By Jessica Edgson & Craig Wynn
From edgy satire cartoons to ‘God-Zille’s’ angry ratings and accusations, our nation’s new President, Jacob Zuma, must be getting used to bad, or at least controversial, publicity. It therefore must have come as quite a shock when a little weight was taken off his head recently.
South African cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro, otherwise known as Zapiro, removed the controversial showerhead from President Zuma’s head in his cartoon for The Times on Tuesday, 12 May. Zapiro, who was awarded with an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University last year, attached the showerhead for his depiction of Zuma for the first time in 2006, after the latter’s infamous HIV/Aids comment at his rape trial.
The showerhead has come to represent Zuma’s “tendency to say odd things and behave slightly weirdly,” Zapiro told Sapa. The cartoon in question has Zuma at the presidential desk with the showerhead suspended in the air with a notice attached, saying “temporary suspension”.
Some may feel that the removal of the showerhead was influenced by pressure from the subject, but Zapiro denies this. “I thought I would take stock of where we are and give the presidency a chance to get going,” said the popular cartoonist. Zapiro has not, however, removed the showerhead permanently and claims that the moment Zuma steps out of line it will be back.
Simon Pamphilon, lecturer for the Journalism and Media Studies Department, described the way in which Zapiro has gone about dealing with the subject in this cartoon, and others, as “typically brilliant, both in what he has said about it and the way he has depicted it visually.” He added that the detachment of the showerhead by Zapiro was done at the right time and, also “on his own terms and humorously.” When asked whether the media is too hard on Zuma, Pamphilon said “I don’t for a moment think the media as a whole should relax its scrutiny of any president, let alone one who comes in with so many unanswered questions.”
The defamation cases against Zapiro, opened by Zuma after the rape trial cartoons first appeared in 2006 and then again with the controversial “Lady Justice” cartoon, are to continue. If Zuma is to win the civil suits, Zapiro may face paying up to an estimated R7 million in damages to the President.