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Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Zapiro: I thought carefully

Cape Town - Cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro on Monday defended his controversial cartoon of Jacob Zuma preparing to rape justice, saying he thought "very, very carefully" before doing it.

The African National Congress and its tripartite alliance partners have condemned the cartoon as disgusting, while ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe labelled it racist.

The cartoon, published in the Sunday Times under Shapiro's pen-name, Zapiro, shows a blindfolded female figure labelled "justice system", being pinned down by Zuma's political allies.

The ANC president is depicted in the cartoon unzipping his pants, while Mantashe urges him: "Go for it, boss!"

Shapiro said he "absolutely" refuted the racism charge, and that his record in the struggle years spoke for itself.

"There is a very, very pronounced tendency in this country towards exceptionalism, as if our politicians are more sacrosanct than politicians worldwide. That I take issue with," he said.

"I really feel strongly that they have to take a hard look at what they are doing and not use the red herring of racism."

He said he was not surprised that the cartoon had provoked strong reaction, as the image was "outrageous", and a "very explosive thing".

Asked females friends' opinions

He had thought "very, very carefully" about how women would view it, and before publication sent it to several women friends whose opinion he trusted. Their immediate reaction was one of shock.

However they all then said that the cartoon not only showed graphically what was actually happening to the justice system and constitutional principles, but that it contained a second level of criticism on violence against women in a very patriarchal society.

Shapiro said the blindfolded figure of justice was an allegorical figure going back centuries.

"The fact that Jacob Zuma has this personal history is his problem," he said.

Zuma, who is president of the ANC, was charged with raping a young woman in 2006, but was found not guilty.

Earlier on Monday the ANC, its youth league and the SA Communist Party said in a joint statement that the cartoon was distasteful and "borders on defamation of character".

The organisations said the Sunday Times had disguised abuse as press freedom in publishing it.

Subliminal suggestions

In his blog Constitutionally Speaking, University of the Western Cape constitutional law academic Prof Pierre de Vos said on Monday that though he had always been a great fan of Zapiro, he wondered whether the cartoonist had now gone too far and done something "immoral and ethically deeply problematic".

He said he agreed with Zapiro that some of the leaders who had been championing Zuma's cause had acted despicably, and that Zuma, through his silence, had abetted them.

However he wondered whether by using the metaphor of rape, Zapiro was not "cheapening" the horror of the act and helping to desensitise people.

De Vos also asked whether Shapiro was undermining respect for the judiciary he was purportedly defending, by suggesting subliminally that Zuma should have been convicted in the rape trial.

His piece drew a flood of comments from his readers, most of them disagreeing with him.

"It is time someone drew attention to the shocking behaviour of these political figureheads and their most avid supporters," wrote Thea Beckman.

"We cannot allow a man who believes loyalty to be above the Constitution to take the reins of our country. Well done Zapiro."

From News24

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