First, here's the cartoon.
In case you don't recognise any of the figures, it's depicting the female Justice being held down by various important South African political figures who have all made statements to the effect that Jacob Zuma should not stand trial for the corruption charges he currently faces.
Zuma is the man on the left unbuttoning his trousers. He is identified by the showerhead attached to his shaved dome, an allusion to his statement that he took a shower after having sex with an HIV+ woman in order to prevent his infection. Yes, he's that ignorant. And he was elected to the presidency of the ruling party?
Anyway, the showerhead is a cheap shot. The real point of the cartoon is to suggest that Zuma wishes to metaphorically rape the justice system, and his allies in the ANC, ANC Youth League, COSATU and SACP wish to support him in that attempt.
Whether or not this is an accurate statement is open for debate, and I'm not going to discuss it here. What I'm going to look at is the reaction to the cartoon.
The cartoon is violent in nature (although careful not to incite violence), and deliberately inflammatory. I would argue that this is largely the function of editorial cartoons. But the figures represented in the image, understandably, don't like the implications that the cartoon makes. That's fine. The nice thing about liberal democracies is that nobody has to agree with, or like, anything anyone else says, provided they don't venture as far as hate speech.
But these parties have gone further than simply being upset about it. They have claimed that there has been criminal activity on the part of the cartoonist, and his publication, the Sunday Times.
In their press release, they have used words like "abuse of press freedom", "defamation of character", "direct assault on the ANC" and so on. The closest the statement comes to attempting to actually refute Zapiro's argument is the following:
We have repeatedly stated our commitment to uphold and defend the Constitution, and the rule of law. We have never attacked the judiciary but criticised [sic] unfair treatment of our President. This, we did in a normal public discourse of a democratic society. There can, therefore, be no justification for such unwarranted insult on our leadership by the Sunday Times.
Isn't that interesting?
What they're implying here is that they've never stated that Zuma should not stand trial for his crimes, but rather that he is being "unfairly" treated by the judiciary. They must have a short memory.
What we see here is an interesting attempt at diversionary tactics.
Zapiro has merely stated what many South Africans are thinking and saying in private. But instead of tackling the allegations head on, or trying to clarify their earlier statements, these organisations resort to the old tactic of one who knows he has a weak position: they cry foul, and maintain that their accusers are violating their rights simply by making the accusation.
This is seen all too often in the discourse ideologues like the Cdesign Proponentists or Scientologists. If they can make enough of a fuss about how offended they are, they think they will get away with not having to actually deal with the argument. And it works, at least in the short term.
But sooner or later they're going to have to actually face up to the argument. But it's only their constituents who will facilitate this change. Let's hope those constituents are not buying the okidoke this time.