The Chronicle newspaper of Zimbabwe – a regional paper for the Matebeleland province – published a cartoon drawn by Wellington Musapenda which resulted in controversy with accusations against the cartoonist of being sexist and tribalistic. The initial reaction to the cartoon was that of condemnation and shock but these reactions are largely hypocritical as much worse has been said and has not caused any outrage. Though it has caused some to be uncomfortable and some have been offended, it has sparked a debate. The cartoon could have been derived from these two articles  Mat’land, Midlands post worst school results and Midlands records steep rise in STIs

My first impression of the cartoon is that it was badly drawn. I have neither found the cartoons in both The Herald and The Chronicle engaging, provocative or humorous. Only reason this cartoon caught my attention was because there was outrage about it. I was not offended by it and also didn’t feel it was tribalistic.

The cartoon was published in a regional paper and focused on issues specific to that region. We want the cartoonist to include everything else from other regions? Unfortunately the people who have called for other areas to be included and men to be included as well resemble an issue we have had to constantly deal with in design. Whereby a client wants you to include everything the company does, on a logo, to show that its based in Mutare – include the mountains, a word that is in chiManyika so that people can see that we are from Mutare. No, the logo does not have to tell the whole story. And neither does the cartoonist have to put everything in. By virtue of there being no men is not necessarily sexist.

The conversation that was ignited by this tweet made me decide to look further into this issue and follow the conversation.

After going through the conversation and seeing some of the comments I decided to broadcast a message to a number of my contacts inquiring about what their impressions were when they saw the cartoon and also their reactions to the suspension of the cartoonist. I have included some of their reactions as quotes through out this post, placed randomly and do not correspond to my thoughts in the post.

Tribalism

It seems you cannot say anything negative about Matabeleland without being labelled a tribalist. When people talk about Matabeleland having more beautiful women than any other area in Zimbabwe, nobody stops to question and ask for facts or to accuse of sexism and tribalism, but we just accept it as a fact. Why would it be tribalistic for a paper which covers that region of the country, to talk specifically about results in their area?

Musapenda was a victim of selective targeting, being an easier and weaker target. The first family have said some seriously sexist (‘Men from Matabeleland only interested in sex; and they are lazy too’) and tribalistic (‘Kalangas not educated’) comments, but all the wrath and outrage that should have been exhibited here were reserved for Wellington Musapenda. And more recently a minister from the same region says this;

“People from this region have no ambition to be President, no one has the qualities to be President in this region and we are shocked that some people are saying so and so should replace the President because he is from this tribe. We are not involved in all that because none of us has ambition to rule.”

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This is hate speech!

Oh my God! Who published this?!. Why in 2016 are people still so tribalistic? Aren’t we all suffering the same. Whoever drew this and published it should be arrested. This is hate speech! Im shocked. No wonder there are secessionists. I’d want a separate country too if this was the sort of blatant tribal bulls**t that was being in the media. The editor and cartoonist should be fired, then driven into the street to be tarred and feathered. It’s bulls**t. Maybe even shot for being enemies of the state. His suspension is not enough!

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A demeaning sketch

A demeaning sketch about young women and perhaps how they’re broadly viewed in the community. If the editor approved such a sketch, then perhaps there is some truth to it, as a newspaper typically tries to reflect/represent what people are talking/curious about. It’s not funny to me, I would say the artist is reaching. A cartoon needs to be witty and provoke thought, this illustration is lazy and unimaginative.

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Matebeleland is marginalised

Interestingly enough I saw an article on how Matebeleland is marginalised when it comes to education resources and the question of Shona speaking teachers teaching Ndebele as a language.

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Its just satire

The artist is emphasizing booty with no brains, they fail in school and make up with looks, in other words their gifts are physical. No I am not offended by it because its just satire, Comedy, Just fun. Artists though make the harshest truth

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Tribalist and gender insensitive

How Musapenda manages to be tribalist and gender insensitive in one go is truly astounding. But then again we’ve become a people so low on self confidence & so accustomed to self depreciation that failure & suffering have become the new normal. More & more people find it difficult to expect better for themselves or demand better from their leaders. Musapenda in many ways echoes this & perhaps his suspension is hopefully an important small step towards refusing this hate filled & negative portrayal of who we are as a people

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Suggestive dress means one is a whore

Women dressed suggestively in local cartoons usually mean whores so this cartoon implies that kids in those areas excel more in sex

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That is the current Situation

High rate of female student drop outs in tertiary institutions and they are opting to sell their bodies because of poverty. No it doesn’t offend me, It’s stating what the current situation is.

