S.African president says cartoon defamed him

Zuma files defamation suit over cartoon depicting him preparing to rape blindfolded female figure symbolizing justice.

December 14, 2010 14:07
2 minute read.
South African President Jacob Zuma

Zuma 311. (photo credit: AP)

JOHANNESBURG  — South Africa's president filed a $700,000 defamation suit over a cartoon depicting him with his pants undone, preparing to rape a blindfolded, female figure symbolizing justice, a lawyer said Tuesday.

Eric van der Berg, a lawyer for the Sunday Times, said notice from the president's lawyers had arrived at the paper's Johannesburg offices Monday.

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The cartoon caused a storm when the Times published it in 2008, two years after Jacob Zuma had been acquitted of rape charges. But van der Berg said Zuma had not followed up on threats to sue until now.

Zuma is claiming 4 million rand (about $570,000) for humiliation and degradation and 1 million rand (about $140,000) for damage to his reputation. His spokesman, Zizi Kodwa, refused to comment Tuesday.

Jonathan Shapiro, who signs his work Zapiro and is among the country's best known political cartoonists, said he stood behind his cartoon and the view he was expressing.

"I will not allow the president to intimidate me," Shapiro told the daily Times, sister paper to the Sunday Times.

The cartoon also showed Zuma's political allies encouraging him as they held down a writhing, screaming figure with a sash identifying her as the "justice system."

It appeared in the newspaper as Zuma's political party led a protest campaign to have the corruption charges dropped against him. Zuma at the time was preparing to lead his African National Congress party in general elections. Prosecutors dropped the charges on the eve of the vote, and Zuma took office in 2009.

Buti Manamela, then a leader of the Young Communist League, filed a formal complaint about the cartoon before South Africa's Human Rights Commission in 2008. The South African Communist Party leader was among the ANC allies depicted in the cartoon.

The commission concluded that the cartoon, while "probably offensive and distasteful," did not violate Zuma's constitutional right to dignity or constitute hate speech.

"The cartoon is a political expression, published in the public interest, and as such, deserves heightened protection," the commission ruled. "It has, in fact, stimulated valuable political debate."

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