Zuma sues Zapiro

From Times Live:

In a summons issued in the Johannesburg High Court on Friday, Zuma began proceedings against Avusa Media, former Sunday Times editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya and world-renowned cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, known as Zapiro.

Good.

In court papers, Zuma said the cartoon, published on September 7 2008, damaged his reputation, was degrading and left him feeling humiliated.

As I said at the time, while I appreciate the point that Shapiro was trying to make, the rape scene in the cartoon drew uncomfortable parallels to Zuma’s rape trial in 2006 – in which he was acquitted – and, for me, spoke more about Zapiro’s apparent vendetta against Zuma, rather than the actual events it was meant to portray.
Incidentally, I wasn’t alone in those views.

There’s obviously a lot of stuff in the news at the moment about the freedom of the media, with the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal (which I agree with, in principle) and the Protection of Information Bill, (which I don’t). In fact for me, this cartoon is further evidence as to exactly why we need the Media Appeals Tribunal. It goes beyond simple “freedom of expression” into the realms of character assassination and it not only demeans Zuma, but also the South African judicial system with the inference that Zuma is actually a rapist despite his acquittal.

Shapiro said Zuma and his legal team would be in a better position if the lawsuit was dropped.

As would Zapiro (if not his legal team), but then I don’t think we really expected him to say anything else, did we?

“I fully stand behind my cartoon and the views expressed in it, and I will not allow the president to intimidate me,” Shapiro said.
“We have had a very free print media for the past decade and we will fight for that freedom. He is going to have unwelcome attention on whether the cartoon was justified or not, and he is going to have an egg on his face over this case.”

Shapiro has some sort of weird cult status in SA. But it seems to me that because of his ability to catch the mood of the (white) people here and to hit the nail on the head with occasional amusing and clever observations, it is felt that that status gives him free rein and support to say what he likes even when he goes too far – as on this occasion (and others).
His followers seem unable to criticise him at all, as if they are unable to distinguish between his individual cartoons, blindly just supporting anything with his name on it: “it’s Zapiro, so it must be right, right?”.

So do I think Zuma should win this case? Absolutely.
Do I think he will win it? I’m much less sure.
But if he doesn’t, the irony of Shapiro celebrating a verdict of the judicial system he believes is so malleable in Zuma’s hands (or at the mercy of other parts of his anatomy) will not be lost on me.

  • Hoosen

    I may not like Zuma but Zapiro needs to be put in his place. Freedom of speech cannot be absolute to the point of hurting people. Rape should not be trivialised.

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  • Gary Meyer

    The cartoon you are referring to is uncomfortable to look at with good reason.

  • Hoosen > With you on all of that.

    Gary Meyer > Are you going to enlighten us as to the good reason in question?
    Or do you have good reason for being uncomfortable about the uncomfortable good reason of which you speak?

  • Flame

    Wow, you don’t even attempt to be objective. I think that’s a bit lame. They go along with it because Zapiro did it. A weak argument don’t you think. If anyone is blindly following, I’d say it’s Zuma supporters. That exact cartoon was recently put in a journalism exam written by my media students and there was a question relating to it about the free speech/freedom of the press etc. Many of my top students made compelling arguments in support of Zapiro. I think it is wonderful that he is able to push the boundaries like this and stimulate debate around the subject. We need more of this in SA media and less suppression.

  • Flame

    It says my comment is being moderated… interesting.

  • Flame > It’s not meant to be an objective essay. It’s my opinion. Go back to the original post (as linked herein) for the reasons behind my my thinking.
    Look, I’m all for free speech – but there do have to be some boundaries if a system is to work. I feel that this cartoon crosses those boundaries. That doesn’t strengthen the argument for free speech, it damages it.
    Also agree with you on the idea that this stimulates debate. But you can’t have it both ways: yes – it stimulates debate on the issues surrounding JZ not going to court on the corruption allegations, which is fine. But it also (very deliberately) stimulates debate around his acquittal for rape. And that is wrong.

    Flame > Yes. Moderated as per the Terms and Conditions you agreed to when posting your comments. And look, you made it through successfully. Twice.
    Well done.

  • Andrew

    Zapiro drew his mind (so to speak). The decision to publish the cartoon was up to an Editor. (Mondli). Funny that he also published David Bullard’s offending column and then fired him….
    IMO Zapiro and David Bullard have become the archetypal blinkered Old South Africans. Ironically they hate each other.

    With regards to free speech and freedom of the press, a good democracy should always be tempered with a bit of Gulag. Keeps us as a species on the straight and narrow. We don’t do to well with absolute freedom.

