Alison Tilley
Alison Tilley

That cartoon

Rape. It is a hard thing to think about, and not usually the subject of cartoons. Did the Zapiro cartoon cross the line? And what is that line, anyway?

I don’t think it crossed the line. Michael Trapido thinks it did, and argues (in his blog “Will Mondli fire Zapiro?”) that it did so for two reasons. Firstly he suggests it is tantamount to a rejection of the findings of a judge operating within the system Zapiro seeks to protect, and secondly he says it lacks sensitivity.

So it crosses two lines — contempt of court, and contributing towards a climate of violence (I guess a sort of hate-speech charge). Well, the judge did find Zuma not guilty of rape. But the cartoon doesn’t say Zuma was wrongly acquitted. It doesn’t even portray him walking away after a rape. It portrays him as unzipping his pants. I can’t see how that is contempt of court. Of course it refers to the earlier case against Zuma, and that resonates through the cartoon. But contempt?

It definitely lacks sensitivity. But on the other hand, we use phraseology around rape all the time. “I got screwed”, “he is being fucked over”, “it is all fucked up”. Put it into a context where there is visual aid, a cartoon that reminds us about what we are really talking about, and there are delicate shrieks from all and sundry, averting their eyes from such things. Come on, people. We live in a very violent society, in which rape is a very serious issue. And now everyone is fussing because of a cartoon? What about fussing about rape? Don’t you think that would be a bit more to the point?

Is the cartoon defamatory? Does it lower Zuma’s standing in the eyes of right-thinking people? Is it untrue? That is the delight of political cartoons, of course. All these things are very hard to prove in relation to cartoons. After all, you are not supposed to take them seriously. They are, by definition, supposed to be funny, even if in a grim sort of way. If you got up on a public platform and called Zuma a rapist, that would be defamatory. But depicting him unzipping his trousers in relation to a concept called “justice”?.

Zapiro is making a point about Zuma violating the justice system, and his friends helping him. Zuma is indeed using the justice system. (Isn’t it interesting that “use” is an old-fashioned way of saying “rape”?) He is defending his rights to the full extent of the law. Is he also undermining the integrity of the judicial system, or if not he, then those acting in his name? That is the question that the cartoon poses. And it is a good question to think about. And that is the job of the political cartoon.