Tanya Pampalone: I'm a fan of Zapiro, but...

Mail & Guardian features editor Tanya Pampalone.

Mail & Guardian features editor Tanya Pampalone.

I'm a fan of Zapiro. The president's moving showerhead is essential commentary, his Lady Justice was revolutionary (even if it was harsh to look at as a woman) and his prophet on the couch was well worth even the siege the Mail & Guardian offices went under those dark weeks in May of 2010. But this last one? I'm having trouble backing him up.

Because Zapiro sends in his editorial cartoon late on Thursdays, I didn't see it until early Friday – and that was only after I watched the tweets go up one after the other that morning.
I was left wondering what he had gotten us into now. 

Then I saw it: the president as a penis, with showerhead, at the Goodman Gallery with a little limerick. I didn't find the poetry in the penis or the rhyme funny or interesting for that matter or – and this was what got me – it didn't even seem necessary. Hadn't we gotten past this point? I scratched my head. Surely I was missing something. 

But the vision that swept over me was something like this: Jonathan Shapiro waking up Thursday morning in Cape Town, reading the papers, pouring a cup of coffee, taking out his scratch pad and scribbling "our president is a total dick" and then drawing him as a dick, like a teenager would of his mean high school principal. A sort of niener-neiner-neiner-the-president-is-a-wiener type of thing. A thought many of us have had over the years. 

Yeah, the president's social cohesion plan is a farce. (There's a surprise.) Certainly, the populist reaction to Brent Murray's The Spear was nothing less than a heinous, overwhelming and frightening thing to behold. 

Do I think the Mail & Guardian should not have run the cartoon? No. 

Do I think Zapiro could have come up with something a bit more eloquent and helped to move the discussion forward? Yup. Do I think that we should take it down? Never. It wasn't until the Saturday morning news reports that I figured out what I might have been missing. 

It was the reaction to the cartoon – to commentary that could have been ignored or dismissed, much like the Spear painting itself. 

Instead, Jimmy Manyi said the cartoon violated the president's "rights to dignity as enshrined in the Constitution"; the Women's League said "calling the president of this great nation a 'dick' is unacceptable"; and Numsa said they could "come to no other conclusion" other than "some white progressives of yesteryear have become racist and colonialist". 

It was then that I realised: It may just be that those reactions were precisely the point.

Tanya Pampalone

Tanya Pampalone

Tanya Pampalone is the executive editor of the Mail & Guardian, where she oversees print and digital enterprise and narrative journalism projects including eBooks and special editions, such as the popular end of year and annual religion issues. Tanya occasionally lectures on media ethics and editorial independence at the Sol Plaatjie Institute at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. In 2012, she won South Africa's top journalism award, the Sikuvile, for creative writing and was a finalist in the feature writing category. In 2013, Tanya was selected as the Menell Media Fellow at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy in the United States. Currently, she is on the editorial board of the Menell Media Xchange.Tanya has more than 20 years experience living and working as a writer, columnist and editor for magazines, newspapers and online publications in the United States, the Czech Republic and South Africa. She has a BA in journalism from San Diego State University and a master's in writing from the University of San Francisco. Her work has appeared in Chimurenga's Power Money Sex, Cityscapes, Empire, Food and Home, Los Angeles Reader, Mail & Guardian, Maverick, Newsweek, Prognosis, San Francisco Examiner and The-African.org, among others. Read more from Tanya Pampalone