4 June 2009

South Africa: Zapiro - 'Zapping' for Democracy

Photo: Bengt Oberger/Wikipedia
South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, better known as Zapiro, drafts a cartoon of Nelson Mandela (file photo).

As South African President Jacob Zuma starts legal proceedings against renowned cartoonist Zapiro, for sketches based on Zuma's appearances in court on rape and corruption charges in 2008, Annar Cassam writes that she isn't a fan of some of Zapiro's work either.

Cassam comments on two of Zapiro's cartoons, one which depicts his own personal angst after having 'lost faith' in the ANC, and the other which shows what he thinks lies ahead for the majority of voters who voted for the ANC because of what the leadership promised them. Quoting Nelson Mandela, Cassam speaks of the need for South Africans to combine their 'collective wisdom' and the 'talents and energies' to address the glaring inequalities together. Cassam argues that Zapiro's cartoons make a mockery of the aspirations of impoversished voters, and encourages citizens to switch parties rather than work with the ANC, which she argues, 'remains the most important and the most inclusive organisation for the average South African'.

Jonathan Shapiro, or Zapiro, is a well-known and much admired Cape Town cartoonist whose daily cariacatures in S.Africa's major newspapers are widely read all over the country. His reputation in some quarters is such that the great and the good from all walks of life deeply appreciate being lampooned by him. The one exception is President Jacob Zuma who has started legal proceedings against Zapiro for some extremely offensive cartoons about Zuma's appearances in court on rape and corruption charges in 2008.

Zapiro's work includes comments on the recent general elections of April 2009. The first cartoon in this series (Mail & Guardian, 23 April 2009) shows what he thinks lies ahead for the majority of voters who queued up to vote for the ANC because of what the leadership - here symbolised by the snake's head - has promised them. The second cartoon, Ballot Box Blues (Sunday Times,19 April 2009) depicts Zapiro's own personal angst after having 'lost faith' in the ANC.

Once in a while, the Nominations Committee of the Nobel Peace Prize, in its infinite wisdom, chooses as its laureates people who are on the opposite sides of a war or a conflict-torn situation. For example, the 1973 prize went jointly to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, the former representing the USA which had tried for years to bomb a poor and distant Asian country 'back to the stone age' and the latter representing that country, VietNam,which under communist leadership fought and won a guerrilla war first against the French and then against the Americans.

Similarly, in 1993, the prize was awarded jointly to Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk. The following year, the Nobel people out-did themselves by awarding the 1994 prize to Yasser Arafat, Yitzak Rabin and Shimon Peres. The exact logic behind this type of tandem awarding is difficult to understand for such gestures place the aggressors and their victims on the same level. They also degrade the achievements and the sacrifices of the victims while glorifying their former oppressors for doing nothing more than bowing to the inevitable.

It was Roelf 'Pik' Botha, de Klerk's foreign minister, who in a BBC documentary about the end of apartheid shown in 1996, related the friendly advice given to his government by their erstwhile Western allies: 'You people stink! Get rid of that bad smell of apartheid and then we can associate with you.'

In the case of the Mandela/de Klerk prize, the joint award caused real confusion in the minds of many outside South Africa who were not privy to the intricacies of the political negotiations between the ANC and the white government which went on for four long years before the first democratic elections were held in April 1994.

Many members of the international community were led to imagine that Mandela and de Klerk had descended hand-in-hand from on high on a pink cloud which had landed in South Africa where, magically, the aged freedom-fighter was welcomed home by the big-hearted boer so that they could together live in peace, love and harmony for ever after.

In October 1993, six months before the uhuru elections of April 1994, a high-level ANC delegation, led by Nelson Mandela, came to UNESCO headquarters in Paris to address the executive board, the organisation's policy -making body. The delegation, which included Thabo Mbeki and Bantu Holomisa among others, was very warmly welcomed by the UNESCO audience - but all eyes were on Mandela. He was in excellent form, as elegant, dignified and courteous as ever, but now very much the president-to-be, bearing a palpable aura of calm authority.

In a speech of just 15 minutes, he put to rest the 'pink cloud ' theory in the first sentence and then went on to to explain the changes that were underway and in simple language described where the ANC had come from, the reasons for, and strategy behind its negotiating position and, above all, the ANC's priorities for a post-apartheid society in South Africa. This is what he said:

'Today, I had lunch at the South African embassy. A few years ago, if the South African ambassador had invited me to his embassy, I would have strangled him to death! But today I can walk into his embassy, sit down and enjoy his meal. What is the reason for that? There are many people who will ask why I had done that.