Well I have some background information on MSU. Some very negative stuff. My views given the information I have about MSU students will differ from the view I’d have without the information. Well MSU female students are notorious for engaging with men that are a lot older than them. These men usually give these girls money in exchange for their services. Many sex videos of MSU students have made their rounds on social media. Given this information, when I looked at the cartoon that you posted, I wasn’t offended or anything. I simply thought that it’s in line with what these students are known for. Instead of focusing on their education, they choose to focus on the things that I mentioned. Looking at this cartoon from the perspective of someone without this background knowledge, I would actually be quite offended. Women excel with their bodily assets. This is what it’s implying. Yes it’s saying that the girls from Matabeleland are the ones who are like this. Which is rather crazy and narrow minded in my opinion.

The Cartoonist

Cartoonists don’t have to be politically correct neither do they need to be literal, putting all the information in a piece. Its a sketch of a moment in time. This is not even a hard hitting or graphic cartoon. The fact that there was outrage about this shows that as a country we are not even ready for freedom of expression. In the absence of a statement from Musapenda we will all just speculate as to his intention and we can all read what we want into the cartoon. We see what we want to see. We become offended based on reading into what is not there based on preconceived ideas.

This also had me thinking that I have never heard an instance where the term sexist has been applied in defence of men, its only sexist when men do it. Its also not the responsibility of the cartoonist to come up with solutions for issues he would have pointed out in his work. Neither is he there to take into account the various reasons why the results are bad in this area. He is just stating facts. He has to take away his own personal sentiments and comment on sensitive topics.

Cartoonists and comedians are the ones who generally tackle sensitive issues and use humour and satire to get their message across. They play play on stereotypes, often cause controversy and offend but dull it down with humour (Kuruma wachifuridzira). If people have their way in dictating what the cartoonists is going to draw and comment on, then the work may never be published as the cartoonists negotiates his way across a field of egg shells, afraid to offend with each step.

Representing data

If we look at this solely as data representation we may have had no outrage at all, Musapenda would still be at his desk sending a cartoon everyday to his editor who would approve without even thinking twice about the contents of the cartoon. If we had received this data in the form of pie charts we would have accepted the findings as scientific and just flipped the page, no one would have tweeted it.

We take in a lot of info as stats, graphs and percentages with no offence, its just data and since there are stats by X organisation they must be correct. But if we were to visualise a lot of the data that we accept as ‘just data’ we could interpret it as offensive. Visual representation of data elicits an emotional response as opposed to charts and graphs which are normally cold and impersonal. So is education the ONLY area that Midlands and Matebeleland can excel at, they cannot excel in any other area?

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Tired of negative representation of women

Ahhh why suspend him? Even though I get what message he is trying to send, and perhaps who is trying to attack, I hate that his cartoon undermines women in the process. Couldn’t people use men, undermine men in their examples for a change? I’m tired of all the negative representation of women everywhere as if there is nothing positive women ever do in Africa

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They're just too revealing for the office

I think the ladies are comforting each other that despite their provinces coming out with bad educational results they’re better at other things like seducing people at offices seeing the way they’re dressed they seem like working class but that uses beauty to get what they want, judging from their dress and grooming. Yes women are dressing like that but you’ll never walk into an office to find a woman at the reception with a boob tube. They’re just too revealing for the office. Yes he didn’t deserve to be suspended, he’s a cartoonist hellooo! I think if people are angry at jokes then there’s as element of truth in it, its just a joke.

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The artist however has been genius

This cartoonist is insinuating that girls who sell sex for a living are more in Midlands & Matebeleland. It may also be saying girls that care much about sex appeal are in the same province and care less about academics. Though this satire may sound cruel it may be true. However it’s likely to face a storm from feminist and turn into a gender debate. The artist however has been genius in that he didn’t say any of the first things that come to mind so the bearer of the information is given whitespace to draw conclusions. – McPotar

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A Play on stereotypes

He was playing on the stereotype that women from the southern part of the country are beautiful but of loose morals. Hence life goes on despite failing exams.

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Prostitution

The short dresses. Handbag for work money and them heels. A headline is showing us these women do stuff that doesn’t need academic brains and the artists impression of those women clearly depicts what they are into. If it was something else they would be dressed different and probably have a man there too. Prostitution being mostly a women profession.

