Jonathan Shapiro “Zapiro” in his studio. Photo: Zapiro
On 9 July 2016, South African police arrested four suspected terrorists planning attacks on embassies, other Jewish institutions and individuals in Pretoria, as part of an alleged plan to join the self-styled terrorist group “Islamic State” (IS).
The detainees, who attempted to travel to Syria in 2015, were believed by South African police to be members of an alleged terrorist cell in the country.
Among them were the South African twins Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsiethe 23-year-old South African twins have now been charged in court with planning anti-Semitic attacks, and their list of targets has emerged.
The suspects intended to target King High School David in Linksfield, Johannesburg, the UK, US and Russian embassies in Pretoria, Shiite mosques and an arms company.
Among those targeted by the Thulsie twins were investor Roy Topol, J-B MP Prouhet, secretary of the French mission in South Africa, and the well-known Jewish cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro “Zapiro”, whom they planned to kill“for drawing cartoons about the messenger of Allah“.
Zapiro was born in 1958 in Cape Town where he studied architecture but soon “drifted” into graphic design and graphic humour.
In the late 1980s he studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York alongside such celebrated cartoonists as Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman.
Zapiro has published 21 books and has received several awards and nominations both in South Africa and elsewhere in Europe.
The prophet on the couch
In May 2010, Muslim groups attempted to prevent the publication of a cartoon by Zapiro in the South African weekly Mail&Guardian in which he drew the Prophet Muhammad.
TR: “Other prophets have followers with a sense of humour”. Zapiro cartoon
The image, dated 20 May 2016, depicted Muhammad on a psychiatrist’s couch, complaining about his followers’ lack of a sense of humour.
The South African Ulema Body filed an urgent application to the High Court in Johannesburg to suspend the publication on the grounds that the image could provoke violence in the country in the run-up to the World Cup. Their application was unsuccessful.
The cartoon was part of an international cartoonists’ campaign called “Draw Muhammad Day“, launched by Molly Norris, after the creators of the cartoon series South Park received death threats for including a cartoon of Muhammad dressed as a bear in one of their episodes.
Molly Norris received threats, confessed to being scared and ended up apologising for organising the campaign.
Zapiro and justice
Also in 2010, another cartoon would cause him some problems.
Zapiro cartoon (2008) for which the president of South Africa sued the Sunday Times
South African President Jacob Zuma sued a media group over a 2008 cartoon depicting him as the rapist in a gang rape scene in which ‘Justice’ appears as the person being raped.
This Zapiro cartoon would go on to become one of the most plagiarised cartoons on the internet.
Zuma was claiming four million rand (about 446,000 euros) for defamation from the media outlet, as well as one million rand from a former editor and the cartoonist, according to Eric van der Berg, a lawyer for the newspaper involved, the Sunday Times.
I don’t know if this lawsuit was successful, although everything seems to indicate that it was not.
Zapiro did not cease to annoy Jacob Zuma. In July 2012, he again provoked anger by drawing Zuma as a large penis in a cartoon published in the Mail & Guardian newspaper.