Shapiro: ‘My life as a political cartoonist’
21st century life
Jonathan Shapiro, better known as Zapiro, is South Africa’s top political cartoonist. At the age of 50 he has been awarded two honorary doctorates, a string of international awards and has been sued for R15 million (£1m) by president Jacob Zuma. In Johannesburg, Shapiro – a name which once landed him in jail – told David Beresford that his passion for cartoons dates back almost to the time he learned to walk.
“I applied for a Fulbright scholarship to the School of Visual Arts in New York and got it. I then decided I would hold a big exhibition, at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town. On the night of the day that the exhibition came down the Branch came around and hauled me off to Pollsmoor Prison.
“This was in 1988, early July, at the time of the Mandela 70th birthday celebrations, the huge party at Wembley Stadium. There was a Mandela birthday committee to organise things here in South Africa. I only put two and two together during my first interrogation – I suddenly realised they thought I was on the Mandela birthday committee. I was an activist, but I wasn’t on the committee. They’d mixed me up with another Shapiro.
“I was taken to interrogation. I refused to answer any questions and was put in solitary for five days. I was lucky, I’m sure solitary can affect you badly if you’re in a bad space, but I was feeling mentally strong.
“They did release me in time to take up the Fulbright and I went to New York and there I studied under Will Eisner (one of the absolute greats); Harvey Kurtzman, who started Mad magazine; and Art Spiegelman, who did Maus, on the Holocaust, for which he got the Pulitzer prize for literature. He was the progenitor of the true graphic novel.”