Maverick Citizen

UBUNTOONS OP-ED

Maverick Citizen’s unique brand of editorial cartooning comes of age

Maverick Citizen’s unique brand of editorial cartooning comes of age
DON’T TAKE US FOR GRANTED: A family prays for financial relief during one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s televised ‘Family Meeting’ updates during the devastating lockdown. ©2Lani / Ubuntoons for Maverick Citizen, July 27th, 2021. Main pic

How a ragtag group of satirical journeymen entered the stable of South Africa’s two leading cartoonists and forged a niche of bespoke cartoons for social justice.

On 19th February 2020 — the day before the United Nations World Day of Social Justice and shortly after the launch of Maverick Citizen (the social justice supplement to the Daily Maverick), I met with its editor Mark Heywood to discuss the creation of a cartoon offering for Maverick Citizen that would speak to the many causes it champions. 

Mark and I knew one another from several marches, meetings, and rallies on the frontlines of those very causes, and in 2017 Mark had addressed an unconventional convention of cartoonists I’d gathered in Cape Town under the Africartoons banner of Cartoons for Social Justice. And so, we picked up on the conversation the two of us had had since…
The Daily Maverick had long established itself as South Africa’s go-to place for news and opinion, and South Africa’s foremost editorial cartoonist Zapiro, and Rico and Stephen Francis who author the nation’s popular comic strip Madam & Eve, were well-established contributors of the website’s cartoon offering. 

We agreed that an opportunity existed to forge a different niche of cartoons focussing more on the social than the political issues of the day, and where those areas inevitably meet. We would take an every (wo)man’s perspective of the issues at hand. 

Cartoons for Social Justice — or Ubuntoons — should seek to focus on the issues rather than the egos — playing the ball, not the person — although we conceded that there would be times that those focal points would converge.

Maverick Citizen undertook to provide the space for at least one cartoon a week; delivered every Monday, in time for their Tuesday newsletter, and supplemented by extra cartoons as the need arose for them. 

Next on the agenda was to gather a team of ‘toonists, and a veritable trio of talented draughtsmen answered the call: 

  • Young Nathi Ngubane (signing his work as ‘Nathi’), who had recently quit his position as an editorial cartoonist at The Citizen newspaper to pursue a freelance career under the banner of Think Ahead Comix, was keen to add editorial cartoons to his mix.
  • Veteran Wilson Mgobhozi (signing ‘Mgobhozi’) had taken a severance package from Independent Newspapers when they were cutting staff and was itching to ply his trade with a different news organisation.
  • And talented newcomer Thulani Ntsong (‘2Lani’) seized this opportunity after having searched for a place to showcase his work when so many publications, due to budgetary constraints or more sensorial motives, were abandoning their cartoon offerings.

These three graphical musketeers became the foundation of Maverick Citizen’s cartooning team. 

A few months later, as the Covid-inspired lockdown gave EWN reason to terminate our contract to provide them with cartoons, Dr Jack and I (‘Dr Jack & Curtis’) were invited to join as D’Artagnan — the fourth Musketeer — so that on a weekly rotational basis we would each have a chance to produce at least one cartoon a month.

Over the past two years, this diverse team of Ubuntoonists has produced scores of cartoons tackling South Africa’s plethora of social justice issues, as well as many with a more international flavour. 

See a selection below this article!

What has made this unusual arrangement unique is the way this team of cartoonists has encouraged and collaborated with one another; suggesting tweaks along the way and helping one another finetune their work; always with the aim of producing a better result. By generously contributing their collective wit, creativity and craftsmanship the cartoonists have demonstrated the true spirit of Ubuntu; the African philosophy which asserts our interconnectedness by declaring that “I am, because we are”.  

Added to their quiver of skill sets came the editorial input and guidance from Maverick Citizen’s Mark Heywood and Zukiswa Pikoli and other colleagues from the Maverick newsroom, bringing their rich knowledge of socio-political matters to the mix. A weekly teleconference of the cartoonists and editorial team to discuss the issues is held every Monday, 24 hours ahead of the deadline, allowing for some to-ing and fro-ing to get the message just right before Tuesday’s newsletter.

In a time when opportunities for editorial cartoonists are shutting down across the globe, Daily Maverick has championed the art form in recognition of its powerful ability to communicate complex issues and commentary in a fast, digestible way.

Besides the sharpening of their own skills and the cartoons they have produced, the Ubuntoons initiative has made a significant contribution towards the growth of the South African cartooning tapestry in ways they might never have imagined.

