The Zapiro cartoon showing ANC president Jacob Zuma about to rape Lady Justice debases Zuma's humanity, and is a "recycling of the age-old racist stereotype about the uncontrollable, sex-crazed black male", writes Xolela Mangcu in Business Day.

Xolela Mangcu writes in Business Day:

I HAVE been racking my brain trying to figure out why Jonathan Shapiro’s (aka Zapiro) vulgarity is deemed more acceptable than Julius Malema’s “kill for Zuma” call. Could it be that Shapiro is a cartoonist who uses metaphors to get his points across? Could it be that as a journalist he enjoys freedoms and immunities that Malema does not? Or could it simply be that Shapiro is white and Malema is black?

Let us explore each of these hypotheses in turn. The argument that Shapiro’s cartoon is a metaphor for what is happening to the justice system is the weakest. If Shapiro is entitled to metaphors, then so is Malema. Shapiro tried arguing that the cartoon had nothing to do with Jacob Zuma’s rape trial. If anything, that response showed his contempt for the thinking public: the cartoon itself is the ultimate artistic expression of contempt for this society, its institutions and its values.

The cartoon is defended in the name of a warped notion of freedom of expression that arrogates to journalists the right to insult and demean others, while at the same time using that same notion as a defence against being demeaned, and threatened by the likes of Malema. In that sense journalists want to have their cake and eat it.

But is it not ironic that the same Shapiro, who pretends to defend the justice system, actually mocks that system’s acquittal of Zuma on rape charges in this cartoon? The hypocrisy lies in the fact that not once did Zuma ever defy our courts, or mock their decisions the way Shapiro has done in this cartoon. It is Shapiro who is resorting to extra-judicial tactics, not Zuma.

And what should we make of the argument that this is critical art at its best? I was never trained as an artist or a journalist. But is there anything in art or journalism school that demands that criticism should amount to the debasement of other people? Has Shapiro stopped to think that on the other side of his drawings is a human being, with children and grandchildren? Has he stopped to think that it is when people are stripped of their dignity that they resort to dangerous reprisals?


This brings me to the matter of race. The cartoon appears within the context of a series of articles that are simply contemptuous of black people. The cartoon is a recycling of the age-old racist stereotype about the uncontrollable, sex-crazed black male. What business does a family newspaper have carrying this stuff? And what are our children supposed to make of it — that their leaders are a bunch of gang rapists? And even if you do not want to accept the Zuma acquittal, on what basis can you infer that Gwede Mantashe and Zwelinzima Vavi and others in the cartoon are gang rapists?

I saw that cartoon and felt ashamed of being associated with an industry that debases people in this manner. What happened to empathy for other people, however disagreeable we may find them? Isn’t that, after all, the gift of Nelson Mandela — who found some good even in the most racist criminals? Or is that a gift that only white people deserve, while people such as Zuma are undeserving of any modicum of respect as human beings?

Shapiro may disagree with Zuma but he is not entitled to demean his humanity. The cartoon reminded me of what Njabulo Ndebele once described as “the desecration of black bodies in present-day South Africa”. He called for a “shift in white identity in which whiteness can undergo an experiential transformation by absorbing new cultural experiences.… An historic opportunity has arisen for white South Africans to participate in a humanistic revival of our country”.

There is a certain mob psychology about Zuma in the media and among the so-called elites that I find frightening. The only problem is that mob psychology only begets mob psychology. This is a long way of saying there is a race war waiting to happen in this country, and people such as Shapiro will have played no small part in fanning the flames.

* Mangcu is convener of the Platform for Public Deliberation at the University of Johannesburg and the author of To the Brink: The State of Democracy in South Africa. This column first appeared in Business Day on 11 September 2008.