Cape Town – Zapiro agonises over his work. At least I know that about the Zapiro I know. But from today and henceforth I will call him by his given name, Jonathan Shapiro, because he no longer deserves that cute cartoonist tag.
Shapiro has crossed the line once again by using rape – gang rape at that – as a metaphor to depict our very flawed president and the state we’re in.
It is deeply problematic – as problematic as Helen Zille extolling the virtues of colonialism.
Shapiro was once one of the most incisive, astute political commentators we had.
He was a national treasure, his roots founded in the days of the UDF, and his collection of cartoons in annual editions found pride of place on my bookshelf.
But recently he has become lazy and callous. As technically gifted a cartoonist as Shapiro is, his most recent rape cartoon has zero artistic merits. It’s a cut-and-paste job of the cartoon he did a few years ago about the rape of Lady Justice that was equally problematic.
The problem is that Shapiro knows better.
He knows there is a pervasive rape culture in South Africa piled on top of rampant patriarchy and misogyny. I don’t need to quote statistics here. They are horrific – and those are just the rapes that are reported.
These days Shapiro thinks nothing of depicting black people as monkeys. He drew a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad too when he knew the sensitivities around this particular issue full well.
In 2013, I combined my cycling hobby with a fundraising effort to raise cash for Rape Crisis during the Cape Town Cycle Tour. The money would be put to use to pay for vital counseling of rape survivors. Rape Crisis director Kathleen Dey would ensure I get an education about rape in South Africa and our rape culture along the way.
There are many myths about rape and we know it well. Or maybe we don’t, considering the defence by many men of Shapiro’s latest offering.
So for the sake of my fellow man, here are a few… Rape myth #1: women who dress for a night out on the town are asking for it. Rape myth #2: “No” actually means “Yes” if the predator works on his prey long enough. Rape myth #3: it can’t be rape if the survivor is the girlfriend or wife of the perpetrator. And so the myths go on and on.
In my frame of reference, the Cape Flats, there are very real battles against rape.
There are absent fathers and where fathers are around, role models to sons are few and far between. Men in South Africa, in general, conveniently live in ignorance or seriously grapple with their roles – a throwback from our violent upbringing under apartheid.
To this audience, Shapiro’s cartoon normalises the violent and brutal act of rape.
It is in fact, very abnormal. Anene Booysen, Valencia Farmer, Stacha Arendse – raped and murdered – and families, communities left behind to make sense of it all.
Instead of using his talent to broaden the debate, Shapiro has chosen to become the debate in an almost narcissistic way. Along the way he is perpetuating rape myths and promoting rape culture and gender violence. He does so by choice. It is his choice to draw black people as monkeys knowing full well it’s racist. It is his choice to depict women as weak, objectifying them with his rape metaphor.
Says Dey in a recent interview: “There are all kinds of myths: the idea that women are subservient, weak, that women are objects or currency. These are all public perceptions that slowing are changing, but it has to change throughout society – all of the different cultures in our country often share the same myths.”
Editors are meant to agonise over the content they publish. Sleepless nights spent sweating over whether we’ve gone too far or will a contribution or a particular angle on a news story done more harm than good? Shapiro has stopped agonising unfortunately and opted to be mundane.
When you’re in the position of Shapiro – as a journalist, commentator or cartoonist – you seek out voices of reason. You don’t inflame the situation even further. We’re meant to limit harm. Yes, freedom of expression and freedom of speech is enshrined in the Constitution. But don’t use that right as clickbait.
Shapiro has knowingly crossed the line too many times.
On Twitter, men felt the need to defend this right of Shapiro by mansplaining his rape cartoon. It is surprising the level of ignorance displayed by seemingly educated men who should know better too.
Shapiro’s cartoon has also played right into the hands of our very flawed president’s victim mentality. Earlier in the week the president feebly tried to position the public uprising against his leadership as racist. Now he has an actual straw to clutch at – gift-wrapped and handed to him by Shapiro.
The cartoon plays into other racist stereotypes too by depicting black men as somehow inherently violent and more likely to rape. It pigeon-holes black women as victims. It is a trap we all fall victim to in the media. We seek out male voices to mansplain and seldom celebrate women for their worth, as newsmakers, as leaders in society
But ultimately, it is the many activists like Dey, who tirelessly work against this kind of privileged view of rape that Shapiro perpetuates, that he has set back. It is hard work that lies ahead to re-educate Shapiro and his army of men followers about how indefensible his rape cartoon really is.
* Gasant Abarder is Regional Executive Editor: Western Cape for Independent Media.