28 Ramadaan 1438 AH • 23 June 2017

Zapiro’s latest cartoon seeking relevance from a tired audience

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By Rafieka Williams

The latest offering by satirical cartoonist Zapiro has caused yet another stir prompting outrage from the public calling for the cartoonist to be taken to task. The cartoon draws on a rape metaphor as a critique of the current political climate where the South African government has been “captured” by the famous Gupta family. Wits University Lecturer Dr. Barabara Boswell has critiqued the satirist for his stereotypical representations.

As soon as the cartoon was released on the Daily Maverick website, social media commentators lambasted  the visceral nature of his work for being distasteful and insensitive towards rape victims.

In an interview with eNCA, Zapiro said that he believed that it was a very real interpretation of what President Jacob Zuma’s leadership is doing to the country.

Dr Barbara Boswell, a senior lecturer at Wits university who works in understanding representation of race and sexuality is of the view that Zapiro had no place using rape as a metaphor and disagrees completely with his idea of empathy.

“It is shocking yes, he is going for shock but I don’t think that’s an empathetic response to have people who have experienced the violation of rape or sexual assault in this way,” said Boswell.

South Africa has one of the highest rape statistics in the world

She drew on her own experiences as a victim and how the cartoon may be deemed triggering for some.

“A lot of us women and men in South Africa walk around with trauma from rape or sexual violence or sexual assualt. It’s an endemic in our country, it’s an epidemic and a lot of us have those experiences.”

This was not the first time that the cartoonist has used rape as a metaphor. In 2008, he depicted President Jacob Zuma unbuckling his pants, while then-ANCYL leader Julius Malema, and then-tripartite alliance leaders Gwede Mantashe of the ANC, Zwelinzima Vavi of Cosatu and the SACP’s Blade Nzimande pin Lady Justice to the ground.

According to Boswell, his use of the rape metaphor has a way of reducing the experience of victims,

“There was a whole debate about rape as a metaphor – rape is rape! When you talk about rape and you talk about raping a country, it is not the same thing. There’s a way in which making these kinds of comparisons reduces what happens during a rape or how people have to live with the aftermath of that,” she said.

Women’s organisation joins in condemning and rejecting Zapiro’s latest work

In the same vein, the Women’s Legal Centre said the cartoon is an appropriation of women’s experiences and he could have used a different way to depict the country’s current political strife. According to the organisation, “South Africa has the highest rape statistics in the world, yet the majority of women do not report and this cartoon enforces the stigma and the reasons rape is under reported.”

They condemned the cartoon making reference to Zapiro stoking racial animosity by objectifying black women (and men). The WLC said it objected to black men always being depicted as hyper-sexualised rapists of black women’s bodies always available to be raped,which are seen as malicious stereotypes of black sexuality.

Speaking on the sexual representation of these characters, Boswell said: “It maybe seems to me there’s a kind of entitlement that goes with his credentials as a very well known almost celebrity satirist, artist. His credentials against the apartheid regime. And so he feels he has the moral authority to portray anything he wants to and to portray black men and women in that way.”

The Cartoonist has a history of sparking controversy for his work

There have also been arguments in the cartoon’s favor which state that Zapiro is an artist, and that art is meant to be uncomfortable. More so the fact that he is a satirical artist using his tools to highlight the very grave nature of Political leadership and the state of the nation.

However Boswell said that even as an artist, Zapiro has missed the mark.

“I think he very conveniently draws on the some lazy stereotypes which has dulled him as an artist. As an artist find a new metaphor, find a new medium, find a new way of conveying these truths. Surely as a creative, there are innumerable ways in which you can depict corruption. It’s a very tired, shorthand reliance on this rape metaphor, that is just sickening.”

In this light, Boswell said that while critique of the current leadership is welcomed and those in power deserve to be critiqued, the ways in which citizens do it, needs to be changed in order to be effective.

“I hope that as an active citizen, that there can be some fresh discourse around the scourges that we are facing, including corruption, governance and the very real scourge of rape and sexual assault,” said Boswell.

Listen to the Full Interview with Dr. Barbara Boswell here:

 

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