South African cartoonist Zapiro receives top French cultural award

Screengrab of South African cartoonist Zapiro talking about Nelson Mandela.
Screengrab of South African cartoonist Zapiro talking about Nelson Mandela. FRANCE 24

South African cartoonist Zapiro was presented with the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, one of France's highest cultural honours, at a ceremony on Wednesday.


Zapiro, real name Jonathan Shapiro, was given the award to recognise his contribution to international culture by the French Ambassador to South Africa, Aurélien Lechevallier.

South Africans including the photographer Zanele Muholi, the artist William Kentridge, and the musician Johnny Clegg have previously received the honour.

Zapiro is well known for his political cartoons, particularly those celebrating former president Nelson Mandela and those satirising later president Jacob Zuma. His work regularly features in the nation's press.

The 61-year-old cartoonist was ranked by Jeune Afrique magazine as one of the 50 most influential personalities on the African continent.

It was a drawing on the anti-apartheid movement that made him famous.

"It provided a springboard for my career. I tried to reproduce the excitement of belonging to the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s. And then, you see, I used to draw policemen as pigs. When they saw this, they came to get me, and they asked me: 'Why are you drawing us as pigs?' I said I was drawing what I was seeing.They put me in isolation for that," he explains.

Since then, he has published 28 books and caricatured most South African political figures.

Former President Nelson Mandela is his favourite. "I had the idea of using Mandela's face, instead of the rising sun, to symbolise renewal," says Zapiro.

The artist developed a special relationship with Mandela. But not all subsequent presidents appreciated his sense of humour.

Jacob Zuma particularly resented that Zapiro always depicted him with a shower on his head.

"He was asked what he had done to protect himself after he had consensual sex with an HIV-positive person. He replied that he had taken a shower to reduce the risk of infection. So then I started drawing a shower on his head. And this idea had a success that I would never have imagined," says the cartoonist.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Take international news everywhere with you! Download the France 24 app