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Updated: December 16, 2010 22:18 IST

Zuma files eleventh defamation suit against media

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Jacob Zuma in this recent photo.
Jacob Zuma in this recent photo.

South African President Jacob Zuma has filed yet another defamation lawsuit against one of the country's media houses for allegedly comparing him with a controversial 19th century Zulu warrior.

The 68-year-old South African leader has lodged 11 defamation lawsuits, totalling 49-million rand, since 2006, when he was still Deputy President.

In the latest case, Mr. Zuma is suing Media24 and Tim du Plessis, former editor of the Afrikaans weekly Rapport, for a photograph published in 2007 which shows him at a barbecue with popular Afrikaans singer Steve Hofmeyr and filmmaker Leon Schuster.

The photograph was titled “Picnic with Dingaan.”

Mr. Zuma alleges that the picture defamed him by comparing him to Dingaan, a 19th century Zulu warrior leader who is reputed to have pretended to be a friend of the Afrikaans settlers while he was actually planning war against them.

Media24, the holding company of Rapport, is to oppose the action.

Earlier this week, Mr. Zuma also took on South Africa's most famous cartoonist Zapiro (real name Jonathan Shapiro); Mondli Makhanya, former editor of the weekly Sunday Times and the owners Avusa Media in the Johannesburg high court over a controversial cartoon titled ‘Raping Justice'.

Mr. Zuma is claiming damages of 5 million rand for the cartoon that was published in 2008.

In both the cases, Mr. Zuma is going to court almost two years after original publication, which has surprised the media owners.

Mr. Zapiro has said that he stands by his decision to draw the cartoon.

“I will not allow the President to intimidate me,” he told the Afrikaans daily Beeld on Wednesday in reaction to a statement by the SA National Editors' Forum that it was concerned by the flurry of defamation actions, several of which are directed against Mr. Zapiro and publications that carry his cartoons, saying they were having an “intimidatory” effect.

“[The forum] has noted that the content of the cartoon had been debated by Human Rights Commission, which exonerated the paper and Mr. Zapiro, stating that the issues raised by the cartoon were in the public domain.

“Zuma's defamation actions since 2006 have included the radio station 94, 7 Highveld Stereo, the weeklies Sunday Independent and Sunday World; and the dailies Citizen and The Star,” the Forum noted.

The Star has faced four separate claims of 5 million rand each.

Most of the defamation charges relate to opinions pieces or cartoons. While some of the cases were settled outside court a number of them are still pending.

Political analyst Steven Friedman told The Times that Mr. Zuma's personal life had been “much more controversial than that of his predecessors”.

“Politically I do not think it is in his best interest as a political figure to do what he is doing but then again every South African citizen has the right to sue,” he noted.


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