South African President Jacob Zuma sues, well…everyone.

© 2010 Zapiro (All rights reserved): Printed with permission from www.zapiro.com

It seems freedom of expression is anything but free.  This week South African President Jacob Zuma has gone on a suing spree, filing what is now his eleventh defamation suit against members of the media.  The spree began earlier this week when Zuma took on cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (known as Zapiro) for a controversial cartoon published in the Sunday times over two years ago that depicted Zuma preparing to rape a woman wearing the garb of Lady Justice.  Similar suits have also been filed against Mondli Makhanya, former editor of the weekly Sunday Times and the owners Avusa Media for deciding to publish the controversial cartoon, each worth over 5 million rand.

Zapiro has said that he stands by his decision to draw the cartoon, which was published after the 2005 trial when Zuma was acquitted of rape charges.  During the trial, however, Zuma admitted to having unprotected sex with his accuser but claimed that he took a shower afterwards to cut the risk of contracting HIV.

The South African National Editors’ Forum has since stated that it is concerned by the flurry of defamation actions, several of which are directed against Zapiro and publications that carry his cartoons, saying they were having an “intimidatory” effect. The forum has noted that the content of the cartoon had been debated by the Human Rights Commission, which exonerated the paper and Zapiro, stating that the issues raised by the cartoon were in the public domain.

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg…

Today, Zuma launched a second series of lawsuits against  Media24 and Tim du Plessis for a photograph published in 2007 which shows him at a barbecue with popular Afrikaans singer Steve Hofmeyr and filmmaker Leon Schuster entitled “Picnic with Dingaan.”  Zuma alleges that the picture defamed him by comparing him to Dingaan, a 19th century Zulu warrior leader who is reputed to have pretended to be a friend of the Afrikaans settlers while he was actually planning war against them.

What’s the angle?

From a North American perspective, it is difficult to imagine the head of state taking on core values like free speech and freedom of the press (especially when there are so many people controlling our media from behind closed doors…but thats another story). One must wonder, therefore, what motivation Zuma has for suing…well, everyone.  Surely with the public coffers in his back pocket he can’t need the money? I mean, he has a multitude of mansions, three wives, a parking lot for some 40 cars, and he’s already slipped through the justice system by escaping rape and corruption charges… isn’t Zuma living the dream?

To be honest, while I am no legal expert, I can’t see any reason for Zuma to take the low and dirty road on this one. All it’s made me do is recount all the stories these cartoons and publications attempt to highlight, and whats more, share them with all of you on this blog.  If Zuma wants to repair his broken image he should get to work attempting to solve some of the socio-economic issues currently crippling the majority of the South African population: HIV/AIDS, poverty, environmental degradation, gross gender inequality, an epidemic of crime and violence, government corruption… Mr. Zuma, take your pick.  No one is impressed by your lawsuits against Zapiro, radio station 94, 7 Highveld Stereo, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday World , the Citizen and the four separate suits you’ve filed against the Star.

To view some humorous renditions of Zuma, check out my post on Zapiro’s famous Puppetshow ZA News.

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Categories: Arts and Culture

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One Comment on “South African President Jacob Zuma sues, well…everyone.”

  1. Spyti K
    December 22, 2010 at 6:10 am #

    I am of the belief that these lawsuits are too conveniently timed when you consider the ANC’s proposed Media Appeals Tribunal and Protection of Information Bill. It it most likely a political ploy to garner support for the creation of a body and legislation that the ruling party can use to muzzle the press on embarrassing matters.

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