This is very divisive and amounts to possible tribalism.It is also very patriarchal and exposes the vices of capitalism owed to the modern buildings in the back ground.It also suggests unemployability of Ndebele women. There are no men in the picture so it implies women are the ones that drive prostitution. Says Ndebele women are immoral and Shona women are not. Its an attack on a certain age bracket of Ndebele women. One of the dresses has a slit right up the thigh that in general Zimbabwe dress culture, is too revealing besides, the cartoonist is Shona. His suspension is justified given boiling ethnic temperatures and the editor should be suspended as well. If what he posits is true he does not address its root causes.He proposes no solutions either which presents a situation of cultural superiority of the Shona over the Ndebele. I hope the production of this cartoon leads to a debate where matters are addressed. Ie why do Matabeleland kids fail..? And if it holds true that the rest of Zimbabwe kids pass.What about Ndebele kids at school in Shona areas? What about matters of family structure and discipline. Funding of schools. If I were a policy maker I would want answers. Hermeneutics – each person bringing their own baggage from their own experience or cultural perspective, from your audience reception you will get different results. The author is the only one who can enlighten us on the intended context. Its only from there we one can find out if ones reading of that text is hegemonic i.e as intended, negotiated i.e not quite as the author intended or oppositional i.e way off the mark.

Who’s to blame?

Taking a look at his previous cartoons are they sexist and tribalistic in nature, is there a pattern? If not then how can one cartoon define him? Does he put through his personal opinion or is he briefed daily/ weekly about content to focus on and what angle to take. That this was published in a regional daily raises questions about the whole editorial policy of the paper and all the editorial team must be held to account. If the editors story is to be believed, the sub editors sent the paper to print without knowing which cartoon was being published? A cartoon is not something you can just slip into the paper just before it is printed. So a regional paper can’t publish news that is specific to their region without being labelled tribalist? Our future looks bright!

Musapenda has been at that paper for years drawing a cartoon every single day and I am quite sure that there was an unwritten rule that he did not have to present that cartoon to the editor for approval each time. Along comes a new editor who feels he is being undermined by the cartoonist so waits for an opportunity to enforce the ‘editorial policy ‘and stamp his authority. Conspiracy theory? Maybe.

A Double Standard

Its interesting how many have quickly come to the conclusion that these women are of loose morals judging by the clothes they are wearing. But women are dressing like this in Zimbabwean society everyday. On another day there would be outrage for commenting that women dressed like this are prostitutes and are of loose morals. People in their desire to be politically correct and announce their ‘outrage’ are exhibiting the same type of sexism and tribalism as they are condemning.

Its interesting when ever a women succeeds as a model there is always a concerted effort to mention how educated she is, and yet her education plays little to no part in the main reason she has been contracted which is for her looks and her physique. This also betrays a deeper issue of stigmatisation in that we associate dressing like this with prostitutes so people may tolerate and not say anything but they internally associate such dress as that of prostitutes. Maybe the cartoonists actually struck a chord, somewhere, could it be he touched on something that people have known but are afraid to speak about?

Comedians and cartoonists say some of the most racist, and sexist comments and play on stereotypes. The same people who are condemning this cartoonists, are happy to call it comedy, satire and social comment when it comes from a comedian like Chris Rock. We might not like the cartoon, but could the cartoonist be onto something and we are not prepared to deal with it because we are in denial?

Take him to court

Would a court of law convict Musapenda as being a sexist and a tribalist based on this cartoon alone? I asked a prominent lawyer two questions of which I didn’t get any answers for, maybe he had already answered these elsewhere and he didn’t feel like repeating himself which is fair enough. It would have been interesting to hear how he would have defended Musapenda in a court of law, if at all it were possible.

As much as I would love it, but I don’t see Musapenda coming out to defend himself because he seems to have already been sacrificed, we have not heard any forced apology or anything. He has been tried and found guilty in the courts of social media with no opportunity to defend himself, he has obviously been gagged. We have become what we hate, a microcosm of our country.

Conclusion

We make a lot of assumptions and how we have concluded that the women are prostitutes is the same way we judge people on appearance. People certainly seem to be offended. Despite our being offended, if what Musapenda says is true, what are we prepared to do about it? Beyond the outrage, name calling and labelling? Had Chris Rock said this there would have been a collective laughter and given him a pass saying ‘its just comedy, satire etc.’ Unfortunately and as is usually the case, this will be forgotten soon as another issue for us to be outraged by will come.

