Reliving the Zupta years, one Zapiro cartoon at a time

Review: Vivien Horler

WTF – Capturing Zuma, a cartoonist’s tale, by Zapiro with Mike Wills (Jacana)

rape lady justiceIf, for some inexplicable reason, you wanted a reminder of the Zupta years, Zapiro’s new book fits the bill. And it’ll make you smile – wryly.

WTF is not Zapiro’s usual annual. This volume spans the years from 2005 all the way through to early this year, and is accompanied by commentary on what Zapiro was thinking as he drew the cartoons.

And it documents Zapiro’s own unhappy relationship with the former president, who threatened to sue him for an eye-watering R15 million based on three cartoons. Everyone remembers the one that upset Zuma most – his preparing to rape Lady Justice, who is being held down by Julius Malema, then of the ANC Youth League, SACP boss Blade Nzimande, then Cosatu president Zwelinzima Vavi, and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who is exhorting: “Go for it, Boss!”

But the first cartoon that upset Zuma was during his trial for rape of “Khwezi”, when Zapiro has Zuma being sworn in as a witness with his fingers crossed. “In their papers, his lawyers said that this cartoon implied that their client would either lie on the witness stand or was a habitual liar. I had no problem with that statement!”

The third cartoon cited in the lawsuit depicted Zuma as a pig leaving court after being acquitted of rape. The shower is on his head, he is wearing a cape depicting Zulu culture, firing a machine gun from his groin area, and is proclaiming: “My credibility is intact!”

The R15m Zuma wanted from Zapiro was just a relatively small portion of damages of R62m he was claiming from various media people and groups. Zapiro reminds us Zuma never won a cent of that money and in fact he abandoned all the suits.

The Rape of Lady Justice cartoon appeared in the Sunday Times on September 7 2008,  just before Judge Nicholson ruled on whether the NPA’s corruption case against Zuma could go ahead. It provoked a huge response, and the controversy  was covered by the international media, including the BBC, al Jazeera, the New York Times and the LA Times.

His first draft was drawn on the day that Cosatu announced a two-day national strike if the judge ruled against Zuma. Zapiro viewed this as an attempt to bully the court, and faxed the draft to Mondli Makhanya, then the editor of the Sunday Times, who was at a restaurant. Later Makhanya told Zapiro: “Yoh! Yoh! Yoh! I told the waiter, who was as black as me, to expect a fax and I saw him pick it up and as he looked at the cartoon, I swear he turned white.”

To his credit, Makhanya ran the cartoon. In Zapiro’s view, the most worrying criticism of it was from people who said it fed a prevalent SA stereotype of the black male as a sexual predactor.  Zapiro rejected this idea; his drawing was clearly a metaphor, he says. Within days of the cartoon being published both Mantashe and Zuma issued statements declaring they respected the judicial system – which led to more cartoons.

Then there was the accusation from Speaker Baleka Mbete, who told an angry crowd that the woman in the cartoon was white, and did this mean Zapiro was saying Zuma would rape white women?

Zapiro was buoyed by international medial support, including having the Cartoonists Rights Network International giving him their Annual Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning in Washington.

The cartoon was also included by Buzzfeed in a list of “15 Historical Cartoons that Changed the World”, coming at number 15.

Zuma’s governance has seen South Africa on a roller coaster over the past 13 or so years, and Zapiro has been a faithful chronicler. This book has clear and linking commentary provided by Zapiro and broadcaster and journalist Mike Wills.

The book also describes how Zapiro goes about creating his cartoons. Although his topic is the Zuptas, he finds a myriad imaginative ways of getting his message across: Zuma is portrayed as being grilled on a braai, as an Indian elephant “capturing” Pravin Gordhan, as a blood-sucking vampire bat, and as a Martian, complete with showerhead. There’s also a delightful cartoon of Shaun the Sheep, newly emboldened after Zuma’s departure, frightening Zuma with a “woof!”

This is history day by day, funny, clever, and a record of our time.

  • A version of this review appeared in Weekend Argus on Sunday on September 16, 2016.


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