Rights body clears Zuma cartoon

2010-06-25 09:57

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 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, the Mail&Guardian reported.

The commission’s finding reads: “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.”

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.

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.

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