Political cartoonist, Zapiro, exhibited his work at the Nelson Mandela Foundation
November 19, 2008 – The last of the six exhibitions put together as part of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations took place at the Nelson Mandela Foundation yesterday.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation’s CEO, Achmat Dangor, launched the exhibition at the Foundation offices. Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) talked about his interactions with Madiba, both in print and in person.
Among a number of humorous anecdotes, as well as examples of the cartoons published about Madiba, Zapiro discussed the need for cartoonists, and society in general, to engage with figures of authority in a critical fashion.
“The first time I met Madiba was in 1994,” said Shapiro. “I was thrilled to find out he knew my work and liked it. I knew that even though I hadn’t done anything to criticise Mr Mandela, at some point I would have to criticise him.”
His recent work, criticising influential political players, has been subject to intense scrutiny. Verne Harris, the programme manager for the Foundation’s Centre of Memory, said “both the exhibition and launch event were aimed at creating a safe space for Zapiro to discuss his work”.
“Zapiro has always been a robust critic of Madiba’s life and times. Something he, Madiba, has always encouraged,” said Harris.
The event, which featured a discussion panel made up of Zapiro; Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee; academic and political commentator Professor Sipho Seepe; and teacher and cartoonist Andy Mason, emphasised the value of cartoons and cartoonists in democratic society.
“While I don’t always agree with Zapiro,” said Mason, “I agree that he has the right to criticise.”
It was a sentiment agreed with by both Mason and Seepe.
“Jonathan has been a cutting and stern critic of the South African political landscape,” said Haffajee, while pointing out that “to try and tame the pen is the symbol of a lesser democracy”.
Seepe described how “when the first person in Parliament tried to criticise Nelson Mandela for the first time, an academic wrote in saying the ‘opposition hadn’t earned the right to criticise Madiba’”.
“Zapiro was one of the first people to engage with Madiba, but it was done with respect,” Seepe added.
Questions from a packed audience ranged from Zapiro’s views on his (in)famous Jacob Zuma cartoons to his artistic process.
But while discussion around his controversial cartoons dominated the debate, for Shapiro, being able to read his 90th birthday cartoon to Madiba on the day of the exhibition was the true highlight of the day.
“I had the huge honour of reading this cartoon to him today,” Zapiro said. “It really got to me. I would like to say a huge thank you to the Nelson Mandela Foundation for presenting me with the honour of being part of the 90th year celebrations.”
Zapiro’s message in honour of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday:
“[Mr] Mandela has appeared in my cartoons as the child with the potential to become what he dreams of, as the prisoner embodying a nation imprisoned, as the banned face of the banned struggle, as David slaying the apartheid Goliath, as the bird breaking out of the apartheid cage, as the genie who won’t get back in the bottle, as Moses parting the waters for the masses, and as Moses leading them into the promised land, as the sunrise at the dawn of the new South Africa, as the Colossus bestriding the national landscape, as the architect of democracy, as the rider in the saddle of the GNU [Government of National Unity], as the sculptor hewing racial harmony, as the fireman dousing the flames of crises, as the acrobat anchoring a diplomatic balancing act, as SuperMandela bridging global divides, as Atlas bearing the developing world, as the wind blowing the Springboks to victory, as a jar of Madiba Magic for Bafana Bafana, as the Mandela Bridge spanning the racial divide, as the grandfather dangling the infant nation, as the giant with the massive shoes to fill, as the cowboy and his gal riding into the African sunset, as the tireless globetrotter outpacing all others, as the pioneer pushing open the AIDS secrecy door, as the planet in the fight against HIV/AIDS, as the beaming Nelson atop Nelson’s Column, as the cupid of the divided ANC, as the Conscience of the Nation, as the sun setting on his own era. Happy 90th, Madiba – Zapiro.”
Click here to see the photo gallery of this event.