Democrazy - Zapiro And Mike Wills On 20 Years Of Political Shenanigans, As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Cartoonist

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 18 March 2015
Category: Features Comments View Comments


South African students were treated to the lighter side of the darker moments of the past 20 years of the country's history in a presentation by cartoonist Zapiro and writer Mike Wills based on their popular collaboration Democrazy.

Democrazy - Zapiro And Mike Wills On 20 Years Of Political Shenanigans, As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Cartoonist

Last night cartoonist Zapiro and journalist Mike Wills presented a showcase of work from Democrazy, their printed collaboration (Zapiro's cartoons plus Wills' commentary) that spans 20 years of South Africa's democracy, from 1994 to 2014. The presentation, which was free and open to everyone, was held in the very atmospheric City Hall in Cape Town and was specifically designed for students, although a number of older fans also attended.

Mike Wills opened proceedings by introducing Zapiro and his work, describing him as (among other things) a man who wears many hats: he has to be a journalist, be up to speed on current events, be able to draw, and have a sense of humour. "You have to be tough, you have to be brave, you have to be strong to be Zapiro," he concluded before Zapiro joined him on stage.

The selection of cartoons, which numbered about 30, kicked off with one that was published on 27 April 1994 and celebrates the dumping of South Africa's old history and the dawn of a new age - the birth of democracy. (What was particularly disturbing to me was the realisation that most of the people in the audience hadn't been born when this cartoon was published.) Zapiro then quickly went through a few more from the Mandela years, including his representation of Mandela visiting Betsy Verwoerd in Orania to have tea with her and Mandela getting all the public attention while visiting The Queen in London in 1996.

Zapiro then briefly discussed the TRC (Truth And Reconciliation Commission) and white people benefitting from apartheid, at which point Mike Wills dryly pointed out that that cartoon isn't a cartoon because there's no cartoon in it.

Democrazy - Zapiro And Mike Wills On 20 Years Of Political Shenanigans, As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Cartoonist

Zapiro them moved on to the Mbeki era, discussing the president's sense of superiority, his aloofness and distance, and his AIDS denialism that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of South Africans. Zapiro also touched on Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the controversial doctor, minister of health, and known alcoholic who punted vegetables as an effective measure to combat the spread of HIV and who fast tracked herself through a liver transplant process at the expense of others who had been on the list for longer. Much of this section of the talk was a history lesson for many of the students who weren't familiar with much of this part of South Africa's history.

Some of Zapiro's most memorable cartoons were published in this era, including one that makes fun of Tshabalala-Msimang's vegetables and Mbeki's panel of AIDS experts. Wills asked Zapiro, specifically referencing the vegetable cartoon, whether Zapiro gets to a point at which he begins to feel guilty about portraying someone like that. Zapiro's swift "No!" drew large laughs from the audience, though he then went on to say that "sometimes you develop quite a thick skin and if someone is in the public space and people's lives are on the line... I'm prepared to be vicious".

Next was talk on the arms deal and Mbeki's avoidance of Mandela as the AIDS crisis worsened (Mandela had realised his presidential run hadn't done enough to combat AIDS and therefore he wanted to steer Mbeki in the right direction, which Mbeki resisted). Zapiro also dipped into the pre-presidential Zuma years, including the Shaik bribery allegation and the rape charges, in which Zuma controversially admitted that he'd showered after his sexual encounter with a women he knew had AIDS in order to minimise his risk of catching the disease. This comment resulted in the infamous showerhead that Zapiro frequently draws above Zuma's head in cartoons and he later went into great detail regarding the different ways he has depicted it and why.

Democrazy - Zapiro And Mike Wills On 20 Years Of Political Shenanigans, As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Cartoonist

Continuing with the theme of controversy, Zapiro then discussed being sued by Zuma (the first time) before finishing up his section on the Mbeki era with The Lyin' King, an iconic cartoon from the time that features a second joke, "Jacob Simba", which was an idea sparked by Mike Wills after they had both gone to see the Lion King stage musical in Johannesburg in 2007.

Zapiro's most controversial cartoon ever was next - The Rape Of Justice - which drew gasps from the audience as many had never seen it before. Zapiro talked about being sued for that cartoon as well, with the case being dropped at the 11th hour by the president's team, and admitted that "it was a very difficult time but I stand by that cartoon".

