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Bel Award “I was a walking cartoo n, sta nding up to authority, but doing it in a cartoo nish way. It gave me a whole new persona. I was saying ‘I am here under protest ’.” “A lot of the (white) cartoonists then were closet liberals. If you scratched below the surface it was another story. They did not stand up the way they should have,” says Shapiro, a hint of sadness in his voice. His activism led to him being harassed and detained by the feared Special Branch, which relentlessly hunted down opponents of apartheid. His first major run-in with the Security Police came in 1987 over his iconic Forward to Peoples’ Power UDF calendar featuring leaders of the movement and ordinary people protesting and the police as pigs. After going on the run and evading arrest for 18 months he was finally arrested and spent five days in solitary confinement and a further six days in prison while being interrogated by the Security Police. “They took me to Pollsmoor (Prison) and during the interrogation the first question they asked is ‘why do you draw us as pigs?’, ‘I draw what I see’.” Zapiro finally landed a cartooning gig at the anti-apartheid South newspaper, drawing two cartoons a week. “Working in the alternative media I was in a fortunate position of not having to conform. As cartoonists we had far less constraints on us, we could get away with far more than writers.” Lampooning, he says, is a very important tool in a cartoonist’s toolkit. “It’s a very important part of that jester’s space we occupy, using it to knock people off their pedestals. The idea that you could take something into a space where people in power would see it and be laughed at by other people in power is very edgy and very interesting.” With its still recent dark history of oppression and censorship under apartheid, there is a worrying and increasingly narrowing space for robust debate in South Africa today. Accusations of racism on social media often stifle, or sometimes replace, robust debate. As a white cartoonist whose work is published widely Shapiro is often the target of people offended by his cartoons. He has received numerous death threats as a result of his cartoons, some from “loons” and others he says he took very seriously – but he is at pains to reiterate several times that none were related to his run-ins with President Jacob Zuma. And, he says, things have become even worse with the advent of social media. “… some people are living in echo chambers where they hear themselves. This then gets amplified onto a bigger stage where even things used ironically or used to criticise other people are then pounced on, twisted and convoluted, in order to have everyone conform to multiple banal sets of canards”. Continued to p 46 The Media | wagthedog.co.za P 45


THE MEDIA SEPTEMBER digital
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