An Inspired Array of South African Satire

Cape Times (South Africa), December 24, 2009 | Go to article overview
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An Inspired Array of South African Satire

On the first day of Christmas my book page editor gave to me: four cartoon books, three e-mails, two clear choices and a deadline aimed at hilarity.

Fresh out of partridges in pear trees, she implored: "Let's lighten things up a little."

But before switching on the Christmas "lites", it is worth remembering during this season of goodwill that political cartoonists still find themselves forced into country exile, as respondents in outrageous lawsuits and the subject of intolerant fatwas.

Cartooning (from the Italian cartone, meaning a big sheet of paper) traces its origins to rock and cave drawings, through to hieroglyphics, but emerged as a recognised satirical genre only in the 19th century.

Since then, William Hogarth, John Doyle (grandfather of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) and the modern Giles have all been essential daily fixes to millions of readers.

The four books under review confirm what is already recognised internationally, that South African cartooning has come of age. Working with the richest political material since 1994, these collections represent the best in South African cartooning and deserve to find their way into your Christmas stocking.

Three presidents, Cope, the general election, Obama, Zimbabwe, the global financial crisis, climate change, Caster, Hlophe, Huntley, Mandela, Malema, Selebi and Zille have provided cartoonists with an embarrassment of riches over the past year.

Yet this gluttony of material still has to be crafted into a singular, memorable graphic that reads the collective conscience of the nation and captures the moment perfectly.

Cunningly edited by cartoonists Andy Mason and John Curtis, Don't Joke! is the first of a promised annual compilation of the best of South African cartoonists.

The delight of Don't Joke! lies in the clustering of comparative cartooning perspectives across the nation. In a single compendium the editors reward readers with the take of 25 South African cartoonists - black, white, English and Afrikaans - on events that have fascinated, intrigued, beguiled, frustrated and amused us since bad king Thabo last looked out on the feast of Jacob.

Schadenfreude abounds in the book's opening chapter, cleverly titled End of an Error, depicting the decline and fall of Mbeki.

The ink had not yet dried on the doused royal pipe when our daily graphicists turn their attention to the invidious position of caretaker president Kgalema Motlanthe, replete with images of floor mops and ventriloquist dummies.

This year's compendium concludes with tributes to Miriam Makeba, Helen Suzman and a totally irreverent take on the funeral of Michael Jackson, adorned with moon-walking pall bearers.

Veteran cartoonist Dov Fedler and Paul Cockburn's Walk This Way uses gut-punching monochromatic imagery to convey both social acuity and moral outrage.

More than this, however, Fedler's insights are often prescient, anticipating, for example, the impact of the global financial crisis on South Africa while our official economic sages were in denial.

As Robert Mugabe's lampoonist-in-chief, Fedler refuses to let go of his Zimbabwean bone until justice is laid bare.

In a naughty synthetic take on the Jackie Selebi affair, Fedler depicts Robert Mugabe reclining on a beach chair commenting to amazing Grace: "I'm thinking of asking Jackie Selebi to be my chief of police." To which an elegantly disinterested Mrs Mugabe replies: "I'll need a new wardrobe."

Eishkom, SAA, xenophobia, Boesak, Shaik's rattle and roll, the sultana who coached Bafana Bafana to 14 losses for a mere R1.

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