Too chicken to change? Satirists taunt Mugabe

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The Independent Online

He has sparked fury among Muslim theologians, been sued by a furious President Jacob Zuma and dared to poke fun at the father of the nation, Nelson Mandela.

Now South Africa's foremost political cartoonist, Zapiro, has taken on the leader across the border, and turned Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe into a latex chicken.

Zapiro's puppet of Rupert Mugabe is the star turn of a satirical music video released this week by the African band Freshlyground that lampoons the 86-year-old President and challenges him to step down after 30 years in power.

Zolani Mahola, the lead singer of the multinational group which shared the stage with Shakira at the World Cup closing ceremony in South Africa, initially lauds Mr Mugabe in the song as a "supernova" for his role in the independence struggle. But the song and video go on to make clear that he has fallen along the way and should relinquish the reins of power.

The latex Mugabe – created by Zapiro, real name Jonathan Shapiro – is the video's star turn. He is first portrayed addressing the Zimbabwean public promising to "observe the laws of Zimbabwe, so help me God". Then he appears in the back of a chauffeur-driven limousine reading a newspaper Bob's Times with a headline reading, "Glorious Victory for [his party] Zanu-PF".

Eventually, his Spitting Image-style head morphs into one of a chicken, still wearing his spectacles and suit. Chickens have come almost to symbolise poverty in Zimbabwe, and are sometimes used for barter impoverished rural areas. The serious message of the upbeat song – "Chicken to Change" – is to challenge to Mr Mugabe to finally give up on clinging to power.

"I've been doing cartoons of Mugabe for years," said Mr Shapiro. "Working with Freshlyground gave us the opportunity to finally add him to our cast of latex characters. Although I positively love this puppet, I truly hope we can retire him sooner rather than later."

The cartoonist routinely skewers politicians and the powerful in South Africa and further afield. One of his works showing the Prophet Mohammed as a patient on a psychiatrist's couch sparked fury, with death threats from extremist Muslims sent to his newspaper, South Africa's Mail & Guardian.

He regularly depicts President Zuma in his cartoons with a shower attached to his head in a reminder of his comments that he showered to avoid contracting HIV before he was acquitted on a rape charge. Mr Zuma had sought damages of millions of pounds for the depiction, though there is no letup in the video when his rubber character appears in the background flirting with a group of women. Mr Shapiro is equally irreverent to Nelson Mandela, who appears in the Freshlyground video, thrashing Desmond Tutu at dominoes.

What Mr Mugabe's reaction will be to his latex alter ego can be easily predicted. But the seven-piece band, with members from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, said they were not worried. Sarah Barnett, a spokeswoman said they "believe in freedom of speech and that people should be able to talk about topics that affect many civilians".

She added: "The video is not an attack on Mugabe at all. It is a tongue-in-cheek challenge for him to reflect on things and become the hero he used to be, to consider his actions and surprise us. We are not afraid of his reaction. Why should we be in a democratic world?"

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