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SAHRC clears Zapiro's Zuma cartoon

2010-06-25 11:01

Johannesburg - The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has found a Zapiro cartoon depicting President Jacob Zuma about to rape "Lady Justice" did not constitute hate speech, unfair discrimination or a violation of any human right enshrined in the Constitution, the Mail & Guardian reported on Friday.

The commission dismissed a complaint on the cartoon lodged by the Young Communist League and its national secretary Buti Manamela, that cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro had defamed Zuma or violated his right to dignity in the cartoon, published in the Sunday Times in September 2008.

It depicted Zuma undoing his trousers while alliance leaders hold down the woman.

They found that it expressed a level of free, open, robust and even unrestrained criticism of politicians by a journalist and had stimulated valuable political debate.

Freedom of expression

"Although the SAHRC finds the cartoon and the words used in relation thereto probably offensive and distasteful, same falls short of and does not constitute hate speech, unfair discrimination under Promotion of Equality and the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act or a violation of any fundamental human right contained in the Constitution," the commission's finding reads.

Manamela and the league found it depicted Zuma as a rapist, was distasteful, deplorable and bordered on defamation of character.

But, Zapiro believed Zuma and the others depicted in the cartoon had threatened the justice system. In a written submission to the commission, Zapiro argued he was exercising his right to freedom of expression.

He said Malema had threatened to kill for Zuma if the case relating to his corruption charges went ahead.

Vavi, depicted in the cartoon, had echoed Malema's pledge and Mantashe said there would be anarchy if the case continued. Judges of the Constitutional Court were also called "counter-revolutionary".

Shapiro felt that the "very real intimidation of the judiciary and of individual judges" justified his use of the metaphor.

Bona fide artistic creativity


The commission said it was common knowledge that Zuma's allies in the tripartite alliance were calling for a political solution to Zuma's corruption charges and that Shapiro had acted with bona fide artistic creativity, in the public interest.

The right to freedom of expression therefore outweighed Zuma's right to dignity.

Manamela said the league welcomed the findings, "particularly where it concedes that the cartoon was offensive and distasteful".

But, they still believed he could have expressed himself in a way less offensive to Zuma and other alliance leaders.