No surprise then that in a society where men are a privileged human species, an excuse for an artist who also happens to be male will depict women as he pleases; no surprise then, an ethnic Shona man draws from his reserves of stereotypes to paint a picture of ‘Ndebele’ women whom he dresses in skimpy attire for his evil desires, and from his crooked mind he drafts them into a career which he associates with poor educational attainment and by implication calls them failures, thus condemning the women whose ‘nakedness’ he has depicted for his personal pleasure.
As though the misogyny and bigotry displayed in that Chronicle cartoon were not bad enough, the views generated from it by male commentators were even more distasteful. The open disregard for women shows no sign of abetting.
It is true that in every picture it is not often what we are looking at but what we see in an image that matters. Views raised in a recent Facebook debate on the Chronicle cartoon are testimony to that.
The following unedited (for confidentiality reasons, full names have been substituted by initials and in brackets is English translation of Ndebele phrases) exchanges taken from Facebook will form the basis of this article:
SB Comedy and jest are a used to highlight tonnes of pressing issues in society. Lynching the comedians will never solve our problems. In a free society, the cartoonist is within his rights to publish something like this and even after we see it we’re missing the big picture….neither him no his editor are the problem. Our society is broken and people in our region need to be creative when it comes to fixing those problems. Shouting over the head of a cartoonist and assuming the position of the victims…as we always do….is what got us here in the first place. The fact that most of us are unwilling to admit that our problem goes beyond an artist who decided to speak out simply highlights the magnitude of the problem.
TNMD The fact that pple dont like this cartoon means there is definitely something wrong with it. Don’t try to academize it. To me that cartoon is clearly depicting that people from matebeleland and Midlands are good at others, in this case wearing clothes mostly won by prostitutes. It therefore means that people in the mentioned provinces are not good in education but excel in prostitution. Knowing that these pple are victims of a system you wouldn’t laugh about it. Maybe you would, but not some of us. In the process of trying to find what’s wrong with it, ask yoself why pple have never been offended by other cartoons. there have been cartoons since time immemorial. Freedom of expression does not override other freedoms. Our women also deserve freedom to be respected. it’s anyone’s right to see nothing wrong with the cartoon but also allow us to find it disrespectful to women. Someone once said if you live by the sword of freedom of expression you must be prepared to die by it as well.
MMM How does one reach a conclusion that Thembi and her friend are prostitutes?
TPM It maybe helpful for you to give us your suggestions; one thing for sure none of the respected women in your life dress that way! Let’s not complicate things, this is a sexist and derogatory cartoon and will never be helpful for Matabeles because it never was meant to educate.
PB MMM its either you have not seen the cartoon, or you are blind. Its 2 ladies alone in city streets, in the dead if the night, dressed i such a way to easily seduce. One is called Thembi, not Taurai or Sekai. Come on brother.
MMM Thembi and her friend could be coming from a stockvel meeting, work, a charismatic pentecostal church prayer or from a date with TPM and PB, their boyfriends. Mina I refuse to let my sisters be identified by some crazy 1979 document that was made by a few bitter old men without a vision. There are loads of Ndebele girls who failed at school, and are running successful business enterprises. There are loads of Zezuru, Korekore, Manyika and Karanga girls who passed at school and are struggling to make ends meet and are also engaging in prostitution. and many societal vices.. Shouting and being angry that some guy has a low opinion about my sister could be a futile exercise cz bazalwa benjalo belenzondo [they were born with hatred].
TPM Charismatic Pentecostal church? For a man trying to claim some moral high ground, you have actually gone down too low, in fact lower than the cartoonist and I understand why you are tolerant of that bigotry!
MMM & you ve never seen ladies dressed in boob tubes and slitted dresses in Charismatic pentecostal churches?
TPM No! The women portrayed in that cartoon cannot be sanely confused with anyone coming out of any church. Your view of women and the so-called charismatic Pentecostal churches is disturbing and suggestive of underlying ignorance and/ or chauvinism. The women you have seen are as representative as one Ndebele chap telling us there is no tribalism in Zimbabwe.
NZNM I still stick to what I said before. The cartoon is the least of our problems. What we should be talking about is how to fix the imbalance. People in matabeleland like to play the role of the victim. So in this situation lifuna ukulungiselwa mbani [Who do you expect to solve the problems for you] the schooling situation?