'Back in 1986, the ANC decided to take the initiative of getting the government and the ANC to sit down and discuss a peaceful resolution of our problems. We in the ANC thought that it as a waste of the talents and energies of South Africans that we should try to solve our problems through violence. We had been forced to resort to violence because we had no other alternative in our country.

'But the ANC has produced very far-seeing individuals and they were always concerned that we were not addressing our problems by peaceful methods. We persuaded the govenment under great difficulty because they were faced with this problem where they had fought every election among whites, of course, because up to now only whites in our country can vote. Now they had said in all these elections that they would never talk to the ANC because it was, according to them, a 'terrorist' organisation. Now when we approached them, they were faced with the question of losing face. And so it was not easy to get them to sit down with us and address our problems in a peaceful manner.

'But we exercised sufficient patience and persistence and eventually forced them to sit down and to explore a peaceful settlement with us. But one of the most difficult things in society, in life, is to be able to change existing attitudes among men and women. It is never easy to take society from one point to the other. People get used to a certain approach and even when conditions change, they still stick to that approach. And that is one of the problems that is facing us in our country. We are faced with people on both sides of the colour line, both in the ANC and within the ranks of the government. And this difficulty arises from attitudes of men and women of calibre who are quite bona fide in their attitudes and who believe that the attitude of resistance only is the most correct attitude to adopt.

'Whereas we are saying let us now shift from a resistance movement to an organisation that is addressing the problems of the people. Because in the next government, we are likely to be the people faced with the responsibility of addressing and solving these social problems.

'The question of unemployment, which stands now at 50 per cent of the economically active section of our population; 50 per cent are unemployed. We have rising crime of such a nature that we are now regarded as the most violent society in the world. The state of our education....I have just told the director-general that in our country, we have no less than 20,000 young people between 12 and 16 years of age in prison. It is a serious crisis facing us.

'We have the question of diseases, like AIDS which require to be addressed by us; it is spreading and as you know, no government has the resources to be able to face the question of AIDS, for it attacks the economically active part of the population and it can affect your own economy. And this is happening in the face of a shortage of medical facilities.

'Our economy is on the verge of collapse; and because of these social problems, it has become necessary for us to shift from being purely a resistance movement to an organisation, which is up-front in addressing the social problems of the country.

'The government is facing similar problems; not only the government, all the whites in fact are facing similar problems. Since 1948, they have put in power a government that has applied the most brutal form of racial oppression in the history of our country.

'We have forced them, as the people of South Africa, supported by the international community through sanctions, to abandon apartheid and they now talk of democracy; they have now thrown open their ranks to blacks. They say they are democrats but when you study the actual proposals they make as to what should happen in the future, they remain the same organisation committed to white supremacy.

'As an illustration, we discussed the question of what type of government we should establish in the future, what type of democracy do we want. Their proposal amounted to this: That, if for example, the African National Congress gets 75 per cent of the total votes cast in a general election and the ruling Nationalist Party of de Klerk get 25 per cent, the ANC cannot take any decision and carry it out, in spite of the fact that they have 75 per cent of the total votes in the country. They cannot take any decision without the agreement of the 25 per cent! That is their concept of democracy. This is just one illustration.

'Over the last three years we have been fighting to correct this... that what should be done is something which is not novel to South Africa. We do not want any experiments about democracy in so far as South Africa is concerned, concepts which are unknown in the demoratic world. And this is due the fact that we are seeking solutions with people who are used to white supremacy and who have never known and who have no democratic culture.

'Nevertheless we have made very impressive advances in regard to the unbanning of the ANC, the lifting of the state of emergency, the release of political prisoners, the return of exiles and the repeal of repressive laws. And now we have had two breakthroughs: An agreement to establish the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), which is going to take some functions of government, although the white parliament is still going to remain the parliament of the country. But already the masses of our people are creating institutions of democracy which are beginning to exercise political power. So we have the TEC, which is going to prepare for the forthcoming elections.

And above all, we have set 27 April next year as the date when we are going to hold elections for the whole country, for all the people of South Africa. For the first time, the people of South Africa are going to elect a government of their choice.

