Zuma claims R7m over Zapiro cartoon

African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma is suing Jonathan Shapiro, the Sunday Times and its holding company for R7-million over a controversial cartoon published earlier this year, the Times reported on Thursday.

In the cartoon, Shapiro, who uses the pen name Zapiro, portrayed Zuma unbuckling his belt as he prepares to rape the figurative Lady Justice.

She is held down by Zuma allies Julius Malema, Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi.

Mantashe eggs Zuma on: “Go for it, boss!”

While Zuma’s allies claimed the cartoon was intended to project the ANC president as a rapist—even though Zuma was acquitted of rape in 2006—Shapiro said the central meaning of the cartoon was “incredibly clear”.

“It showed Jacob Zuma, with the help of his political allies, threatening and intimidating the judiciary to try to manipulate the courts for him to be exonerated and escape going on trial [for corruption], thus paving the way for Zuma to become president,” said Shapiro.

He said he used Lady Justice to represent the South African judicial system, adding that the figure is recognised as a symbol of justice the world over.

In the letter of demand served on Shapiro, Zuma threatens to take the award-winning cartoonist to court if he does not pay him R7-million within 14 days.

“The publication of the aforesaid cartoon has injured our client in his dignity and reputation and as a result thereof he has suffered damages in the amount of R7-million,” reads the letter.

It was served on Shapiro on Wednesday, but is dated September 15, a week after the cartoon appeared.

The R7-million claim consists of R5-million for alleged damage to Zuma’s reputation and R2-million for alleged damage to his dignity.

Just after the cartoon was published in September, Zapiro told the Mail & Guardian Online of massive reaction to his cartoon. “Perhaps the biggest reaction ever in the shortest space of time,” he said.

He had expected the cartoon to be controversial, but not to that extent. “The idea of this cartoon hit me in the same way it has hit readers, I think. When the idea popped into my head, I thought it was too heavy,” he said. “But, later I reversed this thought. I thought, this is exactly what I want to say.”

In a statement at the time, the ANC, South African Communist Party and ANC Youth League said they deplored the Sunday Times‘s abuse of press freedom by publishing a “disgusting cartoon” that “borders on defamation of character and insults the integrity of the secretary general of the ANC, comrade Gwede Mantashe, and alliance leaders”.

“Zapiro has gone off the mark and he needs to be reminded of the basic tenets of press freedom for which insult and defamation are not counted amongst them,” said the three parties.

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