If you are reading this, then you have likely seen today’s Zapiro cartoon. If you haven’t, you can see it on Daily Maverick. I’m not going to reproduce it here, both because I haven’t asked for permission to do so, and because some folk who I hope to engage via this post might think it’s needlessly provocative to do so.
Earlier today, the ANC Women’s League released a rant about the latest Zapiro cartoon, which I won’t reproduce here for fear of being shot. But the rant has now disappeared from their website, although you can read Jackson Mthembu’s (typically reflective) opinion if you like. I happened to have a browser page open to the rant, so it’s posted below. I took the liberty of making a couple of corrections to it.
ANCWL condemns latest Zapiro excuse for satire
6 July 2012
The ANCWL condemns in the strongest possible terms the disgusting and completely distasteful depiction of the President in the latest Zapiro cartoon.
David Jonathan Shapiro has taken his attempts at satire too far. He clearly does not understand the reasons for the public outcry over “The Spear” and why it was hurtful to so many people. The cartoon is an insult to those who suffered under the indignity of Aapartheid and a slap in the face to real efforts for advancing the social cohesion of our fragile society. Shapiro is showing his disregard for the healing process which is currently underway in South Africa after the divisive era before democracy.
The furore created by “The Spear” is a clear indication that we still have a long way to go. The Zapiro cartoons rely on their shock value to make an impact, but
by calling the President of this great nation a “dick” is unacceptable and the WL would like to know who the we he is referring to in the cartoon actually is, as the majority of the population who voted for the PresidentANC clearly did not think this of Zuma. This cartoon is a clear attempt to fuel divisions in our society and should be condemned by all proud South Africans, regardless of race or political affiliation.
The right to freedom of expression is a right enshrined in the C
constitution, a constitution pioneered by the Multi-party Negotiating Process and Constitutional Assembly ANC, however this right is not absolute and one must always remember a founding princip ale of our constitution is the right to human dignity, which was denied to so many during apartheid. The cartoon like the painting before it, is a violation of the President`s right to dignity and an insult to the people of South Africa. It serves no public interest what –so –ever and was clearly just an attempt to insult and defame the President further.
Zapiro has gone from being a sometimes controversial, yet relevant satirist to a sensationalist arbiter of attention–seeking prop
eraganda er released purely for its shock appeal, and serves absolutely no purpose in society. DavidJonathan Shapiro has declared a hatred for South Africans with this insult to the President, of not only the ANC but the entire country. This disturbing cartoon was released the day the President will be addressing a massive delegation of women from across all sectors of society who are deeply disgusted by this terrible portrayal of our country’ ies President.
Troy Martens (on behalf of the ANCWL)
ANC Women`s League National Spokeswoman
Contact: 078 120 9880
e-mail: [email protected]
ANC Women`s League National Spokesperson
078 120 9880
011 376 1055
P.S. A (somewhat) corrected version of the statement has now been released. ANCWL CONDEMNS LA
STEST ZAPIRO EXCUSE FOR SATIRE
As submitted to The Daily Maverick
We would all prefer to be able to respect the President of South Africa, but he certainly doesn’t make it easy for us. I’m aware that – as Ray Hartley pointed out in a Times Live editorial last week – some South Africans may believe that Jacob Zuma’s elected position demands respect, because he is something more than an average or typical citizen.
But there is no necessary symmetry between respecting an office and respecting the person who happens to hold that office. And whatever symmetry might exist is counterbalanced by the responsibility those in high office hold to set an example for the rest of the country – not in their private lives, where I’m happy for them to do what they like, but rather in how they think it appropriate to relate to criticism, and how they choose to deploy the resources available to them.
As submitted to The Daily Maverick.
Yiull Damaso’s painting of an imagined autopsy of Nelson Mandela has provoked outrage similar to that generated by Zapiro’s recent Mohammed cartoon. The outrage is similar in its severity, and unfortunately also similar in its knee-jerk thoughtlessness. Most troubling, the similarities extend to having to hear yet another argument in favour of the censoring of free expression on the grounds of cultural or religious sensibilities.
