July 30, 2009 / 2:09 PM / 10 years ago

South Africa's Zuma accepts libel damages from UK paper

LONDON (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma accepted “very substantial damages” from Britain’s Guardian newspaper over an article that wrongly suggested he was a rapist, his lawyers said on Thursday.

South African President Jacob Zuma gestures during a news conference in Pretoria, July 29, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The March article, headlined “Get used to a corrupt and chaotic South Africa. But don’t write it off” also alleged Zuma was guilty of corruption and bribery arising out of his involvement in a $5 billion arms deal.

His lawyer Jenny Afia told London’s High Court the allegations were “of the utmost seriousness and totally untrue.”

After the settlement Zuma issued a statement in which he said: “What was said was extremely serious, not just for me but for the ANC.”

He said he had fought for press freedom all his life, but “we had to take action in this matter because the publication crossed the line.”

“Media around the world are obliged to exercise their freedom of speech in a responsible manner,” he added.

After libel proceedings began in March, the newspaper published an apology, in which it said the allegation of rape was “included due to an editing error.”

“In fact, Mr Zuma was acquitted of a rape charge in 2006,” it said.

It went on: “We also alleged that he was guilty of corruption and bribery.

“We would like to clarify that since the article was published all criminal charges against Mr Zuma have been dropped by the South African National Prosecuting Authority on the basis that the timing of the decision to prosecute him in the first place was politically motivated.”

But the apology was published less prominently than the original article and was initially unavailable online, his lawyer told the court.

He continued to proceed with the action against the paper’s private owners, the Guardian News and Media group.

In May, the Guardian offered to pay Zuma undisclosed substantial damages and to pay his legal costs which he accepted on Thursday, his lawyer said.

Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Robert Woodward

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