[DEBATE] : The Zapiro cartoon: Press freedom or press freedoom?
azwell at ecsecc.org
Wed Sep 10 21:58:29 BST 2008
I find Christi's arguments below very persuasive, especially where she deals
with the metaphor of rape and women. I am also agreeable to the fact that
the cartoon overstates the "threat to the judiciary".
I wonder, though, was it by choice or simple neglect, that Christi does not
explore the possible relationship between the metaphor of rape used, and the
view that many unreconstructed white racists have of Africans here - that
they are violent rapists, and that they cannot be trusted to do otherwise,
than has happened all over the post colonial African Continent, with
I have struggled to dismiss the cartoon as an honest expression, as Shapiro
himself has said, of merely his views that the ANC is posing a threat to the
judiciary, and perhaps nothing else. And I have failed. I have read numerous
expressions of support on the Sunday Times website of this cartoon, from
white readers mainly, saying exactly this: you cannot trust these unthinking
raping bastards not to rape the justice system.
Further, I wonder, could Christi and all those who have actually criticised
the cartoon, not see that in fact behind the "leaders of the ANC" depicted
in the cartoon, there are millions of supporters and members of the ANC,
SACP and COSATU, and that the cartoon in fact says they too are actually
"rapists" for wanting, at the expense of doing harm to the justice system,
to have the charges against Zuma withdrawn?
There is also the nagging worry in my mind - the woman who is being raped
cannot be an African, seeing as the notion of "justice" as a woman is a
Western thing. It is quite frightening to imagine the implied message: these
savages are about to rape............
There are those who are arguing that this is "press freedom". I am
uncomfortable with the extremely skewed access and control, along race,
gender and class lines, which is the lot of the media in South Africa. I
wonder how angry illiterate Africans will enjoy "press freedom" to respond
to the cartoon, especially if they are supporters of the ANC and Zuma?
The more I look at the cartoon, the more I seem to get convinced, that it
actually represents press freedom, rather than press freedom!
From: debate-bounces at debate.kabissa.org
[mailto:debate-bounces at debate.kabissa.org] On Behalf Of Sean Jacobs
Sent: 10 September 2008 04:38 PM
To: debate at debate.kabissa.org
Subject: [DEBATE] : Christi van der Westhuizen on Zapiro and Zuma
Zapiro, Zuma and us
With his latest Sunday Times cartoon, Zapiro has ventured where angels
should fear to tread. I am saying "should" because it shows that
journalist-cartoonists can be as desensitised as other South Africans about
the social crises that beset us.
I am talking about his shameless use of rape as metaphor.
South Africa has been staggering under an epidemic of sexual violence
against women. It is not hypothetical, it is not imagined - it is real.
Flesh-and-blood people are suffering actual rapes, sometimes repeatedly, and
frequently in the form of gang rapes.
This is the context in which Zapiro presents us with an image of a woman
being pinned down by certain political leaders as ANC president Jacob Zuma
undoes his pants in apparent preparation to rape her.
The woman is purported to represent "Justicia" - she is blindfolded and the
scales of justice are lying next to her. The cartoon depicts what would be
regarded as a gang rape, as more than one man is involved in committing the
The primary question is: Can this image be justified in a context of rampant
rape and sexual violence against women?
We should remind ourselves that journalists are as much products of their
society as anybody else. They can be as prejudiced, or as blind to
prejudice, or as unable or unwilling to empathise with fellow human beings
as the next person. Indeed, it is accepted in journalistic circles that
journalists are probably even more desensitised about human tragedy because
it is their bread and butter.
We should also be aware that the Sunday Times has a dismal record when it
comes to depictions of women. It is unusual to see women with agency in its
pages. To get into the paper in general, women have to evoke certain
stereotypes (that is, "mad woman" Manto Tshabalala- Msimang); or be
reducible to their bodies (which happens in photographs on the main paper's
front and back pages, on the Business Times's front and back pages and
sometimes inside the paper as well).
