By Heba Girgis
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
CAPE TOWN, South Africa—The South African President, Jacob Zuma now intends to drop a four-year-old lawsuit that claimed about $600,000 in damages from a political cartoonist who depicted the President poised to rape “Lady Justice.” The defendant in the case was The Sunday Times—who also said that it had reached an agreement with Zuma and Zuma’s lawyers for the end of the suit and all other claims.
The Presidency noted that “in depicting President Zuma as a would-be rapist, the cartoon sought to play a discredited and legally disproved accusations made against him in 2006. The newspaper and the cartoonist wanted to perpetuate an image of the President as a sexual deviant, despite a court law rejecting the allegations against him and clearing his name.”
The cartoon, considered to be both “hurtful and defamatory,” was printed at a time when Zuma was not yet president. At the time, he was also fighting graft charges, which later were withdrawn, and two years later he was acquitted of raping a family friend. Even though he was acquitted, he admitted to having unprotected sex with a woman who he knew was HIV-positive.
The President’s office, in a statement to the press and the people said “The President…would like to avoid setting a legal precedent that may have the effect of limiting the public exercise of free speech, with the unforeseen consequences this may have on our media, public commentators and citizens.” The office, however, still believes that the cartoon was and is an affront to the dignity of the President.
Dropping the lawsuit will send an important signal showing that the President respects the right of the media to criticize his conduct. Zuma noted that racial and cultural prejudice and bigotry could not be exclusively handled through the court system. Zuma, however, is also suing several other newspapers and a radio broadcaster for about 50 million rand.
Jonathan Shapiro, the cartoonist involved in the suit, is known to write controversial cartoons. He told the Sunday Times that he had mixed feelings about the case being dropped because he believed that he would have won “hands down.”
“This is a vindication of what I was saying in the cartoon and it’s a vindication of the Sunday Times for publishing it,” Shapiro said.
For further information, please see:
Associated Press – South Africa’s Zuma Drops Lawsuit Over Rape Cartoon – 28 October 2012
The Australian – South Africa’s Zuma Drops Lawsuit Over Cartoon – 28 October 2012
Global Post – Zuma Drops Rape Cartoon Lawsuit Against Shapiro – 28 October 2012
Reuters – South Africa’s Zuma Drops Suit Over Rape Cartoon – 28 October 2012