South African President Drops Libel Lawsuit over Cartoon

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(Credit: the Presidency, screenshot, highlight added)

South African president Jacob Zuma ended his 2008 defamation lawsuit for a Sunday Times cartoon, “The Rape of Lady Justice,” according to an Oct. 28 statement published by the South African government.

The cartoon “depicted President Zuma preparing to ‘rape’ a representation of ‘Lady Justice’, while various other individuals held her down for him,” the statement explained, calling the cartoon “hurtful and defamatory.”  Zuma’s statement added:

“Moreover, in depicting President Zuma as a would-be rapist, the cartoon sought to play to discredited and legally disproved accusations made against him in 2006. The newspaper and the cartoonist wanted to perpetrate an image of the President as a sexual deviant, despite a court of law rejecting the allegations against him and clearing his name.”

The statement explained why Zuma made the “decision to withdraw his claim against the respondents and pay a contribution to their costs.”  For example, the statement said the president didn’t want to be “setting a legal precedent that may have the effect of limiting the public exercise of free speech,” and that the issues of “deeply ingrained prejudices…will not be eradicated from our body politic through litigation alone.”

Editors Weblog reported on the history of the case and the cartoons noting that Zuma originally wanted 5 million rand, and then in late October before dropping the lawsuit, he “reduced the claim to 100,000 rand.”  The cartoon was published before Zuma was “elected president” but was “fighting corruption charges.”  Further, “Two years earlier, the polygamist and father of over 20 children had been acquitted of raping an HIV-positive family friend.”

Editors Weblog added

“According to the BBC, Zuma had stated during the 2006 rape trial that, ‘he had showered after unprotected sex with the woman to guard against possible infection.’ As a result, Zapiro began drawing Zuma with a showerhead protruding from his cranium. The showerhead– translated into a hand gesture– has become a symbol of the opposition to Zuma’s leadership.”

The AFP reported that the cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro aka Zapiro, called Zuma’s lawsuit withdrawal a “total capitulation,” adding:

“It’s a hammer blow in favour of freedom of expression and it also vindicates what I was saying in the cartoon, which is that Jacob Zuma threatened the justice system in order to get corruption charges dropped against him and he did that with the help of allies.”

iMediaEthics wrote earlier this year about another photo of Zuma and his genitalia.  In that case, City Press ran the photo of “Zuma in a Leninist pose with exposed genitalia.”  City Press originally defended the photo but later took it down “out of care and fear” and “in the spirit of peacemaking.”

Check out all of iMediaEthics’ reports on South African media ethics.

iMediaEthics has written to Zuma’s spokesperson asking why the lawsuit’s financial claims changed this past month and to Shapiro asking if this incident has affected his work as a cartoonist. We will update with any response.

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South African President Drops Libel Lawsuit over Cartoon

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