Jacob Zuma unzipped: a cartoon too far?
The ANC leadership is disgusted – but most South Africans see the joke, says ASH Smyth
As Jacob Zuma returns to court today to battle yet more corruption charges, South Africa's pre-eminent cartoonist has spectacularly inflamed debate over the ANC leader's fitness to govern in the run-up to next year's presidential election.
In last week's South African Sunday Times, Jonathan 'Zapiro' Shapiro depicted the presidential heir apparent unzipping his fly while his political cronies pin down the (female) 'Justice System' and urge him on.
Zapiro is one of Zuma's most public and persistent critics, and this latest cartoon is shocking, even by his standards. In a country rightly preoccupied by violent crimes, any depiction of rape, however allegorical, would provoke strident reaction. The fact that Zuma himself was tried for rape in 2006, and acquitted, makes Zapiro's move even more courageous, not to say foolhardy.
The cartoon drew condemnation from the ruling alliance. The Secretary-General of the ANC called it "disgusting", and the Congress of SA Trades Unions (Zuma allies, shown in the cartoon) accused Zapiro of stoking up swartgevaar - the 'black menace' of apartheid hysteria.
Media pundits have been cautious in backing Zapiro; the public far less so. A poll by South Africa's News24 has 80 per cent in favour of the cartoon with a mere six per cent against, indicating support for the message, the depiction and the role of the cartoonist as one who speaks truth unto power.
Zapiro knows what he is doing. Though he dismisses the racism charge as a red herring, he acknowledges that the image is "outrageous" and that he thought "very, very carefully" about it. Initially he, too, wondered if it was "too heavy". But many agree that the rebuke is long overdue.
Notwithstanding Zuma's infamous propensity to rush to the courts in an effort to silence his detractors, Zapiro is unapologetic: "The fact that Jacob Zuma has this personal history is his problem." ·
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