Last year, Maverick Citizen and Africartoons teamed up in an initiative co-sponsored by Leicester University to seek the next generation of South Africa’s editorial cartoonists. 

The Young Cartoonists Challenge brought together fourteen aspirant cartoonists and just as many experienced ones (including all Maverick Citizen’s Ubuntoonists) who served as mentors over a three-week period, providing an invaluable opportunity for the young aspirants to learn about the craft and encouraging them to pursue a career in cartooning.

This year, Maverick Citizen has undertaken an even more ambitious task: to find South Africa’s next great female editorial cartoonist to break into what has thus far been an all-male-dominated space. An exciting campaign is being launched with the grand prize of becoming one of Maverick Citizen’s Ubuntoonists, bringing a degree of gender diversity to the mix and helping to collectively create cartoons that aim to bring positive change to our world.

Because that is what the spirit of Ubuntu is all about — or as the musketeers would put it: “All for one and one for all!” DM/MC  

*Women cartoonists are encouraged to email samples of their work, contact details and a short letter introducing themselves to [email protected] before Monday 25th July if they are interested in taking advantage of this exciting opportunity. Applicants can send anything that showcases their artistic ability and understanding of social issues. Hopefully, the examples of Ubuntoons published here will provide sufficient inspiration. Maverick Citizen’s current Ubuntoonists have made themselves available to answer any questions you may have — please see their numbers in the above graphic.

John Curtis is a South African editorial cartoonist and writer now based in the United Kingdom. He is founder of Africartoons, a collective of cartoonists, a platform showcasing their work, and an advocate of cartoonist’s rights.

Editorial cartoons - Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga faces tough questions about corruption in the wake of a scandalous leaking of exam papers

TEACHING ETHICS: Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga faces tough questions about corruption in the wake of a scandalous leaking of exam papers. ©2Lani / Ubuntoons for Maverick Citizen, December 8, 2020.

Editorial cartoons - The Eastern Cape Health Department demonstrates that it is ill equipped to handle the challenges of the pandemic.

AMBULANCE CASE: The Eastern Cape Health Department demonstrates that it is ill equipped to handle the challenges of the pandemic. ©Dr Jack & Curtis / Ubuntoons for Maverick Citizen, March, 23rd, 2021.

Editorial cartoons - A family prays for financial relief during one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s televised ‘Family Meeting’ updates during the devastating lockdown.

DON’T TAKE US FOR GRANTED: A family prays for financial relief during one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s televised ‘Family Meeting’ updates during the devastating lockdown. ©2Lani / Ubuntoons for Maverick Citizen, July 27th, 2021.

Editorial cartoons - Yet another murder of an Abahlali activist for land rights puts years of ‘progress’ under the spotlight.

A GRAVE SITUATION: Yet another murder of an Abahlali activist for land rights puts years of ‘progress’ under the spotlight.  ©Dr Jack & Curtis / Ubuntoons for Maverick Citizen, March 15th, 2022.

Editorial cartoons - A SICK WORLD is the prognosis in this cartoon marking World Health Day.

A SICK WORLD is the prognosis in this cartoon marking World Health Day. ©Nathi / Ubuntoons for Maverick Citizen, April 5th, 2022.

DRY HUMOUR spells out the reasons that Nelson Mandela Bay is unprepared for its current water crisis, and how its public servants are even complicit in the worsening of the crisis. ©Nathi / UBUNTOONS for Maverick Citizen, May 18th, 2022.

FOUNDED ON PREJUDICE: Yet another case of schoolyard racism reveals itself at a school where wealth and privilege are clearly no substitute for class. ©Mgobhozi / UBUNTOONS for Maverick Citizen, May 31st, 2022.

ANOTHER WINTER OF DISCONTENT is marked by protesting students on Youth Day in a scene reminiscent of that day in 1976 when the youth rose up against systemic abuse. While much may have changed since those dark days, not enough has changed, notes ©Mgobhozi / UBUNTOONS for Maverick Citizen, June 16th, 2022.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    An exciting and welcome initiative with brilliant cartoons ! Make hay while the sun shines in SA (with a genuinely independent judiciary we can still be proud of … because the time is around the corner where in places like Hong Kong … people like Zunzi have been ‘contained’ ! Maybe he will find himself in “re-education” centre soon … like the “special military intervention” of Putin . The ‘bastardisation’ of language has no limits … and cartoons at least take us ‘beyond’ it ! Long live the cartoonists – the path ahead in authoritarian and fascist climes is fast closing in !

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