President Jacob Zuma says his last minute decision to drop a law suit against cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro was meant to avoid setting a legal precedent that may affect the public's exercise of free speech.
Zuma had filed a defamation suit against Shapiro better known as Zapiro for his Lady Justice rape cartoon published in 2008 in the Sunday Times. About a week ago, Zuma revised the claim amount down from R5 million to R100 000.
Zuma says in a statement he based his decision on three grounds. He feared setting a precedent that could have unforeseen consequences for the media, public commentators and citizens in relation to free speech.
Though he maintains that the publication of the cartoon was based on what he calls deeply ingrained prejudices not only against the president, but African males and sexual morals, courts alone cannot protect citizens against racism, bigotry and cultural prejudice.
Zuma adds that he also decided to drop the case in light of economic and political developments. He says he is determined to continue leading efforts to reach out to people across the racial divides to forge a common nationhood. The case was due to be heard tomorrow.
Shapiro says he feels vindicated now that President Zuma has decided to drop the law suit against him. Shapiro believes the President's move was strategic. "Now that the case was going to come to court just before Mangaung it's been clear that they did not have the stomach to go to court at this time, so they started pulling back and withdrawing and capitulating on various issues. They have now folded, they have withdrawn the charges. They're paying costs and there's no apology demand or confidentiality clause. It's a vindication for us, for the Sunday Times, for myself and for freedom of expression," says Shapiro.