The murder of staff of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo demands the strongest condemnation as well as assurances of future protection of media freedom, South Africa’s best-known cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro said on Thursday.
The cartoonist, who uses the pen name Zapiro, expressed concern that these were not forthcoming from the country’s political class.
“If there is a dearth of comment from the leadership here it shows something problematic — that they don’t hold freedom of expression very dearly,” he told Sapa.
“There is nothing equivocal here. What is called for is an unequivocal condemnation of this terrible act by every leader everywhere in the world in any democracy. Also I would like to see assurances of the right of the press to freedom of expression here.
“If that is not there, it is inadequate,” added Shapiro, who described himself as “utterly devastated” by the killing of French colleagues by suspected Islamist fundamentalists on Wednesday at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris.
The weekly’s editor Stephane Charbonnier and his protection officer were gunned down along with arguably France’s three other most famous cartoonists – Jean Cabut, Georges Wolinski and Bernard Verlhac -economist Bernard Maris, other magazine staffers and a second policeman.
The attack, which claimed 12 lives in total, was condemned by the department of international relations and co-operation, and by the African Union.
On Thursday, Eyewitness News tweeted that ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe began a meeting in Saldanha in the Western Cape, which forms part of the run-up to the ruling party’s 103rd anniversary, with a call for a moment of silence for those who had died during the festive season and in the Paris attack.
But the presidency and the country’s three biggest political parties –the ANC, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters — did not issue separate statements on the deadliest attack on French soil since 1961, despite inquiries from this correspondent.
Opposition leader Helen Zille, however, tweeted the solidarity slogan “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), with the comment “Words fail”, later adding: “Everyone, everywhere who believes in an open society is heart-stricken.”
Political analyst and academic Steven Friedman termed the attack “horrendous” and likened it to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, but said he thought local political leaders had not reacted vociferously because they calculated that it did not carry the same resonance with their voters.
“I have drawn the conclusion that it is not a huge deal to them.
“If politicians here thought it was something that would get their supporters hot under the collar they would have issued commentary, but it is simply not a big deal for them,” he said.
Friedman said that despite the country’s numerous Muslim population, the threat of a radical attack was considered a remote possibility.
“A perceived Muslim threat is a marginal issue in this country,” he said, adding that by contrast South Africans were emotive about the Middle East conflict because it carried a divisive resonance of the apartheid era.
Shapiro said he feared that the Charlie Hebdo murders would have a dampening effect on cartoonists but would seek to avoid it affecting his work.
“I want to simply continue to do what is possible. I want to try to not resolve to not do things,” he said. SAPA