Around 200 people protested in Johannesburg today against the Sunday Sun’s recent publishing of the controversial homophobic Jon Qwelane column.

Angry LGBT people began to congregate outside the gates of Media24 office park, the parent company of the Sunday Sun, from 2pm in a demonstration organised by Michael Smolinsky from Jewish Outlook under the auspices of the Joint Working Group.

The protesters sang songs, waved rainbow flags and