The end of freedom of speech? The cartoonist’s plight…

VANESSA SMEETS

In light of what has happened to one of South Africa’s most cherished cartoonists, Zapiro (who admitted the SABC tried to influence what he had to say and then canned the interview) it is time to hear the plight of our cartoonists, as the end of freedom of speech in South Africa becomes a daunting reality.

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FREE SPEECH: Some of South Africa’s best cartoonists, Jerm (second to left) and Zapiro (right), speak to students at Stellenbosch University in 2010. Zapiro’s interview with the SABC was recently canned, while Jerm was fired from The New Age for not agreeing to their terms… Is free speech history in South Africa? PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Here is a one-on-one with one of South Africa’s sharpest minds, JERM:

Jeremy Nell aka Jerm has built his reputation in the last few years as one of South Africa’s most successful cartoonists. Originally from Cape Town, his cartoons range from the hilarious “Biggish Five” about the Big Five as baby animals to his more serious political cartoons.

He was recently in the news after losing his job at The New Age newspaper for “not being aligned to their editorial vision and mission”. He recently published his first cartoons for Eye Witness News, keeping audiences entertained with his brilliant ideas and poking fun at our politicians.

How do you feel about The New Age’s excuse for terminating your contract?

I think that’s a nice way of saying that they don’t like my criticisms and lampooning. EWN approached me after they heard the news, and pioneered a new cartooning direction for South Africa. Never before has there been an online-only political cartoonist (being paid for original content). And it’s a very exciting space because of EWN’s overlap with Primedia’s radio stations. Furthermore, they’re an amazing bunch of people.

Hold on… Tell the readers more about your background…

My whole life has been in Cape Town. I went to Rondebosch Boys Primary School. Then, when I went to Fairmont High School, it was the greatest moment of my life. Not because of the school, but because there were girls. Loads of them. They were everywhere. I was in Heaven.

What are your passions?

I obviously hate drawing cartoons. But I love playing my ukulele; playing a ukulele is the most fun anyone will have for a grand! I enjoy going away to little towns and dorpies and places that are quiet, that make delicious food, and that are welcoming to ukuleles.

Tell us more about your work…

Well, I draw a syndicated comic strip called “The Biggish Five”, but my other work doesn’t really have names. For example, political cartooning and caption cartooning tends to be nameless. And illustrations that I do for magazines are much the same. I suppose it all falls under “Jerm”.

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BIG DREAMS: Jerm’s Biggish Five take the Big Five (leopard, rhino, lion, buffalo and elephant) to create light-hearted yet educational pieces. Courtesy: Jerm

Which publications do you work for?

My work has appeared in a few publications ranging from The Witness, The Star, Pretoria News, Dispatch, Sunday Times, The Times, The New Age, Daily Maverick, EWN, Beeld, Rapport, and more, to magazines such as FHM, Playboy, Cosmopolitan, The Media, Dekat, and others.

What inspired your love for cartooning? And, from what age?

From as far back as I can remember. I was inspired by TV cartoons, mostly; Daffy Duck and Pink Panther and all those fantastic “Golden Age” cartoons that we all love.

What continues to drive the passion?

I suppose seeing the finished product. I get an idea and I like seeing how it comes out. Oh, and being paid to do that is a wonderful incentive.

What is your cure to writer’s block?

I have no cure and it happens a lot! If you know the cure, then please contact me.

Which is your personal favourite?

I have no personal favourite. In fact, I feel embarrassed by a lot of my earlier work (style, usually) and tend to push my boundaries in an attempt to improve and satisfy my expectations.

Which are you least proud of?

I am proud of pretty much every cartoon that I’ve done. But, as I said, I’m not necessarily satisfied with the quality of drawing. And, of course, there are a bunch of bloopers too.

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ZUMA CHRISTMAS: South Africa’s cartoonists are some of the most privileged in Africa, allowed to poke fun at even our president. However, that may change soon as our government tightens its grip on media freedom… PIC: Jerm

How would you define “political cartooning”?

Making comments about current affairs and pop culture and the world around us, without attempting to provide solutions.

Jerm also makes short movies depicting South Africa’s current situation. This one gives a wonderful overview of Nkandla, President Zuma’s bustling castle…


Have you ever gotten into trouble for your work (sued/ harassed/ warned)?

No, I’ve not reached Zapiro’s level, in that regard. I mean, yes, I’ve had a lot of cartoons pulled, and I’ve had a number of irate readers, and the NSPCA once lodged a complaint against me, but nothing too serious. Unfortunately.

Have you ever been rejected by an editor for being too controversial?

Yes. Plenty. I was even fired, not too long ago.

Which other cartoonists (South African or international) are your favourites?

In no order of preference, my list would include cartoonists and non-cartoonists: Zapiro, Rico, Peter Sellers, Bill Cosby, Quentin Blake, and a bunch more.

