Zapiro draws line in freedom of expression fight

Cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro aka Zapiro.

The broader public should be able to say what it really thinks about leaders, especially those who “display hypocrisy”, according to cartoonist Zapiro.

The cartoonist, real name Jonathan Shapiro, was reacting to criticism of his latest cartoon, published in the Mail & Guardian on Friday. The cartoon depicts President Jacob Zuma as an erect grumpy-faced penis with a showerhead, looking at himself in a mirror hanging at the Goodman Gallery.

Artist Brett Murray’s signature is on the bottom right corner. Murray made headlines when his painting The Spear, showing Zuma with his genitals exposed, formed part of an exhibition at the gallery.


The limerick on Zapiro’s cartoon says: “Though sex is his publicised sport, Zuma took the dick-painting to court, Suing Brett’s free expression confirmed the impression, He’s as big a dick as we thought!”

Shapiro said: “My latest cartoon is meant to be scathing but humorous. It’s also serious commentary about a seriously flawed, hypocritical leader.”

The illustration is under the heading “The Spear to be raised at Social Cohesion Summit”, referring to the meeting called by Zuma earlier last week.

Shapiro said he did not put The Spear back on the agenda. “I responded to reports that it would be discussed at the Social Cohesion Summit,” he said. “The ANC asks why I didn’t come to the summit: I wasn’t invited. If I had gone there, I’d have said dissident views are vital in a democracy and are a force for change.”

He said The Spear matter had not been resolved properly.

“The ANC bullied the Goodman Gallery and the City Press into compromising. Freedom of expression suffered a blow.”

The cartoonist expressed scepticism about the summit because it was an attempt to “encourage conformity rather than real diversity”.

“Dissident views are essential for real change. Irreverence toward leaders who take themselves too seriously is a vital part of democracy.”

“If ANC spokespeople feel the cartoon should be ignored, then they are free to ignore it.”

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said it was up to Shapiro whether he wants to apologise for his latest cartoon.

The FXI’s Rashied Galant said in this case an apology wouldn’t make a difference in terms of the constitution.


Earlier, government spokesman Jimmy Manyi called on Shapiro and the newspaper to withdraw the cartoon, saying it was a “defamatory attack” on Zuma’s character and violated his rights to dignity as enshrined in the constitution.


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