We are a frustrated people looking for occasions to be outraged and in the process we are ignoring the elephants in the room and jabbing at the likes of Musapenda. Our outrage is misplaced. We have been challenged by the artist and instead of us taking up the challenge we have decided to put up a faux outrage as a denial mechanism and in turn avoid confronting the real problems, but we celebrate the suspension of the cartoonists as a victory of some sort and somehow makes the issues highlighted go away. No, the problems are still there and they are certainly not with the cartoonist, nor is it about sexism or tribalism. Come on Zimbabwe lighten up and wise up!

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Education has long lost its value

The truth of the matter is; education has long lost its value in Zimbabwe’s society. The younger generation has grown up with unemployed uncles, unemployed sisters and brothers who have degrees & straight A report cards. This cartoon doesn’t just potray Matebeleland but Zimbabwe as a whole. Our parents still STRONGLY believe in the education system. We (born free adolecences) have lost faith in it, because we haven’t seen the fruits promised to us. Musapenda does not need to apologise to anyone for Zimbabwe’s growing social-decay. Education hasn’t lost its value, due to corruption and massive unemployment.

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Isn’t a cartoon supposed to be a joke?

That these women “know” they are not smart and make money from their bodies or that they are beautiful but not smart. I think it is both sexist and tribalist BUT if it is based on a true headline i.e the worst results then the cartoonist may have thought of it differently. Like saying but our women are hot. Clive Chigubu has a joke where he disses Shona women. He calls us ugly but we laugh at it. Isn’t a cartoon supposed to be a joke?

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An artists job is to stir emotion

First thoughts — nothing outrageous. But you have to take into account an artists job is to stir emotion. So my presumption is that this is done purely in context. Results versus the benefits, vs being pretty and the benefits. What it does though is blanket the midlands and Matebeleland as a whole including males because it does not identify gender in the results so a man and woman would have been appropriate characters. This makes the cartoon sexist in nature at some level. If this is the reason women don’t do well what about men? Art is up to interpretation and I guess artists have to have that in mind.

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Highlighting that the story is one sided

These ladies maybe teachers in those provinces and want to comfort themselves about how badly they performed, trying to bring out that exam pass rates aren’t sufficient or adequate to bring out what schools can do. There are other extra curriculum activities like sports, choirs, traditional dances which don’t appear as pass rates. So they are highlighting that the story is one sided. The cartoon may also depict a generation of young persons in those two provinces who don’t take their studies seriously, it looks like they started adult life whilst at school and have an alternative to education. They don’t care anymore about excelling in their studies because they have lost faith in the education system and don’t think their success in life hinges on education. Their dressing shows that they now have faith in the use of their bodies for a living. Its a sign that the two provinces are lacking in either quality education or good motivation to study for school going children their demotivation could be coming from seeing their parents coming home after job loses due to company closures.

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I don’t think its sexist

In a way they are saying it okay to do prostitution. Its now accepted in society. Any chick that doesn’t do well in school will know what route to take, even by catching a rich older man its also a form of prostitution. I don’t think its sexist, but then again I’m a guy and we rarely scream out sexism. As for tribalism, you might not be from Matebeleland or Midlands if you school there. Then again I’m not from any of those mentioned areas. Us Shona, especially men seem to be insensitive to sexism and tribalism. I get a lot of abuse in Harare about being a Manyika (samaz). But it doesn’t bother me, I like being different.

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Stretched his humour too far

It’s attacking Midlands State University female students, they are known for their immorality. On the other hand most prostitutes in the avenues or a good number of them are form Matebeleland. It’s all debatable, I must say but I think the cartoonist stretched his humour too far. At the same time it has an element of truth in it. Maybe insensitive to the plight of people who have become victims or been reduced by economic hardships. The subject depicted is a summary of so many things which are true. It’s a good piece from a critical point but society expects such people to be sensitive and not too harsh.

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Artistic freedom and license to show the situation

Remember the First Lady said Ndebele men were only good at making babies, then the president said the men were lazy and shunned education only to go to South Afrika and return with bikes. Then he also had the famous ‘it’s the uneducated Kalangas’ reacting to reports that xenophobic attacks in South Afrika were driven by Zimbabweans. My personal take on this cartoon is that the artist was trying to use his artistic freedom and license to show the situation and resignation of the people in the region. Rather than mock the people of Matabeleland. I think he actually pronounced very eloquently an issue that is contentious in the region and what the highest office and family of the country feels. Those castigating him and suspending him, do not get this obviously. For me it’s like Musapenda with this cartoon is saying “Let them say all they want Thembi, after all they claim we are good at ONE thing only” this one thing being sex – remember the president and first lady’s utterances.