The painting, adapted from Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp”, shows a deceased Mandela being autopsied by Nkosi Johnson, while FW de Klerk, Helen Zille, Desmond Tutu and others look on. It is, of course, the portrayal of Mandela as deceased that is causing most of the consternation, on the grounds that this portrayal consists, variously, of witchcraft, disrespect, a violation of dignity, and a “insult and an affront to values of our society” – at least according to ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu.
As with the Zapiro cartoon, we can and certainly should ask whether images like these are in unacceptably bad taste. If they are, we should say so, and hope that we can persuade artists of the legitimacy of our point of view. Having fewer offensive artworks in our purview would no doubt make for a more comfortable life. But one person – or one group, no matter how large – does not have the authority to define what counts as unacceptable and what doesn’t, except within their own cultural universe.
The original text of this column, first published in Daily Maverick.
We all find something offensive. Many of us might prefer to live in a world which caters to our sensibilities, and limits how much offence we have to tolerate. I would like for everybody to be able to spell, for example, and also for most uses of quotation marks in advertising to be outlawed. Unfortunately, nobody seems willing to offer me any legal assistance towards achieving these outcomes.
Jonathan Shapiro (a.k.a. Zapiro) is an equal opportunity offender – that is, if you like to think of what he does as offensive at all. There’s no doubt that some people have been, and are, offended by some of his cartoons, but that is a separate matter from whether they are in fact offensive, objectively speaking.
His role as a social critic and commentator leads him to sometimes poke at open wounds, yes, but almost always in a way that reveals the underlying prejudices that cause significantly more harm than any harms caused by the cartoons themselves.
The cartoons challenge their audience to reflect on whether their feelings of outrage are justified, and also whether others – like Zapiro – may be justified in feeling that there is something worth critiquing, challenging, and even sometimes mocking, in opinions and beliefs that we sometimes take far too seriously.
Targets of his satire are drawn from a pool which has historically admitted just about anyone, and anything. If he has an axe to grind, that axe is most likely composed of inflated egos, undeserved reputations, malfeasance against the equal treatment and dignity of all – no matter how rich or poor, influential or invisible.
We should remember that critics of this sort, who offer a courageous perspective on current events, and try to point out details that we might be missing, serve an enormous public good. It’s very easy for all of us to end up with our heads buried in the sand, or stuck up our own (or another’s) backsides to the extent that we forget that our outrage may be ill-construed or illegitimate.
Today, Zapiro’s cartoon for the Mail & Guardian was the subject of a last-minute attempt to stifle press freedom. The Twitter feed of the unfolding events makes for interesting reading, in that Molana Bam’s primary argument appears to be the standard one where representations of Muhammad are concerned – namely, threats of violence.
Not directly, but nevertheless, the cartoon is a “threat to harmony”, and “stirs emotion”. A much larger threat to harmony, perhaps, is the struggle involved in reconciling Bronze Age beliefs with the modern world, and the curious tolerance that it requires those of us who try to govern our lives according to knowables. Tolerance, that is, of beliefs that are shared by fanatics who try to kill cartoonists and authors who represent aspects of that belief.
If you are a believer who is not inclined to fanatical – and criminal – action, you certainly should feel aggrieved when cartoons like this are published. But the cause of your aggrievement should be your less civilised brothers and sisters, who make such comment necessary – not those who make the comments.
The points made by Zapiro, as well as by past examples of this same issue, are a reminder to you to get your house in order, so that there is no longer any need to mock or ridicule.
You do this most effectively from the inside, by persuading people who take faith as a way to justify paedophilia, homophobia, oppression, murder, censorship and all sorts of other social ills that they have lost their way, and that surely a god worth taking seriously would not want you to do those things.