As we continue to see the decline of editorial cartoons in newspapers and we raise questions about appropriate political satire, a story in the New York Times’ blog about a South African political cartoon reminds us of the power in a sketch.
Jacob Zuma, leader of the ruling party in South Africa, has been accused of corruption and even rape. (He was acquitted of the rape charges in 2006.) But it appears he’s more bothered by the work of top political cartoonist Zapiro.
Zapiro drew a vicious, almost disturbing image of Zuma unbuckling his belt, looking down on a woman labeled “Justice System,” blindfolded and held down by leering men. (Check it out here.)
From Zapiro’s Web site:
On Wednesday 17 December the Sheriff of the Court served Zapiro with a letter of demand claiming R7 million – R5 million for injury to Zuma’s reputation and R2 million for injury to his dignity ‘ to be paid within 2 weeks, failing which Zuma will take Zapiro to court.
Zuma also cites The Sunday Times in his claim. The Sunday Times and its editor, Mondli Makhanya, have stated they are fully behind Zapiro. They are prepared to stand by their decision to publish the cartoon and will contest the case through their legal representatives. . .
. . . Zapiro is also convinced that, if this case does go to court, freedom of expression will be upheld. He feels that the courts will uphold his right as a satirist and as a cartoonist to criticise public figures harshly, even when the images he produces are offensive to some.
The U.S. has decisions like Flynt v. Falwell to uphold the rights of cartoonists and satirists to lampoon political and public figures. I won’t pretend to know the first thing about South African speech laws, but I can certainly hope that Zapiro will not end up in jail for a cartoon.
Like Zuma and Nelson Mandela, Zapiro was a political prisoner during the apartheid regime. Yet more reminders that political cartoons can have more impact, and of the importance of free speech.
Check out more of Zapiro’s work at his site or at the excellent Mail & Guardian newspaper’s site.