CAPE TOWN, Oct 28, 2012 (AFP) - South African President Jacob Zuma has dropped a legal battle over a cartoon showing him about to rape a blindfolded Lady Justice figure despite it painting him as a "sexual deviant", his office said Sunday.
The president withdrew his lawsuit against the Sunday Times and satirical cartoonist Zapiro, who had depicted Zuma in 2008 unbuckling his pants as his allies pinned the blindfolded woman to the ground and urged "Go for it, boss!"
The matter had been set to go to court in Johannesburg on Monday.
"After careful consideration and consultation with his legal team, President Zuma has taken a decision to withdraw his claim against the respondents, and pay a contribution to their costs," the presidency said.
The "hurtful and defamatory" cartoon was printed at a time when Zuma was not yet president and fighting graft charges, which were later withdrawn, and two years after he was acquitted of raping an HIV-positive family friend.
"Moreover, in depicting President Zuma as a would-be rapist, the cartoon sought to play to discredited and legally disproved accusations made against him in 2006," the presidency said in a statement.
"The newspaper and the cartoonist wanted to perpetrate an image of the president as a sexual deviant, despite a court of law rejecting the allegations against him and clearing his name."
Zuma, whofirst starting legal proceedings over the cartoon four years ago, had filed a claim for five million rand ($580,000, 445,000 euros) for damage to his reputation and injury to his dignity two years later.
Last week he reduced his demands to compensation of 100,000 rand and an apology.
"I'm delighted that we have won such a complete victory. To me it's a total capitulation by Jacob Zuma's legal team," the cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, better known by his sign-off Zapiro, told AFP.
"It's a hammer blow in favour of freedom of expression and it also vindicates what I was saying in the cartoon, which is that Jacob Zuma threatened the justice system in order to get corruption charges dropped against him and he did that with the help of allies."
Shapiro said he was confident that his side would have won but that the timing of the "damaging case" could have been politically dangerous for Zuma's campaign to be re-elected as head of the African National Congress (ANC) at the end of the year.
"I think they would have pushed ahead if it hadn't been for the fact that the court date was set before" the party's conference in December, he said.
The case will be formally withdrawn on Monday.
"This will send out an important signal that the president respects the right of the media to criticise his conduct," the newspaper's lawyer Dario Milo told the Sunday Times.
Zuma is suing several other newspapers and a radio broadcaster for nearly 50 million rand. Two of those claims are for Zapiro works related to Zuma's rape trial.
Frequently butting heads with Zuma, the cartoonist sketches the leader with a shower-head hovering over him, after his rape trial testimony that he had showered after sex to prevent HIV infection.
The presidency said "deeply ingrained prejudices" about Zuma, African men and sexual mores were at the heart of the publication of the cartoon.
But it said Zuma wanted to avoid a legal precedent that could limit free speech and that solving issues around dignity, racial and cultural prejudice and bigotry could not be exclusively handled through the courts.
Zuma's personal life often hits the headlines.
The 70-year-old polygamist has 21 children, several out of wedlock, and in April married his fourth wife.
In May, a painting depicting him with his genitals exposed sparked a furore that saw vandals deface the work, Zuma supporters march on the exhibiting gallery and the ANC go to court demanding a ban on the painting.
The ruling party later dropped the case.