book review: Madam & Eve – Twenty: Celebrating 20 Years of South Africa’s Favourite Cartoon Strip!

delightful review of South Africa’s changing landscape over two decades

On a recent trip to Cape Town, a friend introduced me to Madam and Eve as the Doonesbury of South Africa. This compilation of cartoons from 1992 through 2012 centers around Madam, a middle-aged white woman, her black maid Eve, Madam’s mother Edith, and their neighbor, the little girl Thandi. The cartoons provide a wonderful series of snapshots of South Africa’s changing social and political landscape, replete with Apartheid-apology greeting cards (“Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m sorry about the last 60 years, how about you?”), a South Africa monopoly board (“Collect R200,000 bribe as you pass go”; “Go to jail! … or fire public prosecutor”), and South African bestsellers (“Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Tender Dad”). (Tenders are the calls for bids to fill government contracts.)

For someone who, like me, knows relatively little of South Africa’s day-to-day political goings-on, some of the jokes went over my head, about Julius Malema, eating off the stomach of sushi models, and Brett Murray’s explicit painting of Jacob Zuma (“The Spear”). But for each that went over my head, several more hit home, either because the events were internationally known – Zuma taking a shower to protect himself from HIV or seeking his nth wife on a dating site – or because they display unfortunate international “truths” – Madam and Gwen watch TV impassively as horrible current events unfold, but then are aghast at the news that someone threw flour on Kim Kardashian.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

1. Thandi says to Edith: “Check out my new school project.”

“Big deal…a ship in a bottle.”

“Wrong! It’s a minibus taxi in a bottle!”

“How did you get it in there?”

“I held up a little police roadblock and it made a quick u-turn into the bottle.”


2. Teacher says to Thandi: “Okay, class! You have thirty minutes to complete your vocabulary quiz. Ready? Begin!”

Neptune: When you hire your cousin as the official ANC song writer.

Nationalise: Things politicians tell the nation that aren’t true.

Bookkeeping: Government policy of keeping books from school children.

This collection is lots of fun, and I highly recommend it.

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