In this situation, it is our duty to mobilise all South Africans, black and white, to move forward with us. We are saying let us forget the mistakes of the past, let us work together in order to build a new South Africa.

And that why today, I walked into the South African embassy in response to his invitation to lunch. It has settled very well in my stomach... because it is part and parcel of the strategy we are using to build this new South Africa. We are saying to everybody, whether in the democratic movement or to those who have functioned all their lives as part of the minority and its structures, let us forget the past. Let us put our collective wisdom together and move forward.'

Fifteen years and three elections later, this speech makes fascinating reading. The references to the 'great difficulties' the ANC negotiators were facing, the 'patience and persistence', the problems in changing 'existing attitudes..on both sides of the colour-line' are all examples of Mandela-speak, of his own low-key, understated style. In fact, he was referring to a truly horrendous set of events, which formed the background to the talks between the ANC and the ruling Nationalists.

When these negotiations began in 1990, de Klerk's strategy was to aim for a 'power-sharing' arrangement in which his party and his race would keep the upper hand. Accordingly, he set about building an anti-ANC alliance from among the black groups and bantustans created under apartheid, the most prominent of these being Buthelezi's Inkatha movement in Zulu-land.

During the years of exile and imprisonment of the ANC leaders, Inkatha, in keeping with the 'separate development' line, had been functioning as an ethno-centric movement for the promotion of Zulu culture. In July 1990, a few months after the release of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC, Buthelezi launched Inkatha as an anti-ANC political party and within days, Zulu gangs began to raid and attack migrant workers in their hostels and ANC supporters in townships, on commuter trains, taxis and so on. In the Johannesburg urban areas, townships like Sebokong, Thokoza, Boipathong, gave their names to massacres that were presented by the state and the media as being purely 'black-on-black' local eruptions between natives. But gradually, the not-so-hidden hand of the state police, security and military arms became visible to all, except to the president of the country.

De Klerk always claimed that he did not know and was thus not responsible for these clashes and attacks but it was under his watch that violence and political assassinations increased massively beween 1990 and 1993, as the Human Rights Commission of South Africa reported. In Kwa-Zulu Natal especially, the nature and scale of the violence against migrant workers and ordinary ANC supporters were such that it became clear that a 'third force' was operating across the land - with or without official consent. As it happened, Judge Richard Goldstone's Commission confirmed this in several reports, each more damning than the last, showing how a covert 'third force' made up of military intelligence, police and Inkatha elements was out to create chaos and thus endanger the move to democracy.

In April 1993, the country was brought to the edge of the abyss when Chris Hani, general secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa and the most charismatic young leader of his generation of freedom-fighters, was killed in the driveway of his own home. He was shot dead by a Polish immigrant who was waiting for Hani in his car.

The shots were heard by Hani's Afrikaner neighbour, Mrs Retha Harmse, who saw the killer drive away, memorised his registration number and called the police. When the police picked up the killer a few minutes later, they found him with the gun, a 9mm army-issue pistol.

Hani's assassination could have been the beginning of the end of the transition, so devastating was the event for the whole country which suddenly seemed leaderless and lost. In fact, this moment turned out to be the tipping point, both for Mandela and the country, which turned to him to calm the situation. As the storm clouds of fear and rage gathered, he went on national media to ask his countrymen, of all colours, to control their emotions and not to risk actions which would surely destroy their country and their future.

He told them, 'a white man full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation teeters on the brink of disaster. But a white woman, of Afrikaner origin, has risked her life that we might know, and bring to justice, the assassin.' With these words, Mandela diffused the tension, re-anchored the nation and virtually took over the leadership of the country.

Such were the 'difficulties' that Mandela delicately alluded to in his UNESCO speech, a few more of which were yet to come before election day. For example, there was the pathetic gate-crashing of the negotiating venue at the World Trade Centre in Johannesburg, by a few thousand enraged Afrikaner right-wingers and the near-civil war provoked by Buthelezi and his bantustan allies in Ciskei and Bophuthatswana, aided by the usual suspects from the Afrikaner die-hard fringe.

The ANC, now working through the TEC, under the joint authority of Mandela and de Klerk, managed to diffuse these near-disasters and continued to prepare for elections. At the very last hour, Buthelezi too came to his senses and brought Kwa-Zulu Natal on board to take part on 27 April. As a final touch, the ANC's offices in the centre of Johannesburg were bombed three days before, with nine deaths and some 92 injured and 26 April, another explosion was reported at Johannesburg airport.

