South African cartoonist accused of feeding into racist trope

Zapiro, of all people, accused of racism

Published in Culture, Politics & Speakers by

South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, better know as Zapiro, who will be speaking at WDCD Live in Amsterdam on 1 July, is in the news in his home country, critizised for using a racist metaphor in one of his drawings.

Zapiro provoked a stream of disapproving messages on social media after depicting head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Shaun Abrahams as a monkey, dancing to the tunes of organ grinder President Jacob Zuma.

Clearly Zapiro, who is know for his anti-racist stance, meant to express that Abrahams is just a puppet on a string of Zuma, but he was heavily criticized and accused of racism. Given South Africa’s history, it was argued that to depict a person of colour as a monkey was highly offensive. Critics said that in the context of South Africa Zapiro was feeding into racist tropes.


Zapiro said he was confused by the fierce criticism and immediately admitted that he had made an error of judgement. Eyewitness News cited him the day after the cartoon was published in The Times saying: ‘What I thought I could do with that cartoon, I couldn’t.’ The cartoonist reacted to one of his opponents stating: ‘Where I completely agree with him is the understanding of what that racist trope is. I hope that his defence of me as someone who is feeding a racist trope, unwittingly, is the better way of looking at it.’

Corruption charges

The cartoon was Zapiro’s reaction to the news that prosecutor Abrahams announced the NPA would appeal the High Court’s decision to reinstate corruption charges against President Zuma. The charges – 800 in number, related to a arms deal – were dropped in 2009, clearing the way for Zuma to be elected president. But last April the Pretoria High Court undid the decision to drop the charges qualifying it ‘irrational’.

According to Eyewitness News Zapiro agreed that the cartoon didn’t work the way he had wanted it to. He was quoted: ‘In this racially charged situation, I think there are things were I have made a couple of missteps – I had to reassess, not how hard hitting I can be, but certain things that are just too difficult to explain in whatever way I want to explain them.’

Top 10 of the world

Along with criticism, a cartoonist of Zapiro’s standing receives praise too. Just this week New York based online lifestyle magazine Top Teny voted Zapiro one of the top 10 cartoonists in the world.

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