Award-winning cartoonist Zapiro is in the firing line over a controversial cartoon that appeared in this week’s Sunday Times.
The drawing shows African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma unbuckling his belt in front of a woman who is being held down by leaders of the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP), the ANC Youth League and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
The woman in the cartoon represents the justice system, so identified by a banner across her body — implying that Zuma, together with the ANC and its alliance partners, is ”raping” the judicial system.
Zuma is currently facing corruption charges, though he has challenged the decision to charge him. Some of his supporters in the tripartite alliance insist the charges are part of a political plot to smear Zuma’s name.
Zapiro told the Mail & Guardian Online on Monday of massive reaction to his cartoon. ”Perhaps the biggest reaction ever in the shortest space of time,” he said.
He had expected the cartoon to be controversial, but not to this extent. ”The idea of this cartoon hit me in the same way it has hit readers, I think. When the idea popped into my head, I thought it was too heavy,” he said. ”But, later I reversed this thought. I thought, this is exactly what I want to say.”
‘Off the mark’
In a statement on Monday, the ANC, SACP and ANC Youth League said they deplored the Sunday Times‘s abuse of press freedom by publishing a ”disgusting cartoon” that ”borders on defamation of character and insults the integrity of the secretary general of the ANC, comrade Gwede Mantashe, and alliance leaders”.
Mantashe is one of the leaders holding down the woman in the cartoon.
”Zapiro has gone off the mark and he needs to be reminded of the basic tenets of press freedom for which insult and defamation are not counted amongst them,” said the three parties.
”We can only hope that the newspaper will find a suitable leadership other than the ranting dictator who finds joy in manipulating the truth,” they added. ”The ANC is keen that the public should get [Sunday Times editor Mondli] Makhanya to answer for abuse of press freedom by the Sunday Times.”
According to Zapiro, his cartoon depicts the ANC, Cosatu, the ANCYL and the SACP putting their allegiance to Zuma above the criminal justice system. He said: ”There are layers in this cartoon. The primary point is that Zuma is violating the justice system and the spirit of the Constitution. That violation is depicted as a rape.”
The violation of institutions is often described as ”the rape of institutions”, he said, adding: ”It has become part of the language and you can even find it in the Oxford dictionary.”
Secondly, he said, it is part of the Greek tradition to represent aspects of society through human figures.
”It has become general knowledge that justice is represented by a woman with scales of justice and a blindfold. It’s a figure that we understand to be justice. The ANC, the ANCYL, SACP, Cosatu — they know that, as every reader knows that. They do understand, but they pretend not to know that.”
Zapiro said that in this cartoon, Zuma should be seen in a metaphorical context. ”He is raping the justice system and they [Zuma’s political allies] are complicit in that.”
He continued: ”It’s unfortunate for him [Zuma] that he comes with his history [of the rape trial]. But that’s a secondary thing.”
More cartoon anger
SACP spokesperson Malesela Maleka told the M&G Online he was not only disgusted by the Sunday Times cartoon, but also revolted by Zapiro’s cartoon published in this week’s M&G.
The M&G cartoon shows United States presidential candidate Barack Obama’s nomination speech in a packed stadium, and then portrays Zuma holding his nomination speech in a stadium filled with his wives, children and lawyers.
Said Maleka: ”Does Zuma have so many women to fill a stadium? Does he have so many lawyers? No. So these cartoons are wrong. They don’t tell the truth, they are inaccurate.” He added: ”Zuma is not a rapist. What Zapiro does is beyond the line.”
Maleka said the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP are projected in Zapiro’s Sunday Times cartoon as organisations that don’t care about the criminal justice system. ”But if you read our statements you can only conclude that we are committed to the criminal justice system and that we want to run justice fairly to the people.”
Cosatu, demanding an apology from the Sunday Times, said it was also ”utterly disgusted” by the Zapiro cartoon. In a statement the trade-union federation said the caricature depicts Zuma as a rapist, despite the ANC leader having been found not guilty of rape charges against him.
”It [the cartoon] was clearly intended to poison the minds of the readers against the ANC president and support the campaign to discredit him,” Cosatu said.
Secondly, according to Cosatu, using the image of a woman who is about to be raped to represent the justice system was grossly insensitive in the context of a crisis of rape and violence against women.
Zapiro said on Monday he felt saddened by the fact that the editor of the Sunday Times stood accused by the ANC of abusing press freedom, with the ruling party even calling for Makhanya’s resignation.
Makhanya is under ”unbelievable pressure” now, and unfairly, Zapiro said. ”I have enough brains to think about this cartoon myself. Mondli Makhanya only supported me.”
In 2006, Zapiro was sued by Zuma in a R15-million defamation lawsuit for the cartoonist’s depictions of the ANC leader around the time of his rape trial. Several South African newspapers were also named in the lawsuit.
The amount was later dropped to R10-million and, after the ANC national conference in Polokwane last year, Zuma stated that he was lowering it to R2-million, and that the case was only about ”injuring his dignity”, said Zapiro. No court date has been set.
The Sunday Times was not available for comment on Monday.
On our Thought Leader blogging platform: