Little political escape from Zapiro

2011-04-20 14:00

Cape Town - South Africa's apartheid state locked him up, Nelson Mandela was a fan and Jacob Zuma is suing for millions: all have been rich pickings for the fearless satire of cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro.

From slapping down Aids denials to taking a dig at Zuma's multiple wives and offspring, his distinctive cartoons spark furious outrage to applause for their spot-on commentary of South Africa's political peculiarities.

"South Africa is one of those countries where it's absolutely amazing to be any kind of commentator, critic, satirist, cartoonist, stand-up comedian," said Shapiro who signs off as "Zapiro".

"We often say there's more stuff happening here in a week than in six months in some other places. It's right up there - there's always some unbelievable things going on."

Watchdog pen

Little escapes his watchdog pen: last year he replaced a tower at Zuma's presidential offices with a giant penis to mock his stance on Aids after news broke that he had fathered a baby out of wedlock.

Shapiro, 52, plonked a shower faucet on top of Zuma's head after his bizarre utterances on showering to prevent HIV infection while on trial for rape five years ago, for which he was acquitted.

The leader has sued twice. First for cartoons from the rape trial, in a case Zapiro says is still "simmering", and again in 2008 for showing him unbuckling his trousers about to rape Lady Justice ahead of the dropping of drawn-out corruption charges on the eve of his presidency.

The latter drew an initial summons last December for R5m.

Shapiro's response? A cartoon showing Zuma as his publicist.

"We thought that this would just fall away. I still can't see how it can benefit him to rake up all this stuff again now that he is president and he's got big issues to deal with," said the cartoonist.


"I'm not worried about it because I know we'll win it. I know that it's going to cause a lot of embarrassment here and internationally for him. All it's doing is upping my profile. I didn't ask for that but I don't mind."

Back in the heady years of South Africa's march to democracy, Mandela's magnetic charisma made it difficult to be critical of the global icon.

"I've always loved drawing him," he said.

One cartoon has a beaming Mandela sitting next to Queen Elizabeth in a horsedrawn carriage on a state visit with a British policeman wryly remarking: "The next bloody tourist who asks who's the little old lady with Mandela..."

"The real magic comes when you least expect it and doesn't always come. Some of those cartoons just stand out and really become funny or clever," he said.

In a classic Mandela touch, the anti-apartheid hero made a surprise telephone call in the late 1990s to tell Shapiro that he was upset that his cartoons would no longer be in a Cape Town daily.

‘I draw what I see’

When he responded that his cartoons had become more critical over the years, Mandela told Shapiro that was his job - something he describes as "the single most powerful moment I've ever had as a cartoonist".

"It really nailed for me that understanding that Nelson Mandela has had of satire, of criticism, of not being defensive. Unfortunately his successors haven't had that kind of ability to understand those things and to support them."

Shapiro, whose daily and weekly newspaper cartoons can be seen on and in 15 books, says media freedom is critical as Parliament debates a new information bill and the ruling party pitches a state press tribunal.

His attitude has not changed since he was detained without trial by apartheid police in the 1980s.

"They said ‘why do you draw us as pigs?’ I said, ‘I draw what I see’. Which of course didn't go down that well," he said.

"And I'm still doing that today."

  • nuclear - 2011-04-20 14:50

    Brilliant - Keep up the good work!

  • SaintBruce - 2011-04-20 14:59

    Don't let up Johnathan. Your cartoons are an important record of our History - better than stuffy text books anyway!

  • Shorts1 - 2011-04-20 18:45

    Keep going Zapiro. Your pictorial view of the current state of political developments here in South Africa makes my day & gives me some hope that eventually sanity will prevail in this country. Your annual compilations are fast becoming much sought after collectors' items. Your cartoons are not seen as being racist, but rather a fantastically perceptive & realistic insight into the South Africa of today. Keep going so as to ensure that many of us can smile at least once each & every day.

  • porra 1 - 2011-04-20 19:36

    ANC supporters time to hear the president take a shower after forcing someone down with condom boycott condoms not made bay ANCircos keep up the good work

  • Ang - 2011-04-21 08:38


  • Ivor Cuthill - 2011-04-21 08:47

    Please carry on as we see the truth as it should be!

  • The Dad - 2011-04-21 10:50

    there are only a few true South Africans. President Mandela is #1. Zapiro is #2. A few others follow!

      Davorin - 2011-04-24 17:47

      Fred Durst is the third.

  • Fred703 - 2011-04-21 11:19

    I love this fellow

  • Hannah - 2011-04-21 11:20

    We love you Zapiro! keep up the excellent work, the truth can hurt, but we all love you for keeping it real, you put the truth in black and white and we all need that - even those that think they dont. Thank you xxxx

  • JOHNNYBRAVO - 2011-04-21 11:38

    you carry on sir! bravo and well done!

  • rammstein.f4n - 2011-04-21 11:40

    "It really nailed for me that understanding that Nelson Mandela has had of satire, of criticism, of not being defensive." - Because Mandela is a good man, unlike his successors. He has nothing to hide.

  • MarcusMagnus - 2011-04-21 12:27

    Zapiro For President

  • Cliff - 2011-04-21 17:52

    Don't ever stop Jonathan!

  • Mordred - 2011-04-22 00:11

    I have nothing but admiration for Zapiro and he only speaks the truth through his cartoons that even Mandela respected him. The only people who are not happy with him are people who have something to hide.

  • Monica - 2011-04-22 22:19

    At least there is a little laughter; whilst the tax payer has to watch how their money is washed down the Criminal Parliament we have and their double standards.

  • Rev. H-Cubed - 2011-04-23 00:17

    Zapiro deserves every ounce of his legendary status. He has always provided a sane perspective on an insane world. A living struggle hero and a national treasure.

  • Quaere Verum - 2011-04-23 09:21

    I think you should be given an entire page in the paper every day!

      Martin du Plessis - 2011-06-15 13:55

      Well, he certainly gets given enough material by our guuuvermant for that, but the poor guys arm!

  • jacques.stenvert - 2011-04-23 12:46

    Thank the stars for people like him. It challenges one's perpectives which is always a good thing!

  • anton.dwl - 2012-07-06 14:24

    Zuma brings ridicule on himself, don't blame others when you are the problem. Well done Zapiro

  • patsy.smith.125 - 2012-07-06 21:37

    Good for you, Zapiro. Go for it!

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