South Africa: Guptas 'Consider Legal Action' After Gang Rape Cartoon

EFF protest Guptas
Supporters of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters demonstrate against the Guptas and President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria, South Africa, on November 2, 2016. The Guptas have been accused of exerting undue political influence through Zuma. GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty

A South African cartoonist has sparked debate with his latest creation, which features a woman wearing a tattered dress cut from the nation's flag being gang raped by the South African president and a member of a controversial business family.

The cartoon depicts the black woman being held down by three figures representing, among others, state institutions and cronies. A figure resembling President Jacob Zuma is walking away from the woman and zipping up his fly, while another figure, resembling a member of the Gupta family, is undoing his trousers. The Zuma character is pictured saying "She's all yours, boss!" to the one resembling Gupta.

The Guptas are a prominent business family with close ties to Zuma. Opposition figures have accused the family of trying to exert political influence.

The family's lawyer tells Newsweek that they are considering legal action over the cartoon. South Africa has a high rape rate and the lawyer says that the Guptas find the cartoonist's use of rape as a metaphor to be "disgusting."

The cartoon has provoked a mixture of criticism and praise on social media. It was drawn by Zapiro, whose real name is Jonathan Shapiro, in the Daily Maverick on Tuesday.

The Gupta brothers—Ajay, Atul and Rajesh—oversee a multibillion rand business empire in South Africa. But in 2016, the former deputy-finance minister claimed that the Guptas had offered him a promotion to the role of finance minister, dragging the family into a row over undue political influence. The Guptas denied the allegation.

Thuli Madonsela, South Africa's former public protector—an anti-corruption role mandated by the constitution—called for an investigation in November 2016 into alleged influence peddling by the Zuma government to the Gupta family. The phenomenon has been dubbed state capture in South Africa—a reference to private enterprise trying to exert control over public institutions, such as the treasury.

In the cartoon, the woman is pinned down by three figures: One representing the Guptas' media empire and two labeled "State Organs" and "Cronies Inc."

The Guptas' family lawyer, Gert van der Merwe, says that the family is considering its options with regard to the cartoon. "The family is disgusted with the continuous use of a metaphor of rape of a black woman, gang rape actually. We are considering action given our constitutional rights," van der Merwe tells Newsweek .

South Africa has one of the highest incidences of reported rape anywhere in the world. According to police figures, almost 43,000 rapes were reported between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016. The Zuma figure in the cartoon is depicted with a shower above his head, a reference to Zuma's trial for rape in 2006. During the trial, Zuma admitted to having consensual sex with his accuser and said that he took a shower afterwards to reduce the risk of contracting HIV, a statement derided by scientists and AIDS activists. He was acquitted of rape.

Some South Africans on social media said that negative reaction to the cartoon was overblown, while others said the cartoon trivialized rape.

U know if we were half as outraged with actual rape as we are about cartoons the perhaps the country would be very far by now! #Zapiro

— J Dilla Stan 4 life (@MissYoyo84) April 11, 2017

Dear #Zapiro the trauma, humiliation and shame endured by survivors is not on any level comparable to political or economic exploitation.

— African (@ali_naka) April 12, 2017

Zuma has twice launched legal action against Zapiro—once over a very similar 2008 cartoon depicting Zuma about to rape a woman representing justice—but later dropped both cases.

Thousands of protesters demanded on Friday that Zuma step down after a controversial cabinet reshuffle, in which the president fired former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, a trenchant Guptas critic. Gordhan's sacking hit the value of the rand and was a factor in a ratings agency downgrading South Africa's credit rating to junk status.