South African cartoonist Jeremy Nell (aka Jerm) was fired from the publication The New Age. Their reason for terminating Jerm’s contract was that his cartoons made political statements. It’s surprising that Jerm would be fired for something that falls within his job duties, but there is speculation that the newspaper’s desire to silence the type of statements he made is at the heart of his dismissal.
Jerm began cartooning in 2005 with the comic strip Urban Trash, a satire of urban life in South Africa that was syndicated in many publications. Two years later, he was hired as the inaugural editorial cartoonist at The Times, a South African newspaper, where he was given the opportunity to create political cartoons. After a three-year run with the paper, Jerm was offered the position of inaugural cartoonist at The New Age when they launched in 2010. In 2011, he won the award for “Cartoonist of the Year” at the 2011 Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards. Then, just one week ago, The New Age decided to terminate their contract with Jerm.
The World, a program broadcast by Public Radio International (PRI), did a story about Jerm’s termination. Carol Hills with The World spoke about Jerm’s work for The New Age and gave insight into the reasons for the newspaper’s decision:
…Jerm was let go, and the reason was that his cartoons are not in alignment with the mission and goals of The New Age… [T]he newspaper is owned by these three Indian brothers, the Gupta brothers. They immigrated to South Africa after the end of apartheid. They’ve struck huge business deals, many of them involving the government. Some of [South African president Jacob] Zuma’s family members have benefited from the Guptas, they have jobs with them or they’re involved with investments with them.
Hills also characterized Jerm’s cartoons as critical of the Guptas, President Zuma, the African National Congress (ANC), and issues that are important to the ANC’s platform. The implication is that the paper acted out of a desire to protect its political interests and connections. In this light, dismissing Jerm is an act of self-censorship. Famed South African cartoonist Zapiro drew a cartoon criticizing the stated reasons for Jerm’s termination. Interestingly, The New Age removed all of Jerm’s cartoons from their website.
In a blog post, Jerm notes that his editorial views became increasing misaligned with those of The New Age as time passed. He’s currently working on his syndicated comic strip, The Biggish Five, and is once again producing editorial cartoons for The Times. Despite the abrupt end of his tenure at The New Age, he is happy about his time at the newspaper and proud of the work he produced there.
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Soyini A. Hamit is a comic fan, a writer, and a 2015 J.D. candidate at Phoenix School of Law.