Old debate thrown open

Not for the first time, it has taken a cartoonist to return the debate about the hierarchical relationship between freedom of expression and other rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Not for the first time, it has taken a cartoonist to return the debate about the hierarchical relationship between freedom of expression and other rights enshrined in the Constitution.

As it was the case with the Danish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed in a manner that the Islam faithful believed was disrespectful of their faith, Zapiro has predictably opened the debate as to how far a cartoonist can go in expressing his view.

The cartoon published in the Sunday Times shows ANC president Jacob Zuma unzipping his pants as lady justice is being pinned down by Zuma's closest allies - the SA Communist Party, the ANC Youth League and Cosatu. The implication made by the cartoon is inescapable. Zuma is about to rape the justice system.

As a newspaper, we are strongly on the side of freedom of expression. It is a right that our predecessors in the South African media fought long and hard for and one of those rights which, once lost, would be extremely hard to reclaim. The thought of an unfree media is too ghastly to contemplate.

But that does not blind us from the reality that it is only been 14 years that we emerged from a system that institutionalised the rape of the human dignity of black people.

That is why we would urge that when occasions arise, as they will, that pit one right against another, we remain conscious that no single right is absolute. Even the Constitution, through the claw-back clause, states that all rights may be limited if this limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.

Cartoonists have the same rights to speak their minds, just as those who are offended by those thoughts have a right to seek recourse from the institutions of state established to arbitrate such disputes.

It is also yet another reason why we need to jealously guard institutions such as the judiciary because those who nonchalantly abuse these institutions when it suits them might end up needing to seek their wisdom to get the redemption they believe they deserve.

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