  • Stan

    Taken 2 years for this to happen, seems a long time. Spot on with your post.

  • carl botha

    “But it seems to me that because of his ability to catch the mood of the (white) people here and to hit the nail on the head with occasional amusing and clever observations, ”

    Really?

    Raping knows no color boundries, and everybody is effected by corruption, but Zapiro’s humor catches mostly the white peoples mood?

    OMG, and his CLEVER observations are not THAT fully appreciated if you are not white?

    (Btw, humor means making light of a heavy situation — and that is exactly what Zapiro is doing.)

    That being said, although appreciating the cartoon, I am convinced Zapiro will loose this battle, for the same reasons he would loose a case like this under the previous regime.

  • Jeremy

    “Look, I’m all for free speech – but”
    Then you’re not “all for free speech”.

    As defined: “Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak without censorship and/or limitation.”

    If you’re “all for” limited speech, then admit it and be proud of it. To favour free speech “with boundaries” is illogical and just plain silly.

  • Andrew > Well said, Sir.
    I didn’t really see the harm in the Bullard column – it was rather dull – but was glad to see the back of him – he offered nothing as far I am concerned.

    Stan > A good point – the delay is interesting. And currently unexplained.

    carl botha > Well, Zapiro finds himself in a win-lose and a lose-win situation here, doesn’t he?
    If he loses the case, he simply says that the judiciary is bent (in which case, in my opinion, he should be brought up for contempt of court) and if he wins the case, his argument that Zuma is omnipotent in matters judicial is blown out of the water.
    As for his appeal (that of his cartoons, not any sort of legal recourse), I would suggest that his work appeals to a far greater proportion of the white (and more vocally enabled) population than of the black population.
    I don’t think that’s an unreasonable suggestion, do you?

    Jeremy > Pedantic semantics.
    So you are basically suggesting complete anarchy when it comes to freedom of expression? No libel, no slander, no nothing? Anyone can say anything they want about anything or anyone else without fear of any legal action?
    That’s a pretty ridiculous notion. (Can I say that?)

  • Jeremy

    “Jeremy > So you are basically suggesting complete anarchy when it comes to freedom of expression?”

    The construction of your sentence is reminiscent of straw-man debating (intended or not), thanks to your strange parallel between chaos and freedom of expression. Chaos exists whether or not expression is free. Similarly, order also exists whether or not expression is free.

    (On a side note, your presumption that anarchy is chaotic is misguided, especially considering that anarchy – which means “without ruler” – is not necessarily chaotic. In fact, I could easily argue that “with ruler” is chaotic.)

    “No libel, no slander, no nothing? Anyone can say anything they want about anything or anyone else without fear of any legal action?”

    Anyone can say anything, yes, when expression is free. That is… um… freedom of expression.

    And nobody is stopping anybody from responding privately or legally. Jacob Zuma is welcome to sue Zapiro, as he is doing (and cost Zapiro time and money). However, the outcome of the court case is what will be interesting. JZ will have a hard time proving that he was defamed by a cartoon, especially because he became president soon afterwards.

    Like I said, speech with limitations is not free speech. It’s limited speech.

  • Jeremy > Now, just hang on a sec. And then point me to where I said that there was a link between anarchy (“without ruler” therefore “without rules”) and chaos. Don’t go putting words in my mouth. Or is that just your freedom of expressing my opinion?

    And then this idea that freedom of expression is completely free, but that anyone can respond privately or legally. Well, under what laws can they respond legally in your anarchic (but not necessarily chaotic) Utopian society?
    Yes, Zuma can sue Zapiro. (Do you agree with him having this right?) And he is.
    And yes, he will have to show that he was defamed and/or humiliated. I’m not sure that his election to President has a lot to do with that, but that’s really the subjective point, isn’t it – what constitutes defamation and humiliation, damage to reputation?

  • Jeremy

    “Jeremy > Now, just hang on a sec. And then point me to where I said that there was a link between anarchy (“without ruler” therefore “without rules”) and chaos. Don’t go putting words in my mouth. Or is that just your freedom of expressing my opinion?”

    Fair point. My apologies if I misinterpreted things. By your general tone (“complete anarchy”, which doesn’t come across as positive phrasing, or neutral even) and your related opinion(s), it seems that you favour rulers (and rule of their law, by extension).

    “And then this idea that freedom of expression is completely free, but that anyone can respond privately or legally. Well, under what laws can they respond legally in your anarchic (but not necessarily chaotic) Utopian society?”

