Zuma rape cartoon as seen by South Africans

Reading time 3 min.

South Africa was this week rocked by a controversial cartoon that made newspaper headlines around the country. The work of popular cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, depicts the African National Congres President Jacob Zuma – who is widely tipped to become the country’s next President – about to rape the justice system.

Zuma was acquitted in a rape trial last year and he is currently facing corruption charges.

The Sunday Times cartoon shows Zuma unbuckling his belt in front of a woman who is being held down by leaders of the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP), the ANC Youth League and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

The woman in the cartoon represents the justice system, so identified by a banner across her body – implying that Zuma, together with the ANC and its alliance partners, is “raping” the judicial system.


Cosatu joined in the criticism of the cartoon and demanded the Sunday Times apologise for publishing it. Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said in a statement that while the union accepts that cartoonists have the licence to express controversial views, the cartoon was in “extremely bad taste and goes way beyond limits of acceptability”.

In a joint statement, the ruling party, the SACP and the Youth League said the cartoon, depicting Zuma as a rapist, was “distasteful”, bordered on defamation of character, was considered a direct assault on the ANC, alliance membership and leadership, and insulted the integrity of the General Secretary of the SACP, Blade Nzimande.

No apologies from Shapiro

Despite the outcry, the Sunday Times and Shapiro said they would not apologise. An editorial in The Times – the daily version of the Sunday Times – said it was a “shallow interpretation” of the cartoon to accuse Shapiro of depicting Zuma as a rapist.

“Shapiro has encapsulated in one drawing the biggest threat to South Africa’s fu ture – that our justice system will be the sacrificial lamb offered up on the altar of ‘our saviour’, Zuma,” the editorial read.

“The alliance has openly attacked the judiciary, including our highest court, and has announced national strikes and other protests should Zuma’s corruption trial proceed […]They have called for a political solution to the criminal case against Zuma. Their willingness to ‘kill for Zuma’, the strike for Zuma and to mortgage our democracy for Zuma is frightening.”

It concluded with “Zuma might be a bit of a joke, but what’s being done in his name is definitely not funny.”

Public opinion and justice

The Financial Mail said: “There’s an unspoken threat of violence running through all the discussion around Zuma, of the masses storming the citadels of power should he be sent to jail… There is no doubt that the judiciary, the rock on which sustainable democracy is built, is facing a relentless attack from those whose future prospects depend on Jacob Zuma assuming the presidency…the Lunatic Left is on the rampage.”

The Mail and Guardian said the question is not whether the cartoon “insults the integrity of the Secretary-General of the ANC … and (other) Alliance leaders. Of course it’s an attack on the organisations’ leadership. Rather, it’s whether the attack constitutes fair comment.

As edgy as the cartoon may be – for whatever that’s worth – it satisfies the test. The ANC may have “repeatedly stated … (its) commitment to uphold and defend the Constitution, and the rule of law”, but it is disingenuous to assert that it has never attacked the judiciary but has rather “criticised unfair treatment of our president … in a normal public discourse of a democratic society.”

Normal public discourse in a democratic society does not, for example, include the ruling party marching to courts and police stations calling for the withdrawal of criminal charges. Nor does it entail labelling judges as being counter-revolutionary.

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