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Cartoon sauce for the political goose
Storm of protest over political cartoon
A storm of protest has broken over the head of a cartoonist in South Africa for his depiction of the President of the ANC, Mr Jacob Zuma, apparently about to "rape" a blindfolded figure of justice.
The cartoon is a reference to the ongoing political and legal problems around Mr Zuma arising from the allegations of corruption that have swirled around him for years and which led to his sacking as Deputy President of South Africa a few years ago. Mr Zuma has vociferous backing from certain quarters, though the true extent of his support has yet to be tested by an election.
The cartoon in question has elicited heated comment from those it featured. These comments have ranged from the usually overheated president of the ANC Youth League Mr Julius Malema's comment that the cartoon was "racist" and exposed Zapiro's "attitude not only about black leaders, but about black people in general". Difficult to see that in the cartoon, but I guess that's his opinion.
The Tri-Partite Alliance, consisting of the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), in a joint statement said: "We have never attacked the judiciary, but criticised unfair treatment of our president. This we did in a normal public discourse of a democratic society. There can, therefore, be no justification for such unwarranted insults on our leadership by the Sunday Times."
The cartoonist himself, Jonathan Shapiro, who publishes under the nom de plume "Zapiro ", has said that he thought very carefully about the cartoon and even asked some of his female friends about their reactions to it before it was published.
He further said: "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."
The recent New Yorker "Obama Cartoon Scandal" is an example of this. In this cartoon, published on the cover of the famous magazine, Obama is depicted as a Muslim, giving a fist-bump to his wife, who is carrying a machine gun slung over her shoulder (umshini wam'?).
An Obama spokesman said of the cartoon: "most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."
Political commentator Jon Stewart, on the other hand, attacked both the press and the Obama camp for over-reacting to the cartoon: "Obama's camp initially agreed that the cartoon was, quote, tasteless and offensive. Really? You know what your response should have been? It's very easy. Here, let me put the statement out for you. Barack Obama is in no way upset about the cartoon that depicts him as a Muslim extremist, because you know who gets upset about cartoons? Muslim extremists. Of which Barack Obama is not. It's just a f**king cartoon!"
Politicians of all stripes tend to get pompous and myopic about themselves and take themselves far too seriously. Cartoonists are there to punch holes in their fat stomachs, to bring them down a peg or two, to put them in perspective.
South Africa has a long history of political comment by cartoon, which was used widely during the apartheid era, and the tradition continues. Without this kind of pointed and barbed comment we could be deluded into taking the politicians far too seriously, to our own detriment.
Stewart hints at this in his comment. Those who over-react to cartoons are those who are terrified of criticism, and criticism is the life-blood of democracy. Without it democracy is in grave danger. As no-one in a democracy is above the law, not even Mr Zuma, so no-one is above the pointed barb of the cartoonist, not even Mr Zuma, or Mr Obama, for that matter.
Getting defensive signals a weakness. Its just an effing cartoon, for goodness sake!