Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Zuma sues South Africa cartoonist

Jacob Zuma at the High Court
Jacob Zuma is favourite to become South African president next year

South Africa's ruling party leader Jacob Zuma is suing a cartoonist for $712,300 (£464,200) for a controversial drawing of him published in September.

In the Sunday Times newspaper cartoon, Jonathan Shapiro draws Mr Zuma about to rape the "justice system".

It appeared at a time when Mr Zuma was facing a corruption trial, which was later dismissed on a technicality. He was acquitted of rape in 2006.

Mr Shapiro, known as "Zapiro", says the cartoon is derogatory but defendable.

Mr Zuma and Mr Shapiro confronted one another live on radio on Thursday morning.

Mr Zuma said the current libel action was before the courts, but he was only responding in a limited way and was suing Mr Shapiro because:

"Even in places where I've been found not guilty, he continues to find me guilty. He can't be right. He's totally out of order," he told South Africa's Talk Radio 702.

But Mr Shapiro called up the station to defend himself and said Mr Zuma was paying "lip-service to freedom of expression".

"I am a columnist, a visual columnist. I comment on what you do and what you say. And you are a public figure. You are the one with the power, not me," he said.

"And you just turn it on its head and act the victim," he said.

Mr Zuma, favourite to become president after general elections next year, has denied charges of graft, money-laundering and racketeering.

In October, prosecutors were given leave to appeal against the trial's dismissal.

Damage to dignity

The controversial cartoon shows a woman, wearing a sash with the words “Justice System”, being pinned down by four figures.

June 2005: Sacked as deputy president
October 2005: Charged with corruption
December 2005: Charged with rape
April 2006: Acquitted of rape charges
September 2006: Corruption case collapses
December 2007: Elected ANC president; re-charged with corruption shortly afterwards
September 2008: Judge rules corruption case cannot proceed
October 2008: Prosecutors given leave to appeal the trial's dismissal
2009: Elections due

They represent the governing African National Congress (ANC), the ANC Youth League, the South African Communist Party and trade union organisation Cosatu.

"Go for it, Boss!" they say to Mr Zuma, shown unbuckling his belt.

Mr Zuma is suing for damage to his reputation and damage to his dignity, the South African Press Association reports.

The demand was dated a week after the cartoon appeared but only served this week. It gives the cartoonist 14 days to pay up or face court, the agency says.

In an interview with the BBC in September, Mr Shapiro said he drew the "shocking image" of Mr Zuma as a "metaphor for what he's doing to the justice system".

He said that Mr Zuma had attempted to undermine the independence of the judiciary in order to get corruption charges "wiped off the slate".

"The aspect of Mr Zuma's own personal history of having been acquitted of a charge of rape is a secondary issue in this cartoon," he said.

"The primary issue is there's a figure about to rape the justice system with the help of his political allies," he said.

The shadow of corruption has been hanging over Mr Zuma for several years but his supporters have always maintained he is the victim of a political conspiracy.

In 2005 Mr Zuma was sacked as South Africa's deputy president when his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found guilty of soliciting a bribe on behalf of Mr Zuma and jailed for 15 years in connection with an arms deal.

Mr Zuma then went on trial, but the case collapsed in 2006 when the prosecution said it was not ready to proceed.

In February 2006, Mr Zuma was acquitted of rape in a separate case, though he was widely criticised for comments about sex and HIV/Aids.

He was charged again last December shortly after winning a bitter campaign against then President Thabo Mbeki to become ANC leader.

When dismissing the corruption charges, the judge said there was evidence of political interference in the case - a statement which led President Mbeki to resign.

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