/ 27 May 2009

The show the SABC wouldn’t let you see

The <em>Mail & Guardian Online</em> brings you the documentary on political satire that the SABC has been sitting on since before the elections.

The Mail & Guardian Online can now bring you the documentary on political satire that the South African Broadcasting Corporation has been sitting on since before the elections in April.

The public broadcaster again pulled the Special Assignment show on Tuesday night.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said in a statement on Tuesday evening that the documentary would not be aired ”owing to the fact that due process with regards to consultation has not been concluded”.

What the SABC wouldn’t show you

The public broadcaster won’t put this on air. We will. Watch the uncut version of the Special Assignment documentary on political satire.

watch the video

It’s not hard to see why the broadcaster is stalling. Outside of a handful of examples — Pieter Dirk-Uys, for instance — South Africans are unused to political satire. African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema also showed his intolerance recently when he threatened to ”mobilise the people of South Africa to take militant action” against Nando’s after the fast-food chicken chain flighted an advert which took a gentle dig at the youth leader.

The documentary also explores the fact the President Jacob Zuma is still planning on suing award-winning cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro — who uses the pen name Zapiro — for a cartoon portraying him about to rape Lady Justice. Shapiro drew this cartoon as Zuma was involved in a court bid to have graft charges dropped.

Zapiro usually portrays Zuma with a dripping shower attached to his head. This was in response to a comment from Zuma during his rape trial in 2006 in which he stated he had showered after sex with his HIV-positive accuser.

Shapiro has since detached the shower from the now president’s head, telling the South African Press Association that: ”I thought I will take stock of where we are and give the presidency a chance to get going.”

Referring to the shower, ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte says in the documentary that Shapiro had taken a comment in the court case out of context and then used a ”derogatory” image — a shower — ”and thought that that would be funny”.

”I don’t think he’s [Shapiro] a small fish in a small pond. I think he’s a cog in a wheel … of right-wing elementary journalism that looks at people from a very one-sided viewpoint and doesn’t allow for the opposite views to come through,” Duarte says in the documentary.

”I think Jonathan Shapiro should be taken to court where a court can hear his side of the view and Mr Zuma’s side of the view and where it can be decided whether he should punitively pay for his race and class bias.”

Pieter-Dirk Uys comes out strongly in favour of free speech in the documentary, saying: ”That’s [satire] the only weapon we have — the weapon of affront through laughter. And that’s a democratic process. If you laugh you have an opinion.”

”Here is a man who is going to be the next president of South Africa who is suing a cartoonist, a satirist, for a cartoon. The president of South Africa … his most important commitment is the protection of the Constitution that guarantees our freedom of speech and expression. It’s a contradiction of terms, it can’t happen. Jacob Zuma cannot go into the presidency while he is suing someone for his freedom of speech. What the hell are we going to do about it?”

”If Jacob Zuma, President Zuma, is intending to sue us I challenge him to put me on top of his list because I will never, ever, ever allow him one moment’s peace.”

Dario Milo, a media law expert, is also quoted as saying in the documentary that Zuma’s case against Shapiro was ”problematic for our democracy”.

”It is going to create what lawyers refer to as the chilling effect on freedom of expression where there will be self-censorship by satirists and others when they are writing and expressing themselves because they’re worried about lawsuits.”

The documentary also shows a number of clips from Shapiro’s satirical Z News, in which politicians are lampooned through the use of puppets.

In Z News former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang appears to be operating on a patient and, with the words: ”This might sting a little bit but don’t you worry, a little garlic, olive oil and lemon juice never hurt anybody”, she squeezes a lemon into the wound.

This pokes fun at the minister’s penchant for treating the country’s people living with HIV/Aids with garlic and beetroot, rather than with antiretrovirals.

Another scene that may have given the SABC pause shows the Jacob Zuma puppet being interviewed in the Z News studios.

Zuma says: ”I have committed no crime. Accepting gifts in exchange for favours is part of my culture. Asking for my machine gun is part of my culture. So is satisfying a woman in a kanga. I have nothing to worry about. [Laughs] Worrying is not part of my culture.”

Kganyago told the Mail & Guardian Online on Wednesday afternoon that the episode had been postponed because some of its content may be interpreted as libelous.

”If your lawyers say something might be libelous you have to take them seriously. If we don’t tread carefully, then we will not be doing our duty.”

”If it gets the go ahead this week it’ll be on very soon.”