South African President Jacob Zuma Drops Lawsuit Against the Sunday Times, Former Times Editor Mondli Makhanya and Cartoonist Zapiro


Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Shapiro

On October 27, 2012, Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, dropped a nearly $580,000 lawsuit against the Sunday Times, the former editor of the Sunday Times, Mondli Makhanya, and, editorial cartoonist Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro.  The civil case of 4 million rand for damage to reputation and 1 million rand for impairment to dignity was set to be heard in the Johannesburg High Court the following day, more than four years after publication of Zapiro’s “Rape of Justice” cartoon.  But in the week leading up to the trial, the demands of Zuma's legal team steadily declined.  The initial demand for 5 million rand was reduced to 4 million as the claim of impairment to dignity was abandoned.  Then the monetary demand was reduced to 100,000 rand, provided an unconditional apology was given.  When no apology or counter-offer was given, President Zuma and his team finally threw in the towel.  President Zuma even agreed to pay half of the defendants’ legal costs.  There is no word yet, however, on the other two lawsuits initiated by Jacob Zuma against Zapiro, or, the dozen other lawsuits initiated by Zuma against others critical of him.  

When reached for comment Cartoonists Rights Network International Executive Director Robert Russell said, “In politics, you can usually depend on a politician for having two reasons for any decision. The right reason that Zuma is now using to extricate himself from this court case, and then the real reason.  While we don't know exactly his real reason, it can be assumed Zuma felt that losing the case in court would reinforce his Loose Canon image.”  As the December African National Congress elections approach, this is an image President Zuma would like to erase.  Dr. Russell thanked Jonathan, his family, and the staff and owners of the Sunday Times for, “sticking to it and going to the wall to protect the free speech rights of all South Africans.”  Dr. Russell noted that, “Free speech is the most important right as it alone keeps a government honest.  It is only through the bravery and tenacity of individuals like Jonathan and Mondli that tyrants and bullies can be defeated.  We are glad to see that in South Africa, Lady Justice has walked away with her virtue intact.”  

Below are three Zapiro cartoons published after President Zuma dropped the lawsuit.  In the first cartoon, President Zuma is flanked by Zapiro and Lady Justice.  In the second cartoon, Lady Justice, Lady Free Speech, Zapiro and Mondli Makhanya toast this important free speech victory.  In the third cartoon, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj is depicted in the foreground.  This spokesman incredulously claimed that President Zuma dropped the lawsuit -- that he initiated -- because he wanted to avoid setting a legal precedent that "may have the effect of limiting the public exercise of free speech."     

Cartoon courtesy of Zapiro

Cartoon courtesy of Zapiro

Cartoon courtesy of Zapiro

On November 1, 2012, Zapiro, the 2007 recipient of the CRNI Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award, answered questions about this victory for free speech via Skype with CRNI Deputy Director Drew Rougier-Chapman.    


The best place to start to learn more about this recent development is of course the Sunday Times.  The Sunday Times article Zuma drops case appeared online on October 28, the article Why Zuma canned lawsuit appeared online on October 29, and, the article Mac, Zapiro trade blows went online on October 30.  The article Zapiro cartoon: Zuma surrenders, drops lawsuit from the Mail & Guardian is also very enlightening.  Be sure to also read about Zapiro in the Sub-Saharan Africa section of our Art To Die For collection.