South African President Jacob Zuma has withdrawn his claim for damages against a Zapiro cartoon published in the Sunday Times of South Africa and agreed to pay half of its legal costs. In the cartoon, Zuma, who was acquitted of a rape charge in 2006, was shown loosening his trousers while since expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe hold Lady Justice down, saying: “Go for it, boss.”
“President Zuma did the right thing in withdrawing the case. This bodes very well for media freedom,” Dario Milo, who represented the Sunday Times, said. “It is to be hoped that he swiftly withdraws his other 12 live cases against the media. This will send out an important signal that the president respects the right of the media to criticise his conduct.”
The withdrawal ends a four-year saga that began in 2008 when Zuma sued for R4-million in damages to his reputation and R1 million for injury to his dignity. Recently Zuma had reduced his claims against cartoonist Zapiro from R5-million to R100 000 with an apology. The case was set to be heard in the high court today (Monday).
Zuma started proceedings in December 2010 against Avusa, the cartoonist Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro and former Sunday Times Editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya in a summons issued in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg. With Mangaung (the ANC’s elective conference) around the corner, President Zuma’s legal team seem to be doing all they can to avoid a damaging legal showdown with cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro over his Lady Justice rape cartoon.
The dramatic changes to the claim come two years after various delays on the part of Zuma’s lawyers. “It was due to start on Thursday and that date has been in place since February. But they’ve used the same tactic that they’ve used in other cases, where they sue and then they make all kinds of adjustments and changes – it was clear that they didn’t want to go to court ahead of Mangaung,” Shapiro told the M&G. “But we dug our heels in and said we had to get into court and we’re confident of our case.”
There just hasn’t seemed to be a good time for the president to take on Shapiro, or Zapiro, as his pen name goes. With Zuma being pitted against his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in December, he now faces a similarly sensitive period where he would want to avoid a court appearance and the negative attention it might attract.