Day IV: A Shower of Satisfaction

Development Policy07 Jun 2009Marieke Hounjet

“Why do you draw us like pigs?”

“Because I draw what I see”

(The latter is Jonathan Shapiro’s answer to the question of investigators at the detention centre after he was arrested one time)

Today was a slightly more ‘cultural’ day at the Africa Conference in Leipzig, and also the last day. The most exciting thing was that cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro (artist name Zapiro) personally opened an exhibition of his cartoons today. For those not familiar with Zapiro’s work, Zapiro is South Africa’s famous cartoonist whose work is showed in exhibitions all over the world. In his often very controversial cartoons Zapiro does not hesitate to criticise the South African government and South African political life in general. In other words, he draws the world as he sees it. This per definition does not make him beloved by everyone, as in his speech he told us the above anecdote at a certain time during his career. Especially President Jacob Zuma has and continues to provide Zapiro with enough cartoon material. Jacob Zuma is suing Zapiro for R7 million for the ‘Rape of Justice’ cartoon which was published in The Sunday Times on 7 September 2008. However, as many of us know the statement that made Jacob Zuma most ‘famous’ was when he was accused of rape in 2005 with a woman who was an AIDS activist and also known to be HIV positive. He admitted that he had unprotected sex despite his knowledge of her status. Keeping in mind that he was at the time head of the National Aids Council, he stated in court that he took a shower afterwards ‘to cut the risk of contracting HIV’. This is how Zuma earned his ‘showerhead’ coming out of Zuma’s head in Zapiro’s cartoons (see cartoon).

However, as Zuma is now President Zuma of South Africa his depiction has quite some implications, and Zuma supporters have been complaining continuously about his ‘showerhead’. Today Shapiro explained that he does want the government and Zuma to succeed and therefore found a way to give Zuma literally some space for improvement. He temporarily ‘suspended’ the showerhead with the following punch line: ‘Try being truly presidential and it might just fall off’ (see article/cartoon). It was evident today that Zapiro has a special place in the harts and minds of many of those present today. His work keeps pushing the boundaries of freedom of expression in South Africa, which is essentially a form of reminding our politicians of accountability and hence inspires many all over the world.

Shortly after that I attended a panel on ‘Spatialities of Hip Hop Music in Africa’, where I learned more about the music’s role in different African societies. The different ‘spaces’ of hip hop were explored, namely the space of politics (many rappers have political messages in their lyrics); the space of economics, where it opens the potential for a new form of cultural entrepreneurs and lastly the cultural space, where this music expresses relations to the elder generations and gender roles (women play a marginal, if not pure aesthetic role). It was after this panel that I realised that this conference surely lived up to represent Africa’s dynamic and diverse nature. As mentioned before, ‘space’ has come to play an important role in African studies, whether it is through the ideas that different players in Africa today originate from different spaces, may it be China or India, or the rapidly growing urban areas. Another current discussion is whether President Obama opens a new space for Africa in the world. However, as I have concluded throughout these few blogs it is mostly the space for inspiration that all these new research areas and topics provide that is most worthwhile and satisfying.