Whether you love him or loathe him, and there are plenty of people in both camps, you have to admire Zapiro’s fearless approach and refusal to bow to public pressure.
Every now and again we cover his efforts and the ensuing backlash, but it’s his Jacob Zuma potshots that have seen him come under the most fire.
If you happened to miss his Zuma send-off cartoon, do pop in here, but let’s get down to the business of his most controversial cartoon.
In his new book, WTF: Capturing Zuma – A Cartoonist’s Tale, Zapiro opens up about what came to be known as ‘the Rape of Lady Justice’ cartoon, published in September of 2008.
An extract of the book can be found on the Daily Maverick, so let’s dive right in:
Of all the cartoons I have ever done, this one provoked by far the greatest response. It was attacked, praised, debated and analysed on public platforms, on TV, on radio, in newspapers and in huge volumes on blogs and online media. The controversy surrounding the cartoon was covered in many international media, including the BBC, Al Jazeera, the New York Times and LA Times.
The cartoon was the subject of formal complaints to the Human Rights Commission and would soon draw a legal suit from Zuma. Thanks to those legal proceedings, I have a detailed record of exactly how this cartoon came about in the form of my affidavits and submissions…
The process I usually follow when preparing a cartoon is this: I write down various subjects, then I write down my attitudes towards those subjects, and then I link the subjects and attitudes with arrows and create a mind map before, lastly, considering the best method to visually portray what I have put down in words.
In my view, Zuma and his supporters were determinedly and systematically undermining the entire legal system until charges against him were dropped or the courts ruled in his favour. But how to portray that? When brainstorming the idea, I wrote down the words Zuma was “raping the justice system”. It suddenly occurred to me that the metaphorical figure of justice was a woman and that all the main role players were male.
The first rough drawing came to me in one swift concept, unlike the way my ideas usually develop. Part of what I wanted to depict in the cartoon was that Zuma wasn’t doing much of the talking himself. His supporters were making most of the damaging statements concerning the judiciary and effectively egging him on. So, even though he was the prime rapist of the system, the others were facilitating the attack in a manner similar to a gang rape.
Zapiro further elaborates on the thinking behind his cartoon, but it was the reception, and the immediate controversy that follows, which made for such drama:
Debate raged about the cartoon’s validity. Every person portrayed in it (except Lady Justice!) attacked it directly but the most worrying criticism for me came from some who said the cartoon fed a prevalent South African stereotype or trope of the black male as a sexual predator. I don’t believe that was the case at all. I’m extremely conscious of the racial power imbalance in this country — of white people setting agendas and defining constructs for identity…
The cartoon entirely reflects Zuma’s own behaviour as a powerful politician whose portrayal is defined by his actions and not by his race. And the cartoon is deliberately not graphic in its portrayal — it suggests an event without explicitly portraying it…
Senior ANC figure Baleka Mbete deliberately and dangerously misrepresented the cartoon, saying to the angry crowd of thousands:
“The woman in the cartoon is white. Is Zapiro saying that Zuma will rape white women?” In the drawing Lady Justice clearly has an African appearance, something I have tested on many audiences and readers. (Since 1996, I had been drawing her as a black woman to represent justice in the new South Africa.) Zuma repeated the racial calumny when I later confronted him on radio. He questioned why Lady Justice was white.
We know he wasn’t shy of repeating the dose – remember this from April of last year?
Perhaps that’s because legal rulings found in his favour:
The Human Rights Commission would rule in June 2010 that the cartoon was “political expression published in the public interest and deserved heightened protection”. They said the cartoon was not incitement or hate speech and did not infringe the right to dignity of women or rape victims. The finding did have an odd rider, however. Having exonerated me in their ruling, the commissioners added that they found the cartoon and the words to be “probably distasteful and offensive”, which was a curiously subjective expression from an official body.
I remain convinced that the cartoon was entirely justifiable.
I’m sure many would disagree, but it’s quite a feat to nail down the most controversial cartoon in South Africa’s history.
Zapiro continues to poke the bear, like his effort earlier this week related to Shaun Abrahams being booted from the NPA:
He definitely got the eyebrows on that sheep just right.
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