Maybe Zapiro’s Cartoon was spot on?

By Jen Thorpe

I have read both Michelle Solomon’s and Lili Radloff’s pieces on why they think the latest Zapiro cartoon was off sides. I share Michelle’s feeling of looking at the cartoon and feeling powerless to help the two women, and of feeling viscerally nauseated at the image of the unbuckled belt. This cartoon is shocking, and it is offensive to rape survivors, and to women, who are portrayed as helpless.

But…I also think that perhaps the fact that it is so painful and scary to look at might be the first time that the media has recognised how painful and scary rape is.

If you look at the media bill as the metaphor, and rape as the act, this cartoon shows how terrifying it is to be raped, how disempowering our political system that holds survivors back rather than supports them is, and how their voices are not heard. None of the rapists in this cartoon even look at Lady Justice as she screams.

It also shows that rape is about power, not about sex. The rapists in these cartoons are trying to take power away from justice, to silence free speech – that is the same in all rapes. They are aimed at taking power from survivors. The cartoon also shows how often this theft of power is perpetrated by more than one person – the rapist, the overcrowded prison system that allows many dangerous perpetrators out on bail, the system that doesn’t inform survivors of their rights, the magistrate who doesn’t actively and appropriately apply the law to the judgement, society who thinks it might be your fault. All of these take power from rape survivors.

Rape survivors are silenced by this system, whether the perpetrators are in government or any ordinary person. Rape survivors are silenced when men in government and the criminal justice system do not use their public speaking opportunities to decry rape, de-legitimise it as a crime, put perpetrators in jail, and inform survivors of their rights.

I think perhaps we feel like this cartoon has pushed us over the edge because of the incredible sense of powerlessness we feel when we look at it. I think we feel the same way when we hear about the sheer scale of rape in our country. We don’t know what to say, what to do, or who to blame. Like in the situation of protecting our democratic right to freedom of speech, the only thing we can do is empower ourselves and get involved. This doesn’t mean that we can avoid being raped, or avoid having freedom of speech stolen from us by cleptocrats and criminals. It means that we can learn our rights, and learn how to support survivors. It means we can demand better application of the law, changes to the law where it is inappropriate, better implementation of policy and accountability for state role players who are not helping survivors.

It means friends, that we are going to have to stop watching our democracy crumble before our eyes through the television screens, and get out on the street and take it back. In short, aluta continua.


3 thoughts on “Maybe Zapiro’s Cartoon was spot on?”

  1. Thank you for speaking to this. It is fundamentally important, so thank you, Jen.

    I take issue with the use of the rape metaphor because it offends me as a rape survivor, but in a very personal way. I spoke to a experienced friend who has worked in the sexual violence sphere(?) in this country, and I realised that the strong sense of rage I feel when I look at this cartoon might be some kind of (emotional) flashback. It’s the same kind of debilitating rage and fury I feel when I think about my own rape.

    But I also take issue with Zapiro’s cartoon exactly because it is not about the message you have carried across in your above column. It is not ‘about’ rape survivors, it’s not about women, it’s not about sexual violence. Not really. It doesn’t talk to those issues. If it *were* the same cartoon, but drawn specifically to talk to the rape crisis in South Africa, I would not have this problem with the cartoon. I would still have the ‘flashbacks’ though. 😛


  2. I am NOT opposed to the use of rape as a metaphor; I believe rape is a powerful symbol to use, I am not for being politically correct on the issue, yes our democracy is being fucked, even though we’re aware that there is a history of using. Women have been raped since time immemorial, and the rape of us has been tied to how men have abused power because as they plunder women’s bodies they plunder the world around them. Zapiro has a right to use whatever metaphors he pleases but let’s not pretend this rape metaphor comes out of nowhere. It emerges from Zuma’s rape trial. Zuma may have abhorrent practices that display contempt for women and the judgment passed down at his rape trial may have been sexist; but he was still found not guilty. The question I have is how does Zapiro expect anyone to believe the cartoon is not informed by the rape trial, and b) that the already existing tropes of the black men as natural rapists are no reinforced in this image? In the years that Zapiro was doing anti-apartheid work, did it ever cross his mind to represent the destruction of South Africa right up to 1994 through the depiction of White nationalist men raping? Maybe such a cartoon exists? Or maybe it doesnt? Rape as a metaphor, the rape of women, in Zapiros cartoons the Black women used as a trope for the victim, is not neutral. It just isnt neutral. Just like Verashni Pillay tore Nongqawuse to shreds as a Black woman symbolic figure through obvious ignorance of history in an article to show how Nceba Faku is a moron, Zapiro’s cartoons only serve to make South Africa’s political landscape appear to being fucked by savage Blacks by building on already existing racist tropes. He is correct about the being fucked bit, but he is wrong to continually use these metaphors as if they are neutral, particularly when they have not been used in depictions of white men who plunder and destory – (although the white male raping black women is strong in anti-slavery discourses because it has a basis in material reality of how white supremacy came about). I’m not disagreeing with Jen’s view, but I do not find Zapiros rape cartoons innocent of the racist garbage inherited through colonial symbolism since the alternative representation of white men as rapists has never come through within South Africa and Zapiro would be aware of those while pushing his envelope. (the Breadprice fixers, the landmonopolisers, the etc etc, are anally raping the economy and the poor big time.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s