JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Zapiro, an award-winning South African cartoonist, likes to stir things up, and he did that by putting words in Nelson Mandela‘s mouth.
Jonathan Shapiro, who signs “Zapiro” on his cartoons, said his newspaper editors grew edgy earlier this year when he submitted an image of an ailing Mandela in bed, holding hands with a forlorn nation — symbolized by a map of South Africa with a frowning face. It captured the angst of South Africans who revere the former president and peacemaker, and worry about a future without him, even though the 95-year-old is long retired and has been critically ill for months.
“I know it’s hard, but we have to start letting go … ” Mandela tells the nation in the cartoon.
Shapiro, 55, has made a career of stripping away taboos and artifice with satire. Sometimes he gets sued, most notably by President Jacob Zuma. The Mandela cartoon in April for The Times, a South African newspaper, was one of his gentler efforts and a commentary on a nation that showed promise on Mandela’s watch after the end of white rule in 1994 but grapples today with economic inequality, corruption and other ills.
“I think people are saying, ‘We have to move on from where we are at the moment because we’re not in a good place,’” Shapiro said last week at the annual dinner of the Foreign Correspondents’ Association.
Shapiro, who has worked for a variety of South African newspapers in the past two decades, pokes relentlessly at politicians, athletes, celebrities and institutions.
“When I get into those dark spaces and I think about some of the things that are happening, I’m afraid I just let rip,” he said in a summation of his work this year.
One of those spaces involved a Mozambican taxi driver who died after he was dragged from a South African police vehicle in February, depicted by Shapiro in a Sunday Times cartoon. “SA’s reputation,” reads a caption on the victim’s shirt.
South Africa often engages in a push-and-pull over its international image. Shapiro’s cartoon captured just how bad things sometimes look to the outside world. In contrast, Brand South Africa, a state-funded agency, seeks to build national pride and attract investment.