Zuma drops his lawsuit over 'rape' cartoon

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South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, has dropped a lawsuit against the country’s most celebrated political cartoonist.

At issue was a cartoon by Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro which showed Mr Zuma unbuttoning his trousers while his cronies hold down Lady Liberty and urge him to “go on boss”.

The South African leader has been the regular butt of Zapiro’s popular satire and is usually depicted with a shower over his head – a reference to a previous rape case during which Mr Zuma said he had taken a shower to protect himself from HIV. He was acquitted of that charge.

The climbdown by the President comes as he is engulfed in a media storm over public money used in the £17m improvement of his rural homestead and a possible challenge to his leadership of the ruling party.

Mr Zuma had initially sued the cartoonist and the South African Sunday Times newspaper, which printed the Lady Liberty cartoon, for more than £500,000, claiming his dignity had been insulted. But he reduced that amount on the advice of his lawyers and dropped the dignity claim, resting on defamation.

“President Zuma did the right thing in withdrawing the case. This bodes very well for media freedom,” said a lawyer for the paper.

Since taking over the ANC in 2007 and the presidency of South Africa 18 months ago, Mr Zuma has overseen efforts to curb media freedoms in the country.

The recent Protection of Information Bill and other proposals – which have expanded what is classified as a state secret – have been criticised by journalists who say they are intended to shield those in power from public accusations of corruption.