The Zuma era was next and featured numerous showerheads, as well as the popular Baby Shower and Mac's Bribe-Thru cartoons. Mike Wills jumped in at this point and told the audience that even though he must have seen Mac's Bribe-Thru at least 50 times in the process of producing Democrazy he still laughs when he sees it and therefore considers it one of his favourites and an exceptional example of Zapiro's work.

Democrazy - Zapiro And Mike Wills On 20 Years Of Political Shenanigans, As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Cartoonist

Zapiro zipped a little more quickly through topics such as public protector Thuli Madonsela, BEE, the poignant ANC Integrity List, the DA, the rise of Julius Malema ("a populist" who is still dodging the South African Revenue Service even as he enjoys the finer things in life; "At that stage I always drew him with a large Breitling watch," Zapiro said), and the ANC's Struggle Legacy Bank.

Next the presenters switched gears entirely to sport. The two have previously collaborated on the book VuvuzelaNation, which comprises Zapiro's sports cartoons, and Zapiro admitted that sports is one of his favourite topics to capture in a cartoon. The selection of cartoons shown to the audience was kept small but did a good job to encompass the fact that sports, too, run the gamut of the human condition, from humour, in the form of Peter de Villiers congratulating Heyneke Meyer on become the new Springbok coach, to tragedy (Oscar Pistorius, from icon to con), victory (the striking Chad Le Clos butterfly image), and more (cheeky) victory (South Africa beating Australia - and its world-record score - in the 2006 Cricket World Cup).

Democrazy - Zapiro And Mike Wills On 20 Years Of Political Shenanigans, As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Cartoonist

The audience was then invited to ask questions. The first question was whether Zapiro had ever met any of the people he has lampooned and he briefly described a few encounters, including a very amusing one with Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Another questioner stated that his cartoons are often set as exam questions and Zapiro was asked for his advice in answering them. "The thing about being a cartoonist is that you're a jack of all trades trying to impart something in a very clever way but if you try and be too clever [the work becomes] too flat, too bland - it becomes didactic," Zapiro replied. He stated that as a cartoonist you must leave room for interpretation - there's the primary layer but you leave a little wiggle room for people to have their own interpretations and, therefore, he has no advice for answering the exam questions except to say that whether or not you agree with what a cartoon is trying to say (or what a teacher is expecting you to respond with) you must be able to back up your analysis with a knowledgable argument.

Zapiro was then asked where he draws the line in what he depicts and how he depicts it. He said that it differs from cartoonist to cartoonist and that some are happy to remain in safe spaces but he looks at whether what he's doing can be justified and whether it works. He said that the line he will not cross is not to incite violence or harm against another person. He then went on to say that it's not cartoonists who incite harm with their art but religious and political fundamentalists who actively call for people to be persecuted and killed.

Democrazy - Zapiro And Mike Wills On 20 Years Of Political Shenanigans, As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Cartoonist

The final question was lighter - Zapiro was asked who his cartooning influences are. He cited a long list, starting with Giles, who he said was his first big influence. "The books used to lie around the house," Zapiro said. "They are absolutely beautifully drawn." He also cited Tintin, although admitted that its creator, Hergé, was "a controversial person but brilliant"; Peanuts (Charles M Schulz); Calvin And Hobbes (Bill Watterson); Dilbert (Scott Adams); Madam & Eve (also acknowledging how smart it is); Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury); Art Spiegelman; Ralph Steadman; Gerald Scarfe; and Pat Oliphant.

The presentation then wrapped up with three cartoons, aptly called "the final cut". The first was the humorous aftermath of Cape Town losing the bid in 1997 for the 2004 Olympics to which Zapiro added an anecdote of Mandela citing the cartoon in parliament, but accidentally misinterpreting the colourful Cape Town language that goes with it (which was probably just as well). The second cartoon was What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?, an exploration of Mandela's future roles.

Finally, Zapiro ended with the colour version of Icon? Aikona!, a reworking of the 1999 cartoon to celebrate Mandela's life and accomplishments after he passed away in December 2013, which was a fitting conclusion to a fascinating dash through some of the more controversial, and memorable, moments in the last 20 years of South Africa's history.

Democrazy - Zapiro And Mike Wills On 20 Years Of Political Shenanigans, As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Cartoonist

Zapiro and Mike Wills will be presenting a similar talk at the Franschhoek Literary Festival on Sunday, 17 May 2015, from 13:00 to 14:00 in the New School Hall. Tickets are available through Webtickets.

Tags: #arts_and_culture, #cape_town, #comics, #sacomics

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