In South Africa, a four-year saga over a political cartoon is over, and the winner appears to be the cartoonist, Zapiro, the pen name of Jonathan Shapiro.
Sunday President Jacob Zuma announced he was dropping all charges against Zapiro and a local newspaper The Sunday Times, over a cartoon published in 2008.
It showed a woman wearing a sash with the words ‘Justice System,” being pinned down by four figures who say, “Go for it, Boss.” The “boss” is Zuma who’s shown standing over the woman unbuckling his belt. The cartoon caused a furor across South Africa.
At the time, Jacob Zuma was not yet President and he was facing a corruption trial – eventually dismissed. He’d also recently been acquitted of rape. Zuma sued, seeking damages of $5 million rand, about $578,000.
Over the next four years Zapiro penned versions of the cartoon using different characters which prompted more outrage from Zuma.
Then suddenly last week, just as the trial was about to start, Zuma said he would accept 100,000 rand or about $11,000 and an apology.
Zapiro laughed it off.
Sunday, Zuma dropped the case entirely, even the request for an apology.
Zuma’s office said in a statement that though the cartoon was an affront, it wanted to avoid a precedent that could limit free speech.
President Zuma has championed legislation in recent years that critics say could muzzle the press. He also faces re-election in December for the leadership of the African National Congress.