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South Africa: Zuma drops 'rape cartoon' lawsuit against Zapiro

South African President Jacob Zuma has withdrawn a damages claim over a newspaper cartoon by Jonathan Shapiro, known as Zapiro, that depicts him preparing to rape Lady Justice.

Zuma rape cartoon zapiro 20121028Enlarge
The political cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, better known as Zapiro, is pictured at his home in Cape Town. South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has dropped a case against the editor of the Sunday Times in Johannesburg and Jonathan Shapiro, a controversial cartoonist, over a cartoon that showed him unzipping his pants to rape a blindfolded Lady Justice figure in 2008. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — President Jacob Zuma has withdrawn a lawsuit over a newspaper cartoon that depicts him preparing to rape a female figure representing justice. 

The cartoon by artist Jonathan Shapiro, known as Zapiro, shows Zuma undoing his belt while a blindfolded Lady Justice is held down by the president's supporters. 

Zuma launched a 5 million rand ($578,000) claim for damages against Shapiro and Johannesburg's Sunday Times newspaper over the 2008 cartoon, which came while he was facing corruption charges.

The case was due in court Monday, but the Sunday Times said today it has been dropped and Zuma will pay a portion of the newspaper's legal fees.

Zuma was acquitted of rape charges in 2006, although he admitted to having unprotected sex with the woman, who he knew was HIV-positive. He testified that he took a shower after having sex with her in the belief this would reduce his chance of being infected with the virus that causes AIDS. 

Last week, Zuma reduced his claim to 100,000 rand for damages to his dignity and reputation, before withdrawing the case altogether.

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"After careful consideration and consultation with his legal team, President Zuma has taken a decision to withdraw his claim against the respondents, and pay a contribution to their costs," the president's office said in a statement.

"The president... would like to avoid setting a legal precedent that may have the effect of limiting the public exercise of free speech, with the unforeseen consequences this may have on our media, public commentators and citizens," it added.

Zuma will stand for re-election as head of the ruling African National Congress party at a leadership conference in December.

Shapiro told the Sunday Times that he had "mixed feelings" about the case being dropped, as he believed he would have won "hands down."

"This is a vindication of what I was saying in the cartoon and it's a vindication of the Sunday Times for publishing it," Shapiro said.

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