Zuma zaps Zapiro
President Jacob Zuma has slapped Avusa Media with a R5-million defamation lawsuit after the Sunday Times published a cartoon depicting him preparing to rape Lady Justice two years ago.
In a summons issued in the Johannesburg High Court on Friday, Zuma began proceedings against Avusa Media, former Sunday Times editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya and world-renowned cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, known as Zapiro.
In court papers, Zuma said the cartoon, published on September 7 2008, damaged his reputation, was degrading and left him feeling humiliated.
The cartoon shows Zuma loosening his trousers while ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and SACP leader Blade Nzimande hold Lady Justice down. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe then says: "Go for it, boss."
In court papers, Zuma demands R4-million from Avusa, Makhanya and Shapiro for humiliating and degrading him. He also demands a further R1-million for damaging his reputation.
The president wants both amounts to be paid with an additional 15.5% interest since the date of publication. He has given the three parties 21 days to respond.
Copies of that edition of the Sunday Times, Zuma said, were distributed throughout the entire country and were "widely read by the general public".
Zuma further states that the cartoon was wrongful and defamatory. He said the respondents intended to damage his reputation and dignity. The cartoon, he said, was understood by the paper's readers to mean he was abusing the justice system "in as vile, degrading and violent a way, as the raping of a woman".
He alleges the cartoon also shows that he "enthusiastically utilises the Youth League of the African National Congress, the ANC itself, the SA Communist Party and the Confederation of SA Trade Unions to enable him to abuse the justice system".
Zuma's attorney, Thabile Fuhrmann, said: "The president has his own liaison people and I certainly do not have a mandate to comment on the case," she said.
Questions sent to Zuma's spokesman, Zizi Kodwa, were not answered by last night.
Sunday Times attorney Eric van der Berg said the lawsuit came as a surprise.
"We are surprised to receive this almost two years down the track. That is all we have to say at this stage," he said.
Shapiro said Zuma and his legal team would be in a better position if the lawsuit was dropped.
"I think the president has been badly advised. All he and his legal team are going to do is drag this case back into the public eye," he said.
Shapiro said the Human Rights Commission had exonerated him and the Sunday Times earlier this year, saying the issues covered by the cartoon were in the public domain.
"I fully stand behind my cartoon and the views expressed in it, and I will not allow the president to intimidate me," Shapiro said.
"We have had a very free print media for the past decade and we will fight for that freedom. He is going to have unwelcome attention on whether the cartoon was justified or not, and he is going to have an egg on his face over this case."
Sunday Times editor Ray Hartley said: "It's sad that a political figure can sue over a cartoon."
Media Institute of South Africa deputy chairman Raymond Louw said the president has lodged a number of lawsuits against newspapers and Shapiro in the past.
"We do not know what happened to those cases, and they seem to be lying around to intimidate journalists and the media," he said.
Louw said the size of the lawsuit against Avusa was huge.
In his view, the meaning of the cartoon was not that Zuma wanted to physically rape Lady Justice, but was rather about what government's intentions were at the time.
"I am rather startled that the president has decided to pursue this case," he said.
In July last year, Zuma successfully sued the British Guardian newspaper over claims that he was a rapist after an article was published on March 6 with the headline "Get used to a corrupt and chaotic South Africa".
Zuma's lawyer, Jenny Afia, told the British High Court that the article had alleged the president was guilty of rape, corruption and bribery that had arisen from his involvement in the arms deal.
Zuma received an apology and "very substantial" libel damages.