In this particular newspaper a cartoon is published based on an extremely
literal interpretation of "they are raping the justice system". The sense of
a lack of imagination is reinforced by the hackneyed use of "Woman as
representation", in this case as "justice".
The use of Woman as the object of representation is enabled by the process
of othering. This is the basis of the Western intellectual tradition with
its hierarchical binaries: form/matter; man/woman; white/black and so forth.
The second term in these dichotomies is reduced to an aspect of the
essentiality of the first term.
Women as real-life subjects are obscured by Woman as object of
representation: Woman as "justice" or "the British empire" or "the nation" -
or even as a ship or a car that is referred to as "she". In contrast, men
are deemed subjects with agency that choose justice or to expand the empire
or to drive a cabriolet.
The cartoon draws on this tradition. The technique of othering is what makes
possible a cartoon showing a woman about to be raped against the background
of daily rapes. Zapiro has said in the media that he tested the image with a
few women before its publication. Did he test it with victims of gang rape?
Thousands of women have been sexually violated in our country.
Clearly their response to the image was ultimately regarded as secondary to
the "larger political point". A woman is yet again rendered an object to
illustrate a political point.
This is not only lazy thinking but also problematic. At the heart of
violence, sexual and otherwise, lies the practice of othering. We see that
with the attacks on foreigners and local "others" (Shangaans, Vendas); we
see that with violence against women. We see that in the use of rape as
weapon of war against the bodies of women who symbolise "the nation" - not
"ours" but "theirs".
The cartoon doesn't just stick to symbolism. Its impact lies in its
straddling of the reality of women's lives and the representation of Woman
as justice. This is the nub of the dis-ease that people say they feel when
looking at the image. It uses the very real experiences of thousands of
women to make a political comment on power-politics between male
protagonists. Note, however, that it is not criticising rape. It
uncritically uses sexual violence as the method with which
(male) power is entrenched. It therefore reinforces the attitudes that
create the conditions for sexual violence.
Another measure of whether this image is justifiable in our context is the
political comment itself. Over the past several weeks we have had direct and
indirect threats from the parties concerned (the ANC, Cosatu, the SACP, the
ANC Youth League) regarding the continued pursuit of the prosecution of
The threats boil down to: South African society will be turned upside down
if the court case against Zuma is pursued. There is a faint hint of the
"make the country ungovernable" public-insurrection phase of the 1980s.
More direct attacks were launched, particularly ANC secretary general Gwede
Mantashe's evaluation of the Constitutional Court as "counter-
revolutionary". There is Justice John Hlophe's alleged attempt at
influencing the Constitutional Court on the Zuma case. Meanwhile, the
Scorpions are being dismantled as part of the attempt to stop the case.
There has also been a slight backtracking by ANC deputy president Kgalema
Motlanthe and Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi. The former chastised
the ANC Youth League over its pronouncements. The latter wanted to reassure
"minorities" that the ruling alliance did not seek to undermine the
judiciary. The ANC has declared that while the Constitutional Court is not
above criticism, the party will continue to "uphold" the Constitution.
The cartoon does not reflect any of this. Even if we were to argue that
these later reassurances have been flimsy and that the damage has been done,
the cartoon still does not make sense. At most we can have a gun against
Justicia's head (if we were to persist with the problematic use of Woman as
Finally the cartoon falls because of its logic of victimhood. It is
overstating both the victimhood of women and the victimhood of the
In the case of the former, it capitulates to the popular media's favoured
depiction of "women as victims", thereby reinforcing patriarchal attempts at
robbing women of their agency. This, combined with its use of an objectified
woman, makes the cartoon profoundly sexist.
Regarding the victimhood of the judiciary: yes, it is true that the ruling
alliance has launched several attacks on the rule of law. But does the
ruling alliance have the judiciary/rule of law helplessly pinned down? No.
The judiciary has strongly resisted the attempts to undermine it - from
reporting Hlophe to the Judicial Services Commission to finding against
former premier Ebrahim Rasool's attempt to abuse the judiciary against an
Zapiro and the Sunday Times owe South Africans an apology.
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