February 19, 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 sat down with its editor Mark Heywood to discuss creating a cartoon offering for Maverick Citizen it would speak to the many causes he champions.
Mark and I had known each other for several marches, meetings and rallies at the frontline of these same causes, and in 2017 Mark had addressed an unconventional convention of cartoonists I had gathered in Cape Town under the Drawings from Africa banner of Cartoons for Social Justice. And so, we resumed the conversation that we had both had since…
The Daily Maverick had long established itself as the go-to place for news and opinion in South Africa, and South Africa’s largest editorial cartoonist Zapiroand Rico and Etienne Francois who is the author of the country’s popular comic strip Madame & Evewere well-established contributors to the website’s cartoon offering.
We agreed that there was an opportunity to forge a different niche of cartoons focusing more on the social than the political issues of the time, and where those areas inevitably collide. We would take every (woman) man’s perspective on the issues to be addressed.
Social Justice Cartoons – or Ubuntus – should seek to focus on issues rather than egos – playing the ball, not the person – although we conceded there would be times when these focal points would converge .
Maverick Citizen committed to providing space for at least one cartoon per week; delivered every Monday, in time for their Tuesday bulletin, and supplemented with additional cartoons as needed.
Then, on the agenda, to bring together a team of ‘toonists’, and it was a real trio of talented designers who answered the call:
- The young Nathi Ngubane (signing his work as ‘Nathi‘), who had recently quit his job as a cartoonist at The citizen newspaper to pursue an independent career under the Think Ahead Comix banner, was keen to add editorial cartoons to its mix.
- Veteran Wilson Mgobhozi (signing ‘Mgobhozi‘) had taken a severance pay of Independent newspapers when they were cutting staff and he was eager to ply his trade with another news organization.
- And talented newcomer Thulani Ntsong (‘2Lani‘) seized the opportunity after looking for a place to showcase his work when so many publications, out of budget constraints or for more sensory reasons, were dropping their cartoon offerings.
These three graphic musketeers became the basis of Maverick CitizenThe cartoon team of.
A few months later, as the Covid-inspired lockdown gave EWN reason to terminate our contract to supply them with cartoons, Dr. Jack and I (‘Doctor Jack and Curtis‘) were asked to join as D’Artagnan – the Fourth Musketeer – so that, on a weekly rotation basis, we would each have the chance to produce at least one cartoon per month.
Over the past two years, this diverse team of Ubuntuonists has produced dozens of cartoons addressing the plethora of social justice issues in South Africa, as well as many cartoons with a more international flavor.
See a selection below this article!
What made this unusual arrangement unique was how this team of cartoonists encouraged and collaborated with each other; suggest adjustments along the way and help each other refine their work; always with the aim of producing a better result. By generously bringing their collective spirit, their creativity and their know-how, the designers demonstrated the true spirit of Ubuntu; the African philosophy that affirms our interdependence by declaring that “I am, because we are”.
Added to their range of skills are the editorial contribution and advice of Maverick Citizenby Mark Heywood and Zukiswa Pikoli and others colleagues from the maverick newsroom, bringing their rich knowledge of socio-political issues to the mix. A weekly cartoonist and editorial team teleconference to discuss issues takes place every Monday, 24 hours before the deadline, allowing some up-and-coming to get the word out just before Tuesday’s newsletter.
At a time when opportunities for cartoonists are dwindling around the world, Daily Maverick championed this art form in recognition of its powerful ability to communicate complex issues and commentary in a quick and digestible manner.
Besides honing their own skills and the cartoons they produced, the Ubuntuons initiative made a significant contribution to the growth of South African comics in ways they might not have never imagined.
Last year, Maverick Citizen and Africartoons have teamed up in an initiative co-sponsored by the University of Leicester to seek out South Africa’s next generation of editorial cartoonists.
The challenge for young designers brought together fourteen budding designers and as many confirmed ones (including all Maverick Citizen‘s Ubuntuonists) who served as mentors for three weeks, providing aspiring youngsters with an invaluable opportunity to learn about the craft and encourage them to pursue a career in comics.
This year, Maverick Citizen embarked on an even more ambitious task: finding the next great South African female editorial cartoonist to enter what had until now been an exclusively male space. An exciting campaign is kicking off with the grand prize of becoming one of Maverick Citizen’s Ubuntuonists, bringing a degree of genre diversity to the mix and helping to collectively create cartoons that aim to bring positive change to our world.
Because that’s the spirit of Ubuntu — or as the musketeers would say, “All for one and one for all!” SM/MC
*Female designers are encouraged to email samples of their work, contact details and a short letter introducing themselves to [email protected] before monday 25e July if they are interested in taking advantage of this exciting opportunity. Applicants may submit anything that showcases their artistic ability and understanding of social issues. Hopefully the Ubuntu examples posted here will provide enough inspiration. Maverick CitizenCurrent Ubuntuists have made themselves available to answer any questions you may have — please see their numbers in the graphic above.
John Curtis is a South African cartoonist and writer now based in the UK. He is founder of Drawings from Africacollective of cartoonists, platform for disseminating their work and defender of the rights of cartoonists.