Don't worry, Nelson Mandela can laugh at himself. At least that's the opinion of Jonathan Shapiro, South Africa's leading political cartoonist for 20 years, whose work has not shied away from ridiculing the foibles of the anti-apartheid icon, according to a report on


In Shapiro's latest exhibition, the South African leader is shown as more famous than the British queen, as an elderly statesman with greater stamina than an Olympic sprinter and as a saint, albeit with his halo slipping.

The exhibit opened on Tuesday at Mandela's Johannesburg offices as part of year-long celebrations of the former South African president's 90th birthday.

Much of the work lauds Mandela's role as national liberator and reconciler of South Africa's multi-cultural "rainbow nation". There are cartoons of him bending over backward to meet the widow of prime minister Hendrik Verwoed, regarded as the architect of apartheid.

There are also poignant drawings of Mandela's farewell speech when he stepped down as the country's first black president in 1999, and of his announcement of his son's death from Aids.

"Mandela embodies the greatest things that came out of the struggle (against apartheid) and since democracy," Shapiro, who signs his work Zapiro, said. "It is this spirit I have tried to tap into."

But even Mandela has not been immune from Shapiro's razor sharp drawings skewering politicians.

"It's fantastic to have the opportunity as a cartoonist, as a satirist, to criticise an icon like Mandela and know that he understands that criticism," Shapiro said, adding that Mandela and others have told him how much the statesman enjoys his work.

The exhibition contains cartoons lambasting Mandela for foreign policy missteps during his reign, most notably when he accepted an award from former Indonesian dictator Suharto.

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