Cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro on Monday defended his controversial cartoon of Jacob Zuma preparing to rape justice, saying he thought “very, very carefully” before doing it.
The African National Congress and its tripartite alliance partners have condemned the cartoon as disgusting, while ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe labelled it racist.

The cartoon, published in the Sunday Times under Shapiro’s pen-name Zapiro, shows a blindfolded female figure labelled “justice system”, being pinned down by Zuma’s political allies.

The ANC president is depicted in the cartoon unzipping his pants, while Mantashe urges him: “Go for it, boss!”

Shapiro said he “absolutely” refuted the racism charge, and that his record in the struggle years spoke for itself.

“There is a very, very pronounced tendency in this country towards exceptionalism, as if our politicians are more sacrosanct than politicians worldwide. That I take issue with,” he said.

“I really feel strongly that they have to take a hard look at what they are doing and not use the red herring of racism.”

He said he was not surprised that the cartoon had provoked strong reaction, as the image was “outrageous”, and a “very explosive thing”.

He had thought “very, very carefully” about how women would view it, and before publication sent it to several women friends whose opinion he trusted. Their immediate reaction was one of shock.

However they all then said that the cartoon not only showed graphically what was actually happening to the justice system and constitutional principles, but that it contained a second level of criticism on violence against women in a very patriarchal society.

Shapiro said the blindfolded figure of justice was an allegorical figure going back centuries.

“The fact that Jacob Zuma has this personal history is his problem,” he said.

Zuma, who is president of the ANC, was charged with raping a young woman in 2006, but was found not guilty.

Earlier on Monday the ANC, its youth league and the SA Communist Party said in a joint statement that the cartoon was distasteful and “borders on defamation of character”.

The organisations said the Sunday Times had disguised abuse as press freedom in publishing it.

“The cartoon rubbishes the collective integrity of the alliance and constitutes yet another continued violation of the rights and dignity of the ANC president,” they said.

The organisations said they had never attacked the judiciary, but criticised unfair treatment of Zuma in the normal public discourse of a democracy.

“There can, therefore, be no justification for such unwarranted insult on our leadership by the Sunday Times.”

Zapiro, they said, had been “consistent in unwarranted attacks on the movement and its leadership”.

“In a country where we have a serious scourge of fighting violence against women and in particular rape, we need to be very careful how we use the notion and the concept of rape loosely to demonstrate any form of perceived abuse.”

Cosatu also expressed disgust at the cartoon, saying it was in extremely bad taste.

In his online blog Constitutionally Speaking, University of the Western Cape constitutional law academic Prof Pierre de Vos said on Monday that though he had always been a great fan of Zapiro, he wondered whether the cartoonist had now gone too far and done something “immoral and ethically deeply problematic”.

He said he agreed with Zapiro that some of the leaders who had been championing Zuma’s cause had acted despicably, and that Zuma, through his silence, had abetted them.

However he wondered whether by using the metaphor of rape, Zapiro was not “cheapening” the horror of the act and helping to desensitise people.

De Vos also asked whether Shapiro was undermining respect for the judiciary he was purportedly defending, by suggesting subliminally that Zuma should have been convicted in the rape trial.

His piece drew a flood of comments from his readers, most of them disagreeing with him.

“It is time someone drew attention to the shocking behaviour of these political figureheads and their most avid supporters,” wrote Thea Beckman.

“We cannot allow a man who believes loyalty to be above the Constitution to take the reins of our country. Well done Zapiro.”