Activists, experts and a hate crime survivor have spoken out about the dangers of homophobic hate speech at the Jon Qwelane trial in Johannesburg.
On Tuesday, a lesbian survivor of violence tearfully testified in the Johannesburg High Court about being assaulted by a group of men because of her sexual orientation
“I couldn’t walk, I crawled to safety on my belly, I was in hospital for a while,” she was quoted as saying by African News Agency.
When asked by Qwelane’s attorney if his client’s article had directly caused the attack, she replied: “He’s one of the reasons we are subjected to this kind of treatment.”
She explained that the article had led to “a perception to people who hate us to treat us like non entities”.
The woman added: “The article makes me feel like we, as the LGBTI, we don’t have dignity and it really hurts me. We are humans and love each other like other humans. We don’t date animals.”
In his infamous 2008 article, Qwelane compared homosexuality to bestiality, said he supported Robert Mugabe’s vile stance towards gays and lesbians, and urged politicians to remove the sexual orientation equality clause from the Constitution.
Nonhlanhla Mokwena, the Executive Director of People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) also testified in court on Tuesday, arguing that the article exceeded the limits of freedom of speech.
“The type of speech propagated in the article feeds these homophobic perspectives and encourages the existing moral condemnation, exclusion and even acts of violence against member of the LGBTI community in South Africa,” she said.
On Wednesday, the court was set to hear evidence from the SA Human Rights commission (SAHRC) and Prof Juan Nel, former President of the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA), which has been admitted as a “friend of the court”.
He will defend the constitutionality of the provisions of the Equality Act concerning hate speech and will highlight the “pernicious psychological and social effects of the speech” contained in Qwelane’s article.
Qwelane’s legal counsel has claimed that the article did not incite violence against LGBTI people and was simply an expression of his opinion which is protected under the Constitution.
In 2011, an Equality Court ruled that the article “propagates hatred and harm against homosexuals” and ordered Qwelane to apologise to the gay community and to pay damages of R100,000 towards an LGBTI rights group. He, however, had the ruling rescinded on a technicality, but the SAHRC re-filed the charges.
Despite his statements flouting the country’s Constitution, Qwelane was unexpectedly made South Africa’s high commissioner in Uganda by President Jacob Zuma in 2010. This was described at the time as a “F*** you” to South Africa’s and Uganda’s LGBTI communities. Qwelane left the position some time in 2014.
The trial is set to continue until 17 March. Qwelane is not attending proceedings due to ill health.