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He has dropped a multi-million rand defamation case against cartoonist Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro in recent months, but President Jacob Zuma is pressing ahead with several other damages claims against the media.
One such case cropped up in the Western Cape High Court this week.
Zuma is suing Media24 and former Rapport editor Tim du Plessis for R5 million over a photo that appeared in the newspaper in December 2007, showing him braaiing with singer Steve Hofmeyr and comedian Leon Schuster.
The headline above the photo had read “Piekniek by Dingaan” (Picnic at Dingaan’s).
Zuma filed a damages claim in 2010, alleging in his court papers that the innuendo was that he was a person such as Zulu King Dingaan, who had pretended to befriend the Afrikaners while he had in fact plotted to kill them.
For the alleged harm to his reputation and dignity, he wants R4m and R1m respectively.
But the defendants – the media company and Du Plessis – denied in their court papers that it was their intention was to create this innuendo.
They said that the reasonable Rapport reader would have understood that it was a playful reference to the Dingaan incident, or to a satirical 1998 cabaret by Koos Kombuis and Johannes Kerkorrel, or to both.
The case was before the high court on Wednesday because the defendants’ lawyers are seeking, in an interlocutory application, an order forcing Zuma’s lawyers to hand over documentation and information they require for trial preparations.
Willem de Klerk, the defendants’ attorney, said Zuma had three civil claims against Media24 alone.
While his clients had “no doubt that their defence is solid”, they had invited Zuma to withdraw these matters at the end of October after he had withdrawn his case against Shapiro.
Zuma lodged his claim against the Sunday Times newspaper, its editor at the time, Mondli Makhanya, publisher Avusa Media and Shapiro in December 2008.
He had initially wanted R5m in damages – also R1m for injury to his dignity and R4m in damages to his reputation – but the amount was later dropped to R100 000.
“This matter has been dragging on and on,” said De Klerk.
“The other matter (Shapiro) contributed towards the decision to invite him to withdraw,” said De Klerk.
He claimed that at one point, Zuma had “something like 14 claims” against the media, although he did not know how many still stood.
Zuma’s lawyers did not respond to requests on Thursday to determine how many unresolved damages cases he presently had against media houses.
In the application for the handover of documentation that appeared on Wednesday, Zuma and his lawyers were directed to file an affidavit within 10 days of having been served the court order.