TPM the cartoon is certainly not the least of our problems but a significant part of the wider problems we encounter on a daily basis; when we get into the habit of making excuses for bigotry we open doors for further and more damaging acts of arrogance. That cartoon is a reflection of unchallenged societal rot. Be careful not to get yourself in a twist trying to defend the indefensible; Matabeleland is a victim of an ethnic Shona State turning Shona creed into law, that’s a fact! We are not playing victim but are real victims of statutory discrimination. You live in a country that embraces and uses the majority vote to subvert the rights of minorities; instead of questioning that, you turn round and accuse victims of playing victims! Learning and not wisdom is the author of bigotry and defence thereof!
SB The first issue I have as rightly pointed out by MMM is how everyone seemed to jump to the prostitution conclusion….and i have one of 2 options….its eather because theres an element of truth in it or people are just plainly being judgementak based on their own perceptions of what a prostitute looks like. And that was even before the open letter !…..having bought into that conclusion myself, the cartoon doesn’t say ‘people in matabeleland are good at prostitution ‘ but instead it says ‘for some reason, people have resorted to prostitution ‘ and instead of asking for the cartoonists head on a stick I think it’s reasonable for us to as the question “what is this reason?” Because truth be told young people in our province are resorting to prostitution in their droves…That’s not an insult it’s a fact…is it reasonable to suspend everyone who asks that question !?
TPM sad attempt at altering that bigotry! Contrary to your derisory attempt, there is no suggestion in that sexist and tribalist cartoon that Matabele women have ‘…resorted to prostitution…’ but the most clear stereotype is that they ‘excel’ at it (prostitution), now these are two very different ideas, aren’t they SB? You also seem to suggest ‘…there’s an element of truth in it…’, well that depends on where you come from. Many Matabeles would disagree that prostitution is what our Matabele women (who do not achieve academically) excel in.
The Facebook exchanges above highlight one inherent problem in the analysis of the cartoon, that of poor insight into the importance of context in assessing any work. There is an insidious attempt, either consciously or unconsciously, by some contributors to analyse the cartoon out of its rightful context.
We must be wary of the risk of deconstructing and losing the context of the cartoon and end up falling into the trap of over thinking its message. All rationalisation of the cartoon is indeed useless if at the end of the day it removes the cartoon from its context. The creator of the cartoon did so within a particular context, we the analysts of the work, need to objectively establish and manage the context as we try to untangle the alleged satire. We do not want to be jumping into conclusions that the work is either absolutely wrong or dirty or insulting without placing the work into its rightful context.
Now the context: (1) the cartoonist is an ethnic Shona male, (2) ethnicity remains the foundation of Zimbabwean socio-political engagement, (3) Ndebeles and Shonas continue to hold unhelpful stereotypes about each other, (4) the current government has not shown necessary zeal in confronting stereotypical expressions unless if they touched on the head of state, (5) male views of women have not shifted significantly from the last two centuries – objectification of women has not narrowed.
Based on the five factors mentioned above, I remain unconvinced that the satire was not stereotypical and was well-intentioned. It was a misguided opportunistic use of the publicly funded newspaper to perpetuate damaging sexists and ethnically discriminatory stereotypes as opposed to steering an objective debate on poor academic achievement in Matabeleland. This is by no means an isolated case of abuse of women’s integrity and certainly not an isolated case of the abuse of minority ethnic groups when we consider that less than a year ago the president of the country, an ethnic Shona himself, expressed related remarks when telling a SADC meeting that Kalangas (an ethnic group in Matabeleland) were not educated enough.
I further believe that many of the Facebook contributors missed out on the context of the cartoon and thereby drew conclusions that unfortunately appeared to condone bigotry in the name of freedom of speech. Freedom of expression is not synonymous to the abuse of human rights of sections of the population. Suggesting that prostitution is the next viable career option for Matabele women who are not academically gifted is simply insulting. Unfortunately, the perception of loose morals among ethnic Ndebele women is a stereotype held by many in Mashonaland; the cartoonist was not being creative but merely extending on public media what he falsely holds to be true.
The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.Virginia Woolf
As a critic, I have no fear for truth. If anything, I welcome it. All I enquire is for all the facts to the cartoon be in their proper context whatever that is. Context is key, from it comes an understanding of everything about that cartoon. One would need to have an extremely bad sense of humour to find that cartoon funny!