JONATHAN Shapiro, the cartoonist better known as Zapiro, said yesterday that there was no basis for President Jacob Zuma’s R5-million defamation suit against him and Avusa Media, publisher of the Sunday Times and The Times.
A defiant Shapiro also faces a R2-million Zuma lawsuit over three of his cartoons published during the president’s rape trial in 2006.
Speaking on the sidelines of a “Discussions with Zapiro” breakfast at Emperors Palace, Kempton Park, yesterday, Shapiro said he would fight the R5-million lawsuit, which he likened to the proposed media tribunal.
Shapiro said that, with Zuma’s lawsuits and its tribunal proposal, the government was trying to limit criticism, and curtail free speech and reporting.
“This is why I’m fighting this [suit] as much as I’m fighting the media tribunal,” he said.
The suit stems from a cartoon showing Zuma looming over Lady Justice as he loosens his belt while ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and SA Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande hold her down.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe is depicted as saying: “Go for it, boss”.
Zuma launched the court case against Avusa Media, Shapiro and former Sunday Times editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya.
Shapiro said Zuma sent a letter of demand to him in December 2008 in relation to the cartoon. Two years later, the summons arrived.
Shapiro said that he was “flabbergasted” by the summons.
“I don’t see anything good that will come out of it.
“We don’t believe they have a case. We firmly believe that we will win,” he said.
A court date has not been set.
Shapiro said the Human Rights Commission had exonerated him and the Sunday Times in connection with the Lady Justice cartoon.
The commission found that, though the cartoon was likely to offend some people, it was within the bounds of freedom of expression as recognised in the constitution, he said.
Zuma, as president of the country, should accept that he will be subjected to particular scrutiny and satire, Shapiro said.