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Why I refuse to self-censor

25 May 2016 - 09:44 By Zapiro

Twenty years ago, Pieter-Dirk Uys wrote an article with the headline "Zapiro ventures where comrades fear to tread". I suppose I have done it again.It's not as if I'm not aware of the risks associated with any monkey-like depiction in our racially charged political climate. It's just that I expect readers to read cartoons with a degree of discernment and I think those who do so would see that this cartoon stands up to scrutiny.I sometimes decide whether some negative responses to a cartoon may outweigh the impact of the message I'm trying to get across. In this instance, as with the many cartoons before this, I felt that the metaphor would be easily intelligible to readers across the board and that the two figures in the cartoon offset each other, one being human and the other not.President Jacob Zuma, who is actually the main target, is depicted in all his naturalistic humanity whereas Shaun Abrahams is depicted as the organ-grinder's monkey for the purposes of the metaphor. It is hard to understand how someone looking at the two figures together could come to the conclusion that I, as the cartoonist, have lapsed into generalised racist labelling.One of the strongest cartoons I have done over the past few years (Mail & Guardian, August 19 2010) illustrates the point.Shamefully poor presidents and prime ministers, white and black, are shown identically as part of a parody of the famous Ascent of Humanity diagram. And the only figure in the cartoon who is not depicted as a primitive hominid is a black person, none other than Nelson Mandela.Here, Madiba obviously represents the apex of our politics, the best of what all our humanity has to offer. READ MORE: Profuse apology over Zuma cartoon proffered by Gauteng schoolThe Gauteng Education Department has accepted an apology and a promise to never do it again from the school that used a Zapiro cartoon depicting President Jacob Zuma floating on a pool of money with a showerhead‚ in a school project. This particular cartoon did not create the kind of furore that yesterday's cartoon has done. I think people got it in 2010 and I was hoping that they would also get this one.I was disappointed that a tweet was sent out with only a detail of the cartoon - just the monkey-like figure of Abrahams - without the context of the full cartoon. That was never meant to happen. As I have explained, a depiction like this can only be done in context and it appears that this posting added unnecessary fuel to the fire.I am also disappointed with Eusebius McKaiser's criticism which appears to me to be a knee-jerk reaction like some of the others on social media.While McKaiser is eloquent in writing about "deeply embedded racist tropes", I think he deliberately avoids looking at the cartoon and instead panders to the politics of those who spend their time waiting to be offended and finding flimsy reasons to label people as racist.There are real racists out there to rail against.He says the cartoon carries no moral, aesthetic, political or legal insight. We all know that McKaiser was a star debater at Oxford. I'll debate him on this one. Name the time and place.READ MORE:Bok coach can catch both balls: Zapiro responds to Mbalula racism claimsZapiro responded to Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula's charge that his cartoon depicting the new Springboks coach was 'insulting' and 'racist'.As a cartoonist during apartheid and today's democratic era, I have always pushed the boundaries. When debating a potential cartoon before publication, the questions I ask my editors are "does it work?" and "can we justify it?"The toxicity of our current political climate makes it more difficult to be hard-hitting without self-censoring. While racism is something I have always fought against, some recent reactions to some of my cartoons appear to show that the situation is quickly reaching the point where self-censorship will be the order of the day.AND THE TWITTERVERSE GRINDS ON ...Firebrand (@simphiwedana): We have been complaining about Zapiro for years. Still he stands and still he practices his racism.Eusebius McKaiser (@Eusebius): @zapiro's crass cartoon carries no aesthetic, moral, legal or political insight, so letting Abrahams off the hook.#FightersAttack! (@Kathazile): Zapiro potrayal of black people has a racist undertone!!!Victor Dlamini (@victordlamini): It's quite something to watch a cartoonist in decline. The wit disappears, in its place blind rage.Mich! (@iammichiewill): I like Zapiro. Unapologetic and hits the political satire hard in order to get public reaction. Effective satire.Rama_12 (@Ruud_Luckson): Lol people get so worked up with racism... Racism is sth that doesn't consume me... U know ur not a monkey, so why pull yo hair off #ZapiroDN ? (@dumisani04): @zapiro Great work master We've always known, but this master, this, has to be your best work yet..

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