/ 23 May 2013

Zuma’s defamation claims are a media intimidation tactic

President Jacob Zuma.
President Jacob Zuma.

Among others, Zuma is claiming R5-million in two claims against Jonathan Shapiro his Zapiro cartoon that appeared in the Star newspaper, reported News24.com on Thursday.

Zuma has 14 large defamation claims, totalling about R60-million, against the media since 2006.

Thursday is the last day for Zuma to hand over documents relating to his six claims against the media.

"If the deadline is missed today, we will apply for a court order against President Zuma to hand over the documents. If he misses the deadline again, we will ask that the claims be dropped," said Dario Milo, appearing for Independent Newspapers, Avusa and the Citizen.

According to News24, media lawyers said they doubted whether Zuma was really serious about the claims and said they were possibly being used as an intimidation tactic to keep the media in check.

"Milo said the ease with which claims were instituted between 2006 and 2010 but then neglected could point to Zuma never really being serious about them in the first place," said News24.

In one of the Zapiro cartoons, Zuma, who was acquitted of a rape charge in 2006, is shown loosening his trousers while expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe hold Lady Justice down, saying: "Go for it, boss."

Case dismissed
The Beeld reported on April 10 that Zuma's defamation case of R5-million against Rapport was dismissed with costs.

The report at the time added that Zuma's case was dismissed after he failed to respond to an interim court order in the case.

This followed Rapport's application to the Western Cape High Court earlier this year to have Zuma's defamation case dismissed, Beeld reported.

Zuma's claim was related to an article and photo published on December 30 2007 in Rapport.

Under the heading "Piekniek by Dingaan [Picnic with Dingaan]", a picture was published of Zuma in the company of comedian Leon Schuster and singer Steve Hofmeyr.

After the article was published, Zuma in 2008 responded saying: "Freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones in our democracy. As an ordinary South African I have the right to take someone to task if I believe his comment about me was unfair and unbalanced."

Zuma also dropped another claim against the cartoonist and the Sunday Times last year.

Zuma's other cases
The Beeld reported in October 2012 that other cases involving Zuma that were still running included:

  • R7-million from Primedia relating to a Darren Simpson parody My name is Zuma;
  • R5-million from the Citizen for an article by Paul Kirk alleging Zuma used the services of a sex worker arranged by Schabir Shaik; 
  • R16-million from Rapport for a reader's letter which claimed Zuma was a "rapist who must be punished". That case was settled;
  • R16-million from Independent Newspapers relating to Zuma's rape case, two cartoons in the Star where he has his fingers crossed while testifying in court, and a report in the Star titled ANC gags Zuma.
  • R6-million from then Johncom Media for two articles by former Sunday Times columnist David Bullard. Bullard has since apologised.