Issue of colours
Madam is white and bourgeoisie. She likes to shoe-shop, watch soap operas and pose as a liberal of Johannesburg’s wealthy northern suburbs. Her 80-year-old mother likes gin and tonic, rugby and firing her catapult at black street traders. Their black maid, Eve, wields a feather duster and plots a pay rise in vain. A decade after apartheid fell; characters in the cartoon strip ‘Madam and Eve’ are icons of the new South Africa. On April 27, the country celebrated democracy’s anniversary with hymns to racial reconciliation. But the storylines in ‘Madam and Eve’ betray the enduring edge in racial relations. Madam’s mother beams, “Thousands of snowflakes landing everywhere. What can be more beautiful than a white South Africa?”
In another strip, Eve responds in kind, professing herself a rugby fan because it is the only time she can watch 30 white guys beat each other senseless. A broken vase found on the ground prompts the household to host its own version of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. South Africa boasts of success in nation-building and a kinder, gentler society is reflected in the cartoon, but so are the often hidden tensions over corruption, crime and lingering racism. Twelve newspapers run the strip and a spin-off television sitcom has become a hit. Nelson Mandela is a fan. When the strip started in 1992, Madam was a crusty conservative verging on racist. But after the first multiracial elections in 1994 she embraced the new dispensation — inspired partly by Mandela, partly by the realisation her privileged lifestyle would continue. Madam is often outsmarted by her maid but prevails in pay negotiations. Even her mother has mellowed.