Zapiro laughs off Zuma's cut-price offer

Glynnis Underhill

Zuma's legal team will not let him go into the witness box in his face-off against the award-winning cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro in court next week.

Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) is no stranger to controversy over his work. (David Harrison, M&G)

The team includes advocate Nazeer Cassim SC, who acted for Zuma in the Brett Murray The Spear case.

Zuma had been advised to go for R5-million in his claim against Avusa Media, former Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya and Shapiro, who goes by the trademark name Zapiro,  said Zuma's legal team, led by attorney Yusuf Dockrat and Cassim. The huge claim was for the publication of Zapiro's rape of Lady Justice cartoon published in 2008. It was never about the money but about a sense of morality, they said.

Zuma was advised by his new team to drop his claim to R100 000 and donate the money to charity if he wins. They also advised him not to get into the witness box. They would see how the case played out, but they would not want him to go through the indignity of being grilled on the stand.

Although Zuma has reduced the amount he is claiming significantly, the catch is that he is also asking for an unconditional apology.

But the Sunday Times legal team has decided to fight the revised claim in court, which has delighted Shapiro. The high-profile trial will resume on October 29. "I am looking forward to our day in court," Shapiro said this week. "The issues this case raises are important ones."

The long-drawn-out legal battle had put strain on him and his family, he said. "Fortunately, I am not paying the legal bills."

Political bullying
The Lady Justice cartoon caused one of the biggest furores South Africa has ever seen over a cartoon. Some politicians were infuriated that the cartoon appeared to invoke memories of Zuma's rape trial in 2006, at which he was acquitted of the allegations against him. People went on public platforms to intimidate Shapiro and incite crowds against him. "But I did not let them put me off my stride," said Shapiro. "Caving in is the worst thing to do. I don't want to cave in to political bullying or thuggery."

Before he became president and shortly after the cartoon appeared, Zuma sent a letter of demand asking for R7-million in damages.

Later in 2010, as president, he launched a court action, which Shapiro first heard about when a sheriff arrived on his doorstep in Cape Town with a demand for R5-million. At the time, the Sunday Times's legal team described the sums being sought by the president as "exorbitant amounts with the ulterior purpose of intimidating the media, the Sunday Times and Shapiro".

Zuma claimed in his court papers that the intention behind the publication of the cartoon had been for the cartoon to damage his reputation and dignity.

The newspaper's legal team stated in its plea that it saw things differently. "The cartoon was comment made honestly and in good faith on matters of public interest, namely the public conduct and statements of the plaintiff, the ANC, the ANC Youth League, the SACP [South African Communist Party] and Cosatu in their efforts to undermine the plaintiff's prosecution on serious criminal charges."

Shapiro's and Sunday Times attorney Dario Milo, a partner at Webber Wentzel, said the case required the court to consider the newspaper's and Zapiro's defence of "honest ­comment and truth regarding the cartoon, which alleged an abuse of the justice system in 2008".

An apology
"I can't speculate as to why the president has dropped his dignity claim and lowered his defamation claim to R100 000," said Milo. "I suggest you ask him or his lawyers that question. He has also added to his claim that he now also wants an apology."

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj said he could not comment on the case.

In Zuma's court papers it is claimed that the cartoon was intended to show readers that the president was "in the process of abusing the justice system in as vile, degrading and violent a way as the raping of a woman".

It was also further intended to mean that the president "enthusiastically utilises" the ANC Youth League, the ANC itself, the SACP and Cosatu "to enable him to abuse the justice system".  

The court papers refer to "the depiction of the plaintiff standing close to the feet of the figure of a lady, symbolising the justice system by means of a sash around her upper body reading Justice System, clearly in great distress and forcibly held down on her back by depictions of Julius Malema in a shirt marked ANCYL, Gwede Mantashe in a shirt marked ANC and a jacket, Blade Nzimande with a cap marked SACP and Zwelinzima Vavi with a cap marked Cosatu, with the depiction of Mr Mantashe saying 'Go for it, Boss!'"

The meaning could also be found in how the president was portrayed, Zuma's court papers state.

"The depiction of the president  holding the belt of his trousers, which are already open in the front and hanging so low that the upper part of his naked buttocks is revealed, and gazing down at the lady figure with parted lips and bared teeth."

In their defence, Avusa, Makhanya and Shapiro admit that the cartoon depicted the president about to rape Lady Justice, who was in distress and forcibly held down by depictions of the other men.

Public conduct
"The defendants admit that the cartoon was defamatory of the plaintiff in that it meant that he, the ANC, the ANC Youth League, the SACP and Cosatu were prepared to abuse the justice system and have their way with it," they stated in their plea. However, if the cartoon made statements of fact, they were "true or substantially true" and their publication was in the public interest.

"The cartoon was comment made honestly and in good faith on matters of public interest, namely the public conduct and statements of the plaintiff, the ANC, the ANC Youth League, the SACP and Cosatu in their efforts to undermine the plaintiff's prosecution on serious criminal charges," the plea states.

Shapiro is still being sued by Zuma for two other cartoons, published by Independent Newspapers around the time of his rape trial seven years ago.

Independent Newspapers and Shapiro were originally sued for R15-million for three cartoons – Zuma being sworn in in court, the moral degeneration handbook and the first cartoon in which Shapiro  ever depicted Zuma with a shower attached to his head.

But he later decided to drop the claim against the maiden shower-head cartoon and the claim was reduced to R10-million.

After that Zuma said through his lawyers  that the claim might be reduced to R2-million as his reputation was obviously still intact because he became president of the ANC after Polokwane.

"I was informed by my lawyer this week that the amount was never formally reduced," said Shapiro, who had been caught by surprise. "His claim against me in that case still stands at R10-million."

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