What is your greatest achievement thus far?

This interview. LOL.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully following Roald Dahl’s footsteps and working from a little Wendy House in my back garden. (Close enough to home, but far away enough from noise.) And, perhaps being able to play a few more songs on my ukulele.

What is your advice to other aspiring cartoonists?

Being a cartoonist is not easy. It took me years just to be able to buy a more comfortable chair, for example. You have to believe in yourself and when you feel like giving up, have a shot of vodka or go for a walk. And rejection is a daily occurrence. Make sure that your skin grows thick very quickly. If you can get through the challenges, then you find that the rewards are great. Like drinking shots of vodka.

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RANDELA: Jerm captures the heart of our new notes… No one can replace our first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela. PIC: Jerm

You can follow Jerm on Twitter: @mynameisjerm
Like his Facebook fan-page: https://www.facebook.com/mynameisjerm
See more of his work on: http://africartoons.com/cartoonist/jerm and www.jerm.co.za


 

 

Christmas time in rural South Africa!

VANESSA SMEETS

Please scroll down for the full slide-show…

About 40 children at the Peng-ai-Gong Care Centre in Zone 16 of Ga-Rankuwa, a few kilometres out of Pretoria, were greeted with toys, clothes, food and stationery last week, just in time for the holiday season.

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CHRISTMAS LOVE: Abandoned children were greeted with gifts and food last week in rural South Africa. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

The children all come from disadvantaged, vulnerable or abused backgrounds and attend schools near by. They go to the care centre after school till about 16h30 to eat and do homework. But things have not been easy: the centre lost its main sponsor a few months ago.

However, Bianca O’Neill, a lecturer at Tshwane’s University of Technology, heard about their plight and decided to help out. In September, the children were asked to draw anything of their choice that they would like to own and O’Neill instructed her students, who are future Foundation Phase teachers, to make these toys out of whatever materials they had.

It was a project that would be both educational and inspirational. The result was phenomenal: the children were given objects like a giraffe, doll houses, a Chris Brown doll, wire cars, amongst other things.

For Irene Kgasi, the centre’s manager, O’Neill’s arrival was a divine appointment:

“Bianca is a gift from God. She wiped away our tears just in time. We, however, still need a donor and more food as we cannot expect Bianca to continue helping us. Whoever is interested must please contact our Board Member, Angie Molebatsi.”

The centre is made up of a total of 46 boys and 58 girls (when they are all present) between the ages of 4-19 and also includes activities like numerical literacy and sport.

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HOPEFUL: The care centre’s manager, Irene Kgasi, hopes they will find a sponsor in time for Christmas. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

The project of transforming a child’s hand-drawn dream into a real-life model was inspired by the idea of giving to those less fortunate, but also giving something that you made personally. It was a test to see how generous and imaginative the students were, but also to test their love for children and whether teaching was truly their chosen profession. The students were marked on originality, durability, neatness, as well as evaluated on the journal they had to keep from the day they started on the toy till now.

For student Mpho Kesimoloste, it was a wonderful experience:

“To see the smiles on the children’s faces was truly amazing…The whole thing became personal for me, because I did not know where to begin or how my toys would turn out. We also didn’t know how the children would react to the toys that we made and, to our surprise, they were very happy and it brought a sense of joy and happiness to them.
I believe that as people we should continue to help and care for needy and vulnerable children, this kind of thing should not end with us but continue to help these children to be positive in life.”

For Mpho* (8), an orphan at the centre, the gifts came just in time:

“We are so happy. We have never had a real Christmas. All I wanted was a toy… old or new. Now, I have so many! We are going to share and make it the best Christmas ever!”

O’Neill describes the success of this community project:

“This involvement has inspired my students so much… I’m proud of all my students and happy with all the people who made donations. Here’s hoping to continue with his for a long time and bring as much joy to the children and teenagers as we can.”

The project also hopes to break down the stigma attached to the Tshwane University of Technology, which became infamous earlier this year for their strikes and unrest. O’Neill explains:

“My students have proved themselves as hardworking and dedicated individuals, who are willing to make a difference.”

Readers who are interested in helping the centre, can visit their website: http://noah.clickclickboom.co.za/?p=2468

South Africa goes gaga over Gaga!

VANESSA SMEETS

Despite a staunch stand by South Africa’s Council of Churches labeling her “a satanist” and “bad influence on our youth” as well as a whiplash by SANEF (South Africa National Editors’ Forum) for her refusal to have any media at her Born This Way Ball, Lady Gaga performed for an incredible two hours at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Friday night.

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JOBURG MAGIC: The FNB Stadium slowly starts to fill up with Lady Gaga’s fans. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

However, the stadium stood quite empty in comparison to Linkin Park, a few weeks ago. Many fans arrived later, missing out on the opening acts by Lady Starlight (Gaga’s good friend) and the Darkness, best known for their hit “I believe in a thing called love.”

