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The sharpest of nibs

Updated on March 27, 2011

being zapped by Zapiro

“The diversity of our nation and its young democracy gives endless opportunity for showing up our weaknesses and shortcomings, and Zapiro has impaled them on the sharpest of nibs. But if that were all Zapiro was about, his skill would be nothing more than a diversion. His genius lies in a natural gift combined with a passionate desire to will this country and its extraordinary people into realizing their potential, to being good for each other and good for the world.” – Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu in the foreword to Zapiro’s 1997 collection of cartoons, The Hole Truth.

Since the 18th Century, or for almost 300 years, pictures with a message have been used to put across a point of view, to “explain complicated political situations, and thus sum up a current event with a humorous or emotional picture”, using “visual metaphors and caricatures”, according to the Wikipedia article on editorial cartoons ( - accessed on 9 October 2008).

Clearly in this tradition is South African cartoonist Zapiro (real name Jonathan Shapiro) who has recently been under fire for the now-celebrated “Zuma raping justice” cartoon published in the Johannesburg Sunday Times in early September.

This cartoon certainly qualifies as an “emotional” picture as it elicited heated responses from many different quarters ranging from death threats against Zapiro to support of the cartoon.

In one of the most thoughtful reactions columnist Max du Preez wrote: “Zapiro's cartoon was strong, even cruel. But it was exactly what we needed. At the heart of the ANC leadership's recent madness was their attack on the courts and their threats that they wouldn't allow Zuma to be convicted by a court of law. They were, indeed, preparing to violate our judicial system - and our constitution.”

Du Preez went on: “ Zapiro had done what a great cartoonist (and political satirist) should do: grab people by the shoulders and force them to take note of something. And then contemplate it, and talk about it. And how we have done that!”

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Sex and race

Many of the comments about the cartoon raised the race issue, some accusing Zapiro of racism. Others objected to his use of rape as a metaphor in the cartoon.

Indeed Zapiro has used sex in a number of cartoons over the years. One which at the time (1997) also raised many eyebrows depicted former president P.W. Botha, who had just married a much younger woman after the death of his first wife. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had just issued a subpoena to Botha who claimed to be too ill to appear before it in spite of being very politely invited to do so by commission chair Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu (who himself has been the subject of Zapiro cartoons).

In the cartoon Botha is shown in bed with his new wife saying: “A TRC subpoena?! Impossible! Unh! Unh! I’m suffering ill health!”

Zapiro does not confine his jabs to South African issues either. One from 2003 at the time of the US invasion of Iraq shows US soldier having sex with a TV journalist on a tank, with the tagline: “Embedded Journalism.”

George W. Bush has also come in for his fair share of disrespectful depictions.

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Doing something right

Over the years Zapiro has come to be recognised as a cartoonist who shows up hypocrisy effectively, sometimes almost brutally. His sharp nib very quickly cuts away the layers of rhetoric to expose the underlying lie. And no holy cows are spared.

Recently a new political party has split off from the ruling African National Congress (ANC). This party, led by an ex-ANC cabinet member and an ANC provincial premier has called itself the Congress of the People (Cope), a reference to the 1955 Congress of the People held in Kliptown, Johannesburg, which drew up the famous Freedom Charter which has guided anti-apartheid politics since then.

Zapiro drew more fire late in 2008 for the cartoon that was published which put the ANC and Cope into the Nativity story. Many religious types were upset by the cartoon.

So now he has the politicians and the religious people upset – he must be doing something right!

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Not always Zapping

Zapiro is not always zapping people, though. He has produced rather poignant cartoons to commemorate people who have died, especially two South Arican musicians: Moses Molelekwa, a brilliant young pianist who died in early 2001; and the famous Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa, who died late in 2008. These cartoons show a high degree of sensitivity.

Cartoonists can represent the conscience of a country, that's why they make us squirm!

See results

Music by Moses Molelekwa

Copyright Notice

The text on this page, unless otherwise indicated, is by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Copyright on all the cartoons here is held by Zapiro - please respect that. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2009


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    • tonymac04 profile imageAUTHOR

      Tony McGregor 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Micky - thank you, my brotherman!

      Love and peace


    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      7 years ago

      Awesomely useful, beautiful, and funny. God bless my BrotherMan TonyMac!

    • katyzzz profile image


      9 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Great cartoons, I had a good laugh but you are obviously very committed, well done.

    • sixtyorso profile image

      Clive Fagan 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Great Hub Tony You kind of pipped me at the post with this one but i was not so sure of Zapiro's international appeal. But you hit the sweet spot. well written and appropriately illustrated.

    • The Old Firm profile image

      The Old Firm 

      9 years ago from Waikato/Bay Of Plenty, New Zealand

      As I've done a few satirical lampoons in the past (of no great merit) and been suitably punished for my effrontery, I'm in full sympathy with this hub. The pompous need their bubbles pricked, the dangerous need showing up. How better than with a cartoon?

      Good one Tony.

    • goldentoad profile image


      9 years ago from Free and running....

      Those are great, good to see him strike a nerve. Especially nerves that need to be struck.

    • countrywomen profile image


      9 years ago from Washington, USA

      Tony- Great cartoons and write up. I only wish the text and cartoons were separated so that I can see the Cartoon and read the write up about that then again see the cartoon then read about it and so on. I am with you that cartoonists have a tough job to depict the reality in a funny way with as few words as possible. Another great hub.


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