Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

Zapiro cartoon on justice system is justified

The outrage expressed by Numsa at the latest Zapiro cartoon in the Mail & Guardian fails to take into account the extreme nature of the circumstances giving rise to its conception. If it had done so it should have been hard-pressed to condemn it as “distasteful” and “deplorable”.

As things stand, we are witnessing an attempt to circumvent the legal system of South Africa in order to accommodate an individual.

The granting of medical parole to Schabir Shaik is, at best, highly dubious and certainly not in accordance with our laws. What is becoming evident is that any attempt to call upon parties to justify their conduct during the parole application, or thereafter, is either being stymied or ignored.

Having obtained Shaik’s release the question of fast-tracking a pardon has come to the fore. In this regard President Jacob Zuma has met with former apartheid hitman Eugene de Kock and speculation is rising about a possible trade-off. Pardon one from the left and one from the right and everyone goes home happy (in theory).

In reality you are allowing a party to the biggest corruption trial in South African history and a man who murdered people for their political beliefs to walk free because it has become expedient. In both cases a presidential pardon would be an insult to the majority of the people of South Africa, in truth, a total disregard for the laws of the country.

If those laws are unacceptable to people there are mechanisms to change them; what is happening at the moment is that existing laws are being ignored — which is how you fast-track an entire legal system towards anarchy.

That is what is actually “distasteful” and “deplorable”.

Against that backdrop, Zapiro has drawn a cartoon.

As a result Numsa claimed: “Whilst we respect and uphold the Constitution and freedom of expression, it does not give cartoonists licence to undermine the fundamental rights to dignity as guaranteed in the Constitution.”

This is a very astute description of the two rights in conflict here: freedom of expression versus the right to dignity.

Unfortunately, what most people tend to forget is that neither right is absolute and an individual party’s right to be protected thereby have to be assessed in accordance with the situation in which they present themselves.

In the context of Zapiro’s cartoon:

  • The parties involved are accurate.
  • While it may seem a drastic way of putting it, the criminal justice system is being raped. “Rape of a criminal justice system” is quite often how cartoonists and journalists describe the political abuse thereof.
  • The situation being described ie holding down the criminal justice system in order for individuals to get their own way is also accurate.

While the cartoon may have a shock effect, it pales into insignificance when compared to the repeated shocks that the public are being subjected to every time the truth is revealed about what is going on in this particular matter. In respect of De Kock alone, many of the people who were at risk of being executed ie black South Africans, are unaware of just how evil his deeds were or the scale of them.

If the government were to be fair to them and outline why they are releasing this gentlemen in accordance with their version and then allow the opposition to give the trade-off for the Shaik version — having explained properly who de Kock is — there can be little doubt that very few would be offended by the cartoon while many would judge the government’s conduct on this particular issue as “distasteful” and “deplorable”.

  • See The Z to Z of SA politics