She made her grand entrance on a puppet horse, wearing outrageous headgear, which some rumoured was the reason for her lip-syncing for most of the performance. Another reason could be the incredible stamina and moves she had to display while performing, with some fans calling her the best performer since Michael Jackson.

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LA VIE EN ROSE: Gaga fans were handed free pink wigs, after doing some wine tasting before the show. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

The stage was mostly taken up by a huge castle, filled with secret rooms and detail that Lady Gaga mastered with acrobatic ease, while being decorated in chains, sequin, lace, latex, etc. It was fascinating to watch her change into at least 30 different outfits in just a few minutes at a time. No wonder she needed six vans to transport her outfits and her rumoured 200-people entourage.

Big Concerts tweeted it was by far the most expensive concert they’ve ever held. By 6pm, “Lady Gaga” and “Gaga5” were trending on Twitter, with 5FM DJs like Rob Forbes and Poppy retweeting the best outfits and pics of the stadium.

The crowd gasped as a giant ball emerged from the castle, with legs on its sides. Yes, she emerged from a two-metre vagina, as the crowd sang in unison. She sang her most famous hits: “Born this Way,” “Pokerface,” “Just Dance,” “Paparazzi,” “Telephone,” amongst others. Some fans truly believed Beyoncé would make a surprise appearance for Telephone.

Jean Esterhuizen (@jeanesterhuizen on Twitter), a Lady Gaga and Beyoncé fan and celeb-connoisseur, claimed the show outlived all expectations:

“It was beyond epic. She’s such an inspiration. She even came back to do more after the final song, as if she didn’t want to leave. We laughed. We cried.”

She also appeared in what seemed to be that infamous egg from the music awards and also hung from a butcher’s rail as a piece of meat, for another song. She both fascinated and shocked the audience with her religious motifs: she often mentioned “black Jesus,” which happened to be one of her dancers, wearing a crown of thorns and tight top, which he later tore off. She appeared between two lumo crosses for another song and spoke to the crowd of coming to South Africa on a goat.

Some Christian fans were offended by this:

“She claims she arrived on a goat, the sign of the devil in Revelations. Christians know this is a mockery, as Jesus appeared on a donkey. She insisted we say her name many times, claiming we must rejoice her coming to South Africa and adore her forever. Very weird. Maybe those Christian protesters were right after all. We love her, but we don’t need to worship her.”

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DEDICATION: Dylan Jack (centre) and his friends camped since early morning to be part of the Monster Pit. PIC: Courtesy Dylan Jack van Vuuren

Dylan Jack van Vuuren (@dylanjack on Twitter), who queued up since early morning to be part of the Monster Pit, disagrees:

“I really enjoy the religious motifs. As someone who was an Evangelical Christian, along with the rest of the family, letting go of those unrealistic and unfounded religious expectations for yourself is the first step to being and accepting who you are.”

Read more on his blog: Just Dylan Jack

Lady Gaga made the crowd laugh with her safari tale of that morning (which, according to her tweets, looks like it may have taken place at the Lion Park), claiming she cut a hole through her hat to fit her pony-tail and wore fishnet stockings:

“I feel bad for those animals… All day they get people staring at them, I wanted them to have something to look at!”

She made the crowd cry towards the end with her powerful a capella performance, singing her “Princess Di” which she claims was inspired by her dark past of being bullied and abused:

“Some people write a diary, I write a song and keep all the pain there. Healing comes from being honest to who you are.”

She then grabbed a few fans from the Monster Pit and whisked them on stage. One fan shouted, with tears in his eyes:

“That’s what I love about her. She remains true to us. She sees us as equal to her. Yet, she’s not human or mortal… She’s a goddess!”

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ALL OUT: Lady Gaga has become a huge inspiration to the LGBTI community, fighting for equality for all. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Lady Gaga has become an inspiration to the LGBTI community, fighting for gay rights in the army and equality for all. In South Africa, her fans seemed to be a collection of all genders, sexual identity, races and religions. You saw children as young as five standing next to drag-queens and happily married couples. Lady Gaga even remarked upon this phenomenon:

“That’s what I love about you, South Africa. We somehow speak the same language. You are all here, whatever your history or background. That means the world to me. I can’t speak South African, but I can if you want me to.”

Her “Don’t give a f*ck speech” was by far the highlight of the evening:

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re gay, bi, straight… You are born this way. Don’t give a f*ck about what people think or say about you… It doesn’t matter if your parents don’t have a seat for you at their dining table, because they can’t accept you for who you are, you will always have a seat at my table. Look around! You will have a seat at these little monsters’ tables too. What makes me so proud is watching you all grow… Some of you used to copy my style and fashion, now I watch you grow into who you are. You are finally born this way! Now, don’t give a f*ck anymore! Have an amazing evening… Go get drunk and vomit on your friends!”