Cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro depicts former president Nelson Mandela dancing, during an interview with the Associated Press in 2008. File photo: Themba Hadebe
Cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro depicts former president Nelson Mandela dancing, during an interview with the Associated Press in 2008. File photo: Themba Hadebe

Zapiro: Mandela understood satire

By Caryn Dolley Time of article published Dec 9, 2013

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Cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro introduced Nelson Mandela to the puppet version of himself and without skipping a beat Mandela responded: “Ah, I believe I’ve met this gentleman before.”

Shapiro, whose pen name is Zapiro, said the fact Mandela was not offended when approached with the puppet showed his true character.

“He responded with such humour, him meeting his sort-of likeness… He asked about it and wished me luck.

“One of the great lessons he can teach his successors is to understand satire. He always understood,” Shapiro said.

The relationship between Mandela and Shapiro’s pen started in 1990 and in the decade from 1994 Shapiro drew the bulk of about 260 cartoons of Mandela.

After 2005, he found himself drawing Mandela less frequently but with “great intent and purpose”.

Shapiro found as the ANC departed further from principles, it became necessary for people to use Mandela as an example.

He had been studying in New York when Mandela was released from prison in 1990.

“I was devastated not to be here.”

Shapiro had done his first few drawings of Mandela before seeing him in person.

“I look at them and find them quite clunky. It was based on old photos. For those of us trying to draw him, it was very difficult trying to capture him. In 1991 I think I managed to nail the caricature,” he said.

Shapiro enjoyed drawing a much younger Mandela.

“I had a lot of fun drawing him as a child. Imaging him as a child in Qunu.”

He first met Mandela in 1994 and said after that he had been lucky to meet Mandela a few more times, including twice with his family.

On a week day in March 1998, Mandela had phoned Shapiro – a story which Shapiro said he had recounted so many times he was embarrassed.

At the time of the call, Shapiro said his cartoons had become more and more critical of the ANC.

Mandela had started out the conversation saying: “I’m very upset with you.”

However, he had reassured Shapiro he was joking and Shapiro had pointed out that his cartoons had become more critical.

Shapiro said he was taken aback when Mandela had responded: “Oh, but that’s your job.”

“It’s been the most important thing anyone’s ever said to me because it came from him and because it showed what kind of leader he’d been. I’m particularly impressed he picked up the phone and called me personally,” he said.

Shapiro said Mandela had played his part in the country a long time ago.

He hoped people in power would start living up to the ideals that Mandela had believed in and maintained.

He had drawn a number of Mandela cartoons which he considered as his favourite, but one that stood out was about Mandela’s 1996 state visit to London.

The image showed Mandela sitting next to Queen Elizabeth II in a horse-drawn carriage smiling and waving at a crowd.

A speech bubble from a police officer ensuring the crowd is kept back says: “The next bloody tourist who asks who’s the little old lady next to Mandela…!”

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