Its playing on the whole women don’t need to be educated or academically successful to get ahead. No need to be independently accomplished. You can use your body and snag a man to give you what you cant earn. It offends me. At the same time I know there is a bunch of women out there who live like that and plan their lives like that. Some out of aversion to the work required, some because its just enjoyable and some out of necessity. So I can’t be outraged on behalf of all women. Just myself and out of my personal sensibilities. Makes me think about the sexual politics of modern society and sigh.  So he was suspended from work? Tight! I think sits punishment enough, its not an off with his head moment. He does probably need to rethink the sexism and gender a bit  but I think its hypocritical for people to be upset when they sit there proud that their daughters are super pretty and hence can snag a wealthy guy who can take care of him. If we have a problem with that type of thinking then lets have a problem period. Not just when its not inconvenient. How many will refuse money when its waved in your face? Many people in Zimbabwe let their daughters be wooed by married men with money not even undercover. he even brings them groceries buying stuff for the whole family and paying fees for the little siblings

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Unbelievable!

So this cartoon says these two young ladies didn’t do well at school but they are bragging that they’re good at (judging from their clothes) partying, having a good time out and (I’m assuming) being loose, attracting men etc. Sad choice of images on the cartoonist’s part. But I’d like to have seen the article that ‘inspired’ this coz it would have to be equally offensive I’m sure. For example, does the article mention what the young men of the provinces are also resorting to or what behaviour has led THEM to perform badly in school? For me, the cartoon is a visual interpretation of what is written in the paper and upon seeing the cartoon I am intrigued to find the story its linked with. How come the cartoonist is suspended when its the editor who gets to decide what goes into the paper and what doesn’t? The whole editorial team needs to be investigated, including the writer of the article linked to this cartoon because yes in isolation the cartoonist looks like THE bad guy, but he didn’t put the newspaper together by himself, did he? I know as a woman and a feminist i should be calling for his head on a platter, but in this case I don’t know if his thoughts were his own. I tried not to look at this particular one as tribalist though, because Midlands was also mentioned here so its not specifically Ndebeles who are targeted here and it came from the Chronicle – a Matebeleland publication. If it had been done by The Herald then it would be different but sexism is what I picked up immediately, because they didnt say “Girls had the worst results” (unless the article itself also says it).

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Musapenda is just doing his job

Cartoonist are just like journalists and they have a way of telling a story. We all know somehow that before a newspaper is released that it has to go through someone for approval. So whose fault is it if his cartoon evokes emotions the truth is talking from a personal point of view. Original statements from cartoonist can be changed to suit the latest story before being published and such changes can be a generic cartoon where you can place any headline for it to become the latest news fresh from the source. Musapenda is a name we all know from the paper through his signature and he has become a subject because of this. Don’t be fooled Musapenda is just doing his job and he is getting paid to do what they want him to cartoon and sometimes he is free to illustrate any situation as he sees fit.

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Leadership will lead to tribal divisions

I think this lack of respect,careless talk by our leadership will lead to tribal divisions, attacks. It’s not expected of people of their stature. But then again, ours have stooped so low. And for the cartoonist to be suspended argh man even some decisions are being made at the dinner table! For what? For simply putting into picture what had already been said. Come on!

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Absolutely pathetic

Hmm is this a stereotype for Ndebele women or all women? Because this seems like its alluding to women’s highest potential as sexualised beings. If we can’t be smart there’s always the vag**a as plan b. Absolutely pathetic. How come women always have their power negotiated with the needs of men? Men are powerful because they are. As women we have to debate about that all the time the pen*s being point of reference of course. So I guess it conveys the girls are not concerned about academics. As they have other “Ass”ets to help them along?

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Some won't even give education a chance

Generally, some women believe that if education fails they can always thrive through other means. Which, in this case, is their looks. Some won’t even give education a chance, they just dive straight into their looks, hoping that they will open up opportunities. Politically, ZANU PF government is accused of neglecting the Matebeleland region hence the poor academic results.

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Producing beautiful girls in the country

 I see two beautiful ladies that look like they are doing well. I think the reason there is a worst pass rate in the case of these ladies. Maybe ladies in these areas have found other ways of making a living other than from getting an education e.g. prostitution, or getting rich men to marry them. Or excelling in other areas may mean trying to beautify themselves as to be attractive to men e.g. the curves, weaves, clothes. They have handbags, these are probably bags with stuff they move around with i.e. consignments, drugs, or other stuff that brings quick money. And also since they are ladies in the cartoon, and Matebeleland and Midlands are known for beautiful girls, it could mean their excelling is coming from producing beautiful girls in the country.

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