    Utopian society? Hyperboles are great, hey? I’ll copy and paste my previous comment: Like I said, speech with limitations is not free speech. It’s limited speech.

    “Yes, Zuma can sue Zapiro. (Do you agree with him having this right?) And he is.”
    Of course I agree with him having the right. I’m sure I made that clear, earlier.

  • Jeremy > So you are agreeing that there should be legal recourse for certain things which are said/written/drawn?
    But in saying that, surely you are disagreeing with your own definition of (and wish for) “free” speech?

  • Andrew

    @Jeremy

    Our constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but excludes hate speech. Therefore it’s “limited speech”, i.e. speech with boundaries. This means that our constitution (or our interpretation thereof) is “illogical and just plain silly”.

    It’s a chimerical concept warped up by limp-wristed liberals and bleeding heart tree huggers. There is no such thing as true freedom of speech.

  • Jeremy

    “Jeremy > So you are agreeing that there should be legal recourse for certain things which are said/written/drawn?”

    Sissies and other citizens should have the right to sue if they feel offended by a cartoon. They should be – and are – allowed to carry pink tissues into the court room. However, the important part is the outcome of such a subjective, non-evidential legal case (and, thus, precedent). If Zuma’s defamation plea wins, then the slope will become slippery. What, then, will the judgement (and penalty) be?

    “But in saying that, surely you are disagreeing with your own definition of (and wish for) “free” speech?”

    How so?

    “It’s a chimerical concept warped up by limp-wristed liberals and bleeding heart tree huggers. There is no such thing as true freedom of speech.”

    Correct. As I’ve said before, as long as there are governments, there is no free speech. Which is why we need to resist further limitations of our expression.

  • Jeremy >

    “But in saying that, surely you are disagreeing with your own definition of (and wish for) “free” speech?”
    How so?

    You are agreeing that there should be boundaries. In your words, that is not “free speech”.

  • Jeremy

    6000 said: “You are agreeing that there should be boundaries. In your words, that is not “free speech”.”

    Holy spin, Batman! How did you arrive at that conclusion?

  • Jeremy > You agree with an individual’s right to challenge (in this case) a cartoon.
    If you believe that there should be no rules, no boundaries or restrictions at all, then what basis is that challenge made upon?

  • Jeremy

    “Jeremy > You agree with an individual’s right to challenge (in this case) a cartoon.
    If you believe that there should be no rules, no boundaries or restrictions at all, then what basis is that challenge made upon?”

    Well, firstly, I didn’t say all of that. I was responding to the comments above (especially the usual mindless I-believe-in-freedom-of-expression-but-with-limitations nonsense, which appears everywhere).

    Secondly, the basis upon which the challenge is made should be objective and evidential.

    6000, how do you propose, using evidence, that he was defamed by Zapiro’s cartoon? And explain how you imagine such a verdict to read.

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  • Jeremy > OK – sorry for the misunderstanding.
    I don’t know how one can prove defamation in this (or any other) case. Humiliation too, is a subjective question.
    I don’t know how or if JZ can prove these things, but his legal team must believe that they have a chance or surely they wouldn’t be bothering.
    That said, I do believe that the cartoon does degrade Zuma and I can quite easily see how any person would find that image of themselves humiliating when it was published and seen by tens of millions of people.
    How you go about proving that (or what sort of “proof” the judge would require) is another matter.

  • Jeremy

    “That said, I do believe that the cartoon does degrade Zuma and I can quite easily see how any person would find that image of themselves humiliating when it was published and seen by tens of millions of people.”

    Fair enough. But that sort of scathing (arguably relevant) satirical commentary dates back centuries and has become commonplace in the realm of western culture and public office.

    You could say that “it comes with the territory”. If it’s too hot in the kitchen, then the door isn’t far away.

  • Jeremy > You can’t just humiliate, degrade or defame someone just because they’re in the public eye. That’s no argument.
    But if you (Mr Free Speech Cartoonist) believe that my point is “fair enough”, I think JZ is going to be a rich(er) man very soon.
    Hypothetically speaking, how would you feel if he won his R5m and then donated it to a rape charity?

  • Jeremy

    > “Jeremy > You can’t just humiliate, degrade or defame someone just because they’re in the public eye.”

    Why not? Of course you can. And we do. And will continue to do so.
    Just like entertainers / jester’s have done for centuries

    > “Hypothetically speaking, how would you feel if he won his R5m and then donated it to a rape charity?”

    Wrapping dog **** in Christmas paper is still dog ****.

  • Pierre de Vos has a good post on this today. My take will be in Wednesday’s Maverick.

  • Jacques > I shall read, with interest. (both)