South Africa’s cartoon mess
mg.co.za When Danish cartoonists satirically depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed in 2006, few found it funny. The New Yorker felt a less violent backlash when it depicted Barack Obama and his wife in terrorist garb. The latest cartooning casualty? Jacob Zuma, head of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) and a likely sucessor to President ...
When Danish cartoonists satirically depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed in 2006, few found it funny. The New Yorker felt a less violent backlash when it depicted Barack Obama and his wife in terrorist garb. The latest cartooning casualty? Jacob Zuma, head of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) and a likely sucessor to President Thabo Mbeki. The hit? A cartoon in the country’s popular Sunday Times newspaper depicting the leader set to rape the justice system in the form of lady liberty.
The most offensive cartoons are those that hit just a bit too close to home, and this latest Zuma depiction certainly does. Jacob Zuma, who rode to power on his audacious Zulu nationalism, is a provocative character. On Thursday, a judge will rule on whether it is legal to charge Mr. Zuma with counts of corruption, money laundering, and fraud, first filed against him over two years ago. Zuma is more famously remembered for accusations that he raped a friend of his daughter, who happened to be HIV positive. Though he was acquitted, (he claims the encounter was consensual), AIDS activists can’t easily forget that he told a court (and the public) that he merely took a shower to prevent infection.
The Mail and Guardian newspaper, home of the offending cartoonist, offered its own explanation of the weekend scandal that left the country questioning and debating if the paper pushed too far. Said one reader,
Zapiro has an insatiable hatred for Mr Zuma and will use any event to publicly humiliate him. It’s no longer funny.”
The paper claims that the cartoonist, Jonathan Zapiro, meant only to express his exasperation with Zuma’s ability to get off the hook, as well as his contribution to a patriarchal society. This is not the first time that Zapiro’s cartoons have criticized national politics, but most of the time, this has simply helped make him one of the most famous artists in the region (even boasting his own facebook application).
South Africa’s ANC, the South African Communist Party, and the COSATU labour federation — also depicted in the cartoon — didn’t take the satire so well, saying it borders on defamation.
Whoever is right, the battle will play out on the streets, where thousands are expected to show their support for Zuma outside of court on Thursday. With so many rooting for the leader’s evasion of justice, it’s a bit easier to understand how Zapiro could fathom depicting one of Zuma’s ANC colleagues shouting out: “Go for it, Boss!”
Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
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