casually insulting a group of South Africans and hurting them... this is someone who is doing it with great deliberation."

However, Borain was not sure that Zapiro had taken the right approach.

"I'm uncertain whether this is right, some of the hurt provoked by 'The Spear' made me really try to examine my own feelings of the situation.

"Initially I thought 'The Spear' was highly appropriate as the president has put his penis in our minds... but when I saw the hurt it provoked, that seemed quite genuine to me, I was taken aback."

Friedman said although the cartoon should be allowed in the interests of freedom of expression, it did not make a particularly worthwhile contribution to the national debate.

"It was deeply insensitive and almost arrogant... for black people who feel that this kind of expression is insulting to them, their sensitivities were ignored.

"It is Mr Shapiro's right to dislike Mr Zuma [but] he ought to say something substantive about it. There are more than enough issues on which you could quite legitimately criticise Mr Zuma."

Friedman said unfortunately in South Africa it was often the privileged minorities which benefited under apartheid that were the most strident in demanding their right to say what they liked.

"I will defend his right to do it, but I do not think what he is doing is good for race relations in South Africa."

Political analyst Eusebius McKaiser found the cartoon weak from an aesthetic and narrative point of view.

"Aesthetically it is simplistic, and uninteresting; it is something a school kid could have come up with."

On the narrative, McKaiser said: "It doesn't add to the cartoonist's existing body of critique of Jacob Zuma."

However, he defended Shapiro's right to freedom of expression.

Shireen Hassim was concerned that the cartoon could alienate Zapiro's wider audience.

"Was it a wise move in the current political context? Probably not; he is in danger of narrowing his audience down to a narrow liberal elite, which would be a pity.

"He is without doubt the sharpest and most incisive political cartoonist South Africa has ever seen.

"It would be a pity if he were cast as irrelevant to the political conversations of the majority of South Africans," she said.

However, it was important that Zapiro be allowed defend his right to freedom of expression.

"I support him absolutely on freedom of expression, [but] cartoonists don't operate in a vacuum."

Shapiro said on Friday: "I didn't put 'The Spear' back on the agenda. I responded to reports that it would be discussed at the Social Cohesion Summit."

He said the cartoon was meant to be "scathing but humorous".

"It's also serious commentary about a seriously flawed, hypocritical leader."

He said the Spear matter had not been resolved properly.

"The ANC bullied the Goodman Gallery and City Press into compromising. Freedom of expression suffered a blow," said Shapiro.

The cartoon has sparked condemnation from government -- which called for its removal from the Mail and Guardian website -- and from the ANC and its Women's League, and the SA Communist Party, among others.

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