Renowned artist Penny Siopis yesterday questioned whether the now-infamous Zapiro cartoon, depicting rape, was worth the hurt it caused.
Delivering the graduation address at Rhodes University yesterday, where she was awarded an honorary doctorate, Siopis said the cartoon had sparked a necessary debate around public symbols.
The cartoon depicts a rape scene where President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta brothers are would-be rape perpetrators. The rape victim is draped in the South African flag.
She said while Jonathan Shapiro, aka Zapiro, had defended his use of rape as a metaphor for the violation of the country through state capture, rape was an all too pervasive and painful reality in South Africa.
“What is demonstrated by presenting rape as the so-called universal sign for violation, and women as the sign of a nation, is that our visual language is still imprinted with patriarchal and colonial inscriptions.
“It also shows that images can hurt. Is the image worth the hurt?” she asked.
She said political change called for a heightened awareness of the power of images.
“What forms do we give to our public and private selves now? The question: ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ is not only rhetorical.”
Speaking at the same event, Rhodes University vice-chancellor
Dr Sizwe Mabizela said the country has been pushed to breaking point by greed, corruption, deceit and a spectacular failure of political leadership.
Mabizela warned that future leaders should be chosen with greater wisdom and forethought.
In his sharpest criticism of Zuma’s administration yet, Mabizela quoted celebrated African-American science-fiction writer Octavia Butler to tumultuous applause:
“To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”
The country was at a crossroads and it needed university graduates more than ever.
He urged graduates to use their skill, integrity, honesty, innovative ideas, knowledge, youthful idealism and enthusiasm to pull the country out of the abyss.
He said 2457 students would receive their degrees and diplomas during six graduation ceremonies.
Significantly, he said 59% of this year’s graduates were women.
The university produced 82 PhD graduates, up from 67 last year, he added.