Crowd review – Zapping Zapiro

No cartoonist has ever enjoyed as central a place in South Africa’s public debate as the agent provocateur we call Zapiro. While there’s a lot we love about him, we also have some issues. The #Trending team takes a critical look at his new book Democrazy, which tracks his spectacular career over the past two decades

1. Rape of Lady Justice

1 Thanks to presidential legal action, the rape of Lady Justice is Zapiro’s most famous cartoon. It’s also one of his most notable satire fails. While the September 2008 cartoon was a necessary piece of commentary on the threat posed to the judicial system, Zapiro fails with his use of rape as a metaphor.

In a country with a massive rape problem, where only one in nine women report their cases, it is completely unacceptable to make light of this gross violation of human rights to make a point. Is it impossible for people to understand that nothing is like rape? Not the petrol price hike, not what Eskom charges, and certainly not what happened after 2006 in Zuma’s run-ins with the law. Take Zuma on, but don’t take rape survivors with him. - Gugulethu Mhlungu

2. Mandela

2 Critics have accused Zapiro of deifying and sanitising Nelson Mandela. He is held up as the gold standard against which all subsequent presidents are measured. And so, in my opinion, this only shows that Zapiro is in touch with the majority of South Africans’ sentiments. Mandela truly is seen as the father of our nation.

His last speech in Parliament in March 1999 marked the end of an era. This cartoon so perfectly captured the zeitgeist of that period, and the melancholic feeling that came with knowing Tata’s time as our president had ended. Without being alarmist or playing into the “after Mandela” fear tropes, it really was almost as if the sun had set on our nation. - Grethe Koen

3. Father of the entire nation

3 This February 2006 cartoon was meant to serve as comment on Zuma’s apparent philandering indiscretions. It appeared after a judge recused himself from Zuma’s rape trial because the accused had fathered an illegitimate child with the judge’s sister. Zapiro’s professed outrage at what could be termed “Zuma’s moral lapses” may be welcomed.

But by what value system is he judging? The cartoon depicts members of the ANC Women’s League with Zuma standing before them with his hands in his pockets. He is visibly sexually aroused. Here Zapiro plugs into the long-standing racist tradition that pathologises black male sexuality and frames black females as helpless victims of it. - Percy Mabandu

4. Democrazy

4 ANC Problem #943 must be commended for capturing the prevailing mood during the height of Julius Malema’s rise in November 2008. Depicting the infamous Juju in nappies with his back to the audience, Malema gleefully farts away at the crowd. Sure, Zapiro’s a Juju hater and not all of us are, but what makes the work so excellent is that the cartoonist managed, with his incisive satire, to defuse a tense situation, so to speak.

His depiction of Malema as a baby highlights the particular protection the youth leader received in the governing party. It also paints a compelling portrait of his temperament at the time. Zapiro is brilliant at such characterisations and metaphors. - Siyabonga Sithole

5. Buggered

There’s a lot I admire about Zapiro, especially his heroic fight for free expression. As an artist, he has kept honing his skills. In fact, one of my all-time favourite cartoons is a Zapiro – the one that reads “whites who never benefited from apartheid” and the entire frame is blank.

But what gets to me is his love of showing sports victories as one team buggered by another. It plays into the age-old locker room homophobia. It depicts gay sex as unnatural, as an act of violence and revenge – and then to top it all (see what I did there?) rape underlines the equation. I’ve had it with the “papa-wag-vir-jou” meme. - Charl Blignaut

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