'Zapiro' relieved cartoon suit is over

By Drum Digital
29 October 2012

Cartoonist Jonathan "Zapiro" Shapiro is relieved the "Lady Justice" cartoon court battle with President Jacob Zuma is over, he said on Monday.

"It's a great victory for freedom of expression and for satire and for comment," he said by telephone from Cape Town.

Media lawyer Dario Milo said the case was formally withdrawn on Monday morning.

Shapiro, who signs himself as "Zapiro", said he had been looking forward to airing what he felt were important points made in the cartoon since the R5 million claim was lodged against him and the Sunday Times in December 2008.

However, in the past week there had been a "steady capitulation" by Zuma's team. The amount was reduced to R4 million, with the impairment of dignity aspect dropped. Zuma then reduced it to a demand for R100,000 for defamation and an unconditional apology, before letting it go altogether.

Shapiro said the president's decision did not mean he would stop drawing "Lady Justice".

"Most certainly I will be drawing 'Lady Justice' and 'Press Freedom'. Maybe having a drink together... a glass of champagne. I see it as a victory for both.

"But I'm not going out of my way to use them. This whole episode was about a particular set of circumstances," he said.

On Sunday, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj issued a statement confirming news reports about the withdrawal of the suit, in which he said: "After careful consideration and consultation with his legal team, President Zuma has taken a decision to withdraw his claim against the against the respondents, and pay a contribution to their costs."

This was to avoid setting a legal precedent that "may have the effect of limiting the public exercise of free speech".

The presidency felt the courts were not always the best places for these matters to be resolved, and the president also had to get on with resolving urgent economic and political issues.

Other comments in the communiqué relating to freedom of speech and African mores brought up mixed feelings for Shapiro on Monday and had made him a bit more "combative", he said.

Part of the statement read: "...Essentially what lies at the heart of the Sunday Times' publication of the cartoon was a set of deeply ingrained prejudices regarding not only the president, but which extend to views about African males and sexual mores.

"... Defeating racist attitudes requires removing the racial imprint on the way South African society is organised and structured, as well as continuous political action and open dialogue between South Africans across racial and cultural divides. The president wishes to encourage this route to solving such problems."

Said Shapiro: "It's a bit of a cheap trick... to completely drop the charges and completely cave in, then call me a racist."

He questioned Maharaj's statement on free speech.

"Claiming freedom of expression is a cheap trick -- pursuing someone for four years and being the most litigious president we have ever had," he said.

In September 2008, the Sunday Times published a cartoon drawn by Shapiro depicting Zuma loosening his trousers while "Lady Justice" was pinned down by since expelled African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema, Congress of SA Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, all saying: "Go for it, boss".

At the time, Zuma had been acquitted of rape, and had had a long-running battle against corruption charges with French arms company Thint. The corruption charges were dropped because the National Prosecuting Authority said there was recorded evidence of interference in the case.

The Democratic Alliance is trying to get those tapes, through a court.

This week, the Sunday Times carried a Shapiro cartoon depicting Zuma lying on the ground with "Lady Justice" sitting on one of his arms, a shower head over his head, and a broken baseball bat on his other side, on which the words "R5 million lawsuit" were written.

Shapiro was depicted holding a picture of the cartoon in question, pinning Zuma's other arm down, with the words "Are we done here?" in the speech bubble.

-by Sapa

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