The Critic With A Difference By Farook Khan

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A University of Cape Town study found that Nanda Soobben is the most critical cartoonist compared to Zapiro and Madam and Eve recently.

While mainstream newspapers continue to ignore the Durban maestro, his work is in demand in publications in various parts of the world.

Zapiro and Madam and Eve are favoured by some of the largest titles in the country, the study found that Soobben uses wit to get his message across.

“If a cartoonist addresses an existing specific person, he engages more in the political sphere. Second, the more realistic the cartoon is, the more serious one takes the critique expressed by the creator.

“From this perspective, Nanda Soobben can be regarded as the most critical cartoonist in this study.”

The report also said that while Soobben uses wit, there is less emphasis on humour and more on the critical aspects of his cartoons.

“Contrary to Zapiro and Madam & Eve, Soobben engages very little with trauma discourse.

“Therefore he did not contribute to the practice of traumatic storytelling, or become an actor in the manner in which the cartoonists did.  “However the visualation of his critique does make him a very critical cartoonist.  Furthermore, Soobben’s cartoons and their message are more direct, especially towards the behavior of racist South Africans in the transitional period. And the underlying message in his cartoon is often stronger compared to the other two cartoonists,” according to the report.

What the report fails to say is that Soobben does not aim solely to entertain. His work is to inform, educate and where possible to influence.

His stance is non-negotiable and is on the side of natural law.

The golden rule being: every action has a reaction.  Freedom of speech is not a license to lie or distort.

Soobben grew up in a community steeped in the struggle for freedom.  In such an environment, he has been subjected to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Non-violence was a mean weapon to bring about change.

But there were also those who pledged their support for the armed struggle. Like so many people, Soobben was caught in the cross fire.  He was able to look at both schools of thoughts very seriously and this gave him insights which enabled him to develop his life and art.

Then there were the economic circumstances. He did not come from a privileged background. Every morsel was hard earned. Every bit of electricity, fresh water and even a pencil came from considerable sacrifice.  Above all else, he tasted and shared the sufferings imposed on so many people by a ruthless government. People being evicted from their homes, critically ill people being turned away from hospitals, hungry people begging for food and then there was the homeless.

The chances of Soobben ending up on the wrong side of society was very real. But he survived and has become one of the most salient commentators in our time, is indeed remarkable.

His love for civil society continues and it’s a telling blow each time he comes around a cluster of shacks or informal settlement as they are called now days. The racism and apartheid in reverse. The squandering of the country’s resources.

The impunity by certain government departments and the arrogance of big business. It hurts him just as much as apartheid did.

Soobben’s voice is heard loud and clear no matter how much people in the media try to entertain and try to pass off comment for fact.

So while the major instruments of the mass media are entertainers, Soobben remains critical.

No wonder that report from the University of Cape Town has singled him out. Lets hope that the powers in the media houses get this message.

After all, the future is in the truth. And while western perceptions will tell you that it hurts, Soobben has blown this away as a myth.

Truth does not hurt, like some wise person said, “It sets you free.”


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