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Dear Jonathan ‘Balls of Steel’ Shapiro

By Lukhona Mnguni

I by no means wish to call you balls, even though many out there wish to call you such. Just that one of the Mail & Guardian journalists felt it appropriate to say you have “balls of steel” upon seeing the cartoon that got tongues wagging. You did after all unambiguously call the president of South Africa a dick.

I hail from the same stable as you, the one described by extremists as “The Haters of Zuma”. Don’t worry, the reality is that if they created “The Friends of Zuma” they then automatically imagined that surely haters too must exist. If your business is cartoons, mine is open letters, hence I’m writing to you and not drawing you.

Illustrations, which you thrive on, are a powerful means of communication, particularly because they are simple and yet heavy and complex in meaning. They are meant to be educational tools, provide consciousness, draw people’s attention to significant realities they may not be aware of and they are meant to be a light-hearted form of communication. It may take a single glance; it may take repetitive glances to get the core meaning of a certain illustration.

No one and I mean absolutely no one can justifiably be turned into or labelled a dick, for the simple reason that such is a misrepresentation of human nature. Many people have taken serious issue with your latest cartoon. I wish not to explore their reasons, but some said you are seeking attention. I think that is a naïve argument. Why would a grown up, well-established cartoonist, such as yourself seek attention? A man who has the privilege to publish in the Mail & Guardian, The Times and the Sunday Times should have no issues with attention. After all you are or were a significant household name, time will tell.

Zuma may indeed be a philanderer, an indecisive leader, an aspiring intellectual at the age of 70 years who still cannot confidently craft a written argument for the nation to debate upon. He may be a lover of skirts more than he is a lover of governing this country. He may indeed be the most undeserving to lead this country, he may be the weakest link for the future we are approaching, the cause of undoing the gains SA has made thus far and indeed he may be normalising and institutionalising mediocrity as well as inadequate governance riddled with corrupt practices. Be that as it may, all these shortfalls and weaknesses are housed within a human body and not a dick.

Furthermore, if you wish to degrade Zuma’s stature in society through this cartoon, you may do well not to use a dick. The usage of a dick by you is playing on old stereotypes, of assaulting sexuality, particularly black people’s sexuality. There is absolutely nothing wrong with black dicks, there is everything right with them, I too have one and I love it greatly — deal with it. Find something else to play with, not our dicks. This is my first point of correction to you.

Secondly, you must have learnt by now that dishing controversial — gutter — material does not give birth to decent and genuine dialogue. In a statement you claim that “cartoonists and the broader public should have the democratic right to be irreverent about leaders, especially leaders who display hypocrisy”. Here you tell us that, dissenters are unable to be sober, respectful and decent in their dissent with a hypocritical leader. In essence you are teaching society that rudeness is the best way to go. Therefore, those who lack inability to display such mockery and disrespect should have no business dissenting with a “hypocritical leader”. Your form of commentary was selfish, it undermined the country and you shifted the focus on one person, Zapiro, instead of the National Social Cohesion Summit. That is the worst form of narcissism I have come across in a long while. Perhaps because you were not invited to the summit, talk of sour grapes!

Let me share with you that I no longer call Zuma “my president” even though he is. I wrote him an open letter when I disowned him. But as a champion of frank and open dialogue, principle does not allow that I sit in my comfort zone and allow you to go unchallenged as you call Zuma a dick. I write to you because you have now impugned the space of dialogue in the country. You have soiled in our good intentions to continue to show South Africa why Zuma is not the best man for the job. You have marred this space of dialogue with a sense of drunken commentary. If you had any consciousness at all, the Brett Murray incident should have taught you that extremism has been dealt a heavy blow. It is not that South Africans, especially black people, are unwilling to listen, they just do not take kindly to extremism that seems to be trampling on the “dignity” of black people in specific.

You have drawn controversial cartoons before such as Lady Justice and even the pornographic one you did following the Brett Murray debacle whereby you had Zuma’s wives with their breasts naked — pity the ANC Women’s League was so silent on that and yet are vocal all the time when Zuma’s dick is up for discussion. The majority of the controversial cartoons you have coined have started frank dialogue on issues, but calling Zuma a dick cannot be condoned. If we are led by politicians who are playing with our government in the mud, ours is not to join them in the mud. Ours is to rescue our government out of the mud and leave this breed of politicians to continue their play-play in the mud.

Once you provide scandalous controversy that Zuma can use to appeal to his constituency emotionally, you yourself as a provider display great systematic ignorance and show the poorness of your intellectual tools to detect what kind of discourse serves to provide support for Zuma and which one doesn’t.

Feeling good that a few white people, which may seem like a lot to you, keep cheering you on is a false sense of being on the right track. You are on the right track only when the majority of black people agree with the manner in which you disagree and dissent with Zuma and his government. Because the truth is that, it is these black people that determine the fate of Zuma. Specifically the intellectually poorer black people who are easily persuaded by emotional politics. You would do wisely to refrain from striking such form of pathetic controversy because all of us who disagree with Zuma will start being associated with it and that would render our voices illegitimate and I for one am not ready to be compromised by the silliness of a grown up man who feels his freedom is now to be vulgar when dissenting.

Go on, draw a cartoon that mocks all of us who disagree with you on this issue of you calling Zuma a dick and see if that will not be the end of you.

Progressively written,

Lukhona Mnguni

UKZN student, community and development studies