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Zapiro’s lawyers hope Zuma set a precedent

The cartoonist hopes officials will think before making defamation claims against the media.

President Jacob Zuma. Picture: SAPA

JOHANNESBURG - Lawyers for Jonathan 'Zapiro' Shapiro on Sunday said the president's withdrawal of a defamation claim against the cartoonist was a sign that public officials would now think twice before instituting legal action against the media and other satirists.

On Saturday, President Jacob Zuma's legal team withdrew defamation claims against Shapiro, citing reasons for his decisions through a statement.

"Matters relating to dignity and the public standing of individuals cannot be mediated exclusively through the courts.

"Essentially what lies at the heart of the Sunday Times' publication of the cartoon was a set of deeply ingrained prejudices regarding not only the President, but which extend to views about African males and sexual mores."

The Presidency added that Zuma dropped the charges in an effort to lead his social cohesion movement which urges South Africans to "work together to find lasting solutions to the challenges that face us as a nation".

"The Rape of Lady Justice" matter was due to go to court on Monday.

The president initially demanded R5 million in damages to his dignity and reputation, after the Sunday Times published a cartoon by Zapiro, showing Zuma about to rape a representation of Lady Justice - with several other individuals holding her down for him.

But Zuma later dropped the figure to R100, 000 and demanded an apology.

"This representation was hurtful and defamatory, as the respondents themselves have subsequently admitted in papers submitted to the South Gauteng High Court," said the President's office.

"Moreover, in depicting President Zuma as a would-be rapist, the cartoon sought to play to discredited and legally disproved accusations made against him in 2006," it added.

Zapiro's lawyer, Dario Milo, said the withdrawal of charges would hopefully set a precedent.

"I think it will have a percolating effect on public officials and other public figures who should think twice before instituting claims for defamation."

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