Political Cartoons from South Africa
How can satire play a part in helping to bring about positive change within a society transitioning from an oppressive regime to a democratic one?
Within a democracy, there are many ways an individual can express her approval or disapproval of the actions of her government. Political satire has been used for centuries as a powerful tool to point out the current hypocrisies, inconsistencies, or abuses in the current government and its leaders. In Jonathan Shapiro's political cartoons, we see a combination of art, humor and commentary that has been seen-and appreciated-by millions of South Africans.
No one person or event singlehandedly brought down apartheid in South Africa. Many people and groups within and outside South Africa helped bring about positive change. Of course, Nelson Mandela's impact was enormous. He used his training as a lawyer to create clear and persuasive arguments. A powerful speaker and writer, Mandela's words and deeds touched South Africans, as well as people around the globe. But countless others, from famous to anonymous, played their part and used their skills and talents in their own ways. South African Justice Richard Goldstone, for example, worked from within the legal system, using his skills and expertise to issue rulings which served to break down the racist laws of the apartheid government.
Many artists-from painters and actors to musicians and poets-have also made a difference, using their unique talents to expose injustice, intolerance and oppressive government policies. Jonathan Shapiro, a well-known South African political cartoonist, has been using satire to challenge the politics in his country since the apartheid days. His work has not been without risks; he was arrested several times and spent a short time in jail in the late 1980s. Shapiro signs his cartoons "Zapiro," and they appear in leading South African newspapers. (www.zapiro.com)
A sampling of Jonathan Shapiro's "Zapiro" cartoons:
Click here for a Newsweek interview with Jonathan Shapiro.
Madam and Eve is another well-known cartoon appearing in South African newspapers. For years, the creators of the cartoon, Stephen Francis and Rico, have used the relationship between their two main characters, a wealthy white South African woman and her black maid, Eve, as a vehicle for humorous and powerful social commentary.
A sampling of "Madame and Eve" cartoons:
Connections for the Classroom...
- The idea of using political cartoons to try to expose the policies of an unjust government has been around for ages. Why do you think political cartoons are effective tools for social and political activism? How are they limited? What does political satire offer as a form of expression that other artistic mediums do not?
- Choose one of Jonathan Shapiro's cartoons, or one of Francis and Rico's Madam and Eve cartoons. Research the issue the cartoonist is addressing. Try to find a range of viewpoints on the issue. Then, based on your research, critique the cartoon: In what ways did the cartoonist capture the crux and complexity of the issue? In what ways did the cartoonist simplify more complicated aspects of the issue? How did your original opinion of the cartoon change after you had the opportunity to more fully explore the issue?
Now try the same activity, using a recent political cartoon from your local or national newspaper.
- Alone, or in a small group, choose a current political issue that interests you in your own school, community, or country, and create your own political cartoon. How did the process of creating the cartoon deepen or change your understanding of the issue?
1 "Gulf Crisis," by Jonathan Shapiro. From Mail & Guardian and Sunday Times (David Philip Publishers, Cape Town), 1998.