Zapiro addresses the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Jonathan Shapiro. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

Defamation suits by President Jacob Zuma were meant to intimidate South African media, cartoonist Jonathan "Zapiro" Shapiro told a press club meeting on Tuesday.

Zapiro and Mr Zuma have often clashed over the numerous satirical depictions of him. The president recently withdrew his claim for damages against the cartoonist "to avoid setting a legal precedent". Mr Zuma had sought R5m in damages for defamation and impairment of his personal dignity over the publication of Zapiro’s Lady Justice rape cartoon in 2008.

Addressing the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday, Zapiro said Mr Zuma always tried to play the victim and "he is a master at it".

"He has a number of defamation suits against a lot of people and he has not dropped them. He has not, by the way, dropped another defamation suit against me which stands at — I am told by my lawyers — at R10m ... the figures are stupid ... they could never get these kinds of amounts and it is all about intimidation but I think South African media people are feisty and thank goodness for that," he said.

The Lady Justice rape cartoon depicted Mr Zuma loosening his trousers while Lady Justice was held down by Julius Malema, president of the African National Congress Youth League at the time, Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, all saying: "Go for it, boss."

In October, Mr Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said the decision to withdraw the defamation suit against Zapiro was informed by three major considerations.

"Whereas the president believes that in an open and democratic society, a fine and sensitive balance needs to be maintained between the exercise of civil rights such as freedom of speech, and the dignity and privacy of others, that balance should be struck in favour of constitutional freedoms," he said at the time.

Mr Maharaj said on Tuesday that Zapiro’s views on Mr Zuma "did not necessitate a comment from the Presidency".