/ 11 December 2008

Z-man meets Z-man

Where The Mandela Files reveal a reverential relationship between cartoonist and president, Pirates of Polokwane (Jacana) shows Zapiro at his sharpest and occasionally his angriest as the Z-man meets the other Z-man.

Since ANC president Jacob Zuma faced rape charges and said in his defence that he took a shower after having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman, Zapiro has drawn Zuma with a showerhead attached to his skull.

The shower leaks a single drop, an image so violently phallic and graphically distorting that it has caused a personal breach between the two men. No matter that Zuma was acquitted, no matter that he has tried hard to ameliorate the fallout of that rape trial, the shower is now a fixed feature in Zapiro’s work.

Though many commentators entreat him to turn off the faucet and remove the showerhead, it is now a fixture and likely to remain so when Zuma becomes president next year (it is a case of when, not if).

The shower serves as a symbol of memory that means none of us can forget that rape trial no matter how presidential an image Zuma may try to project.

He is half-man, half-chameleon — Zuma’s head drawn to ensure his eyes bulge, just like a chameleon’s. This is Zapiro’s trenchant criticism of the ANC president’s ability to tell varied audiences exactly what they want to hear.

Polokwane was a turning point in Zapiro’s relationship with the ruling ANC. He is from within the mass democratic movement, and this year his cartoons moved from a position of broad if critical support to often dark and outright disgust at what has become of his movement.

His ”Zumbie Highway” drawing falls into the category ”it’s so funny it makes me want to cry” because although the first instinct is to laugh, the second is to feel a deep sadness at how well he captures the continued slide toward sycophany and blind loyalty in what used to be one of the world’s finest liberation movements.

Pirates of Polokwane is not only a fun stocking-filler but the work that will mark the year in which Zapiro became our imbongi, the man who sought to speak truth to power.

In September he was back on the front pages when the ANC was enraged by his image of Zuma about to rape Lady Justice, her hands held down by the ANC president’s lieutenants. ”Go for it, boss!” says secretary general Gwede Mantashe, the man who called judges counter-revolutionary. In his short explanation beneath the drawing Zapiro says: ”They’ve vowed to kill, demanded a ‘political solution’, threatened anarchy and smeared and bullied judges.”

Amid the hype and threats, Zapiro was back the next week. Same image but with one speech bubble from Zuma: ”— But before we start, I just want to say how much we respect you!” For these cartoons, Zapiro has been called racist and criticised even by commentators who prize freedom of expression. Their cry: he has gone too far.

Buy the book — cartoonists who don’t go too far are not worth their crayons.