When 27 April dawned, however, it seemed as though the bloodstained era of apartheid had passed with the night and the real South Africa appeared, in all its colours and shapes, intact and blinking in the cool sunshine, standing for hours in queues that snaked for miles around, chatting and waiting together to vote as to the manner born.

For those privileged enough to have seen this national rite of passage, it was an incomparable and unforgettable experience of emotional intensity and shared awareness. Everywhere one looked, it was the same country but a different place; something had happened; South Africa had changed and so had the world. One was seeing a country 'move from one point to the other', to use Mandela's words and during those three voting days, it became clear that the whole society, not just the ANC, had made it to the other side, including Zululand.

This moment was, and has since become so special that it is now part of contemporary human memory, a reference point for other such moments of deep mutation elsewhere in the world. For example, on 20 January this year, when Barack Obama became the 45th President of the USA, Americans from all walks of life experienced and expressed the same emotions, the same tears of release and relief, the same feelings of unity and fraternity across the colour-line.

For Zapiro to trash and mock this memory of that first voting day of his country's first democratic elections, as he does in the first cartoon, is an extraordinarily cheap act of contempt. And the contempt is aimed not just at the 2009 elections, the ANC and its leadership, it is above all aimed at the millions of voters who queued, as they have done every five years since 1994, to vote for a better life in their country.

But then, what else would they, or should they, be voting for when 40 per cent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day? The venom in that cartoon makes a mockery of them and their aspirations but perhaps it also shows how much 'prejudice and hate' is expressed under cover of the freedom of expression by such cartoonists.

Mandela's speech quoted above is a reminder of the reason behind the ANC's transformation from resistance movement to political organisation and that the principle aim of the struggle against racist rule was to 'address some very serious social problems'. His priorities for a post-apartheid South Africa had nothing to do with an 'African renaissance' (whatever that may mean); these were and remain the obvious and abiding issues of mass unemployment, disease, especially AIDS, violence and insecurity, education and the economy.

In 1993, the unemployment rate was 50 per cent; in 2009 it stands at 41 per cent. (It would be interesting to compare the rate of increase, over the same period, of new millionaires and of new shopping centres in the main cities). As for the AIDS problem, the situation is now much worse, thanks to Mbeki's weird and dangerous theories. Today, 5.7 million are HIV positive and one thousand people die of the disease every day. As for the level of violence and insecurity, the country is still the same violent place it was 15 years ago, except that its national chief of police, a close Mbeki associate, is awaiting trial on criminal charges.

The only way this situation can be changed, as Mandela explained in his speech, is by combining the 'collective wisdom' and the 'talents and energies' of all South Africans so that together they can address these glaring inequalities. This was the link made by him between democracy and the condition of the country in 1993 and this link remains still. This is the meaning that the voters of South Africa expressed recently in giving 66 per cent of their votes to the ANC.

As can be seen in the second cartoon, the Zapiros of the country have a different concept of democracy. One could call it the 'free market' concept, where one chooses a political party as one would select a tube of toothpaste, one out of the many on the shelf. Or to use a more modern metaphor, democracy here means sitting back in your chair and zapping from one party program to another, to see what catches one's fancy or one's mood.

And judging by the quaint 'ballot box blues', nothing meets Zapiro's high standards today, having 'lost faith' in the ANC. Having patronised it very briefly in the past, he is now blaming the organisation for his disaffection. But in politics as in life, there is no such thing as 'free faith' and the right to zap has not been an essential principle in anyone's idea of democracy so far.

The ANC remains the most important and the most inclusive organisation for the average South African, for it holds and ensures his democratic rights for a better life just as it once contained his hopes for victory against apartheid and racist rule. Any attempt to tamper with its identity and de-rail its objectives will produce a strong reaction as Mbeki, and others, can testify.

The ANC, for all its weaknesses, contradictions, and 'strange' cultural customs, is not just one political party among many; it is the only natural resource available to millions of citizens across the land who are still fighting to find their place in the new South Africa. They and their leaders will 'lose faith' in it at their peril.

* Annar Cassam is a former director of the UNESCO Bureau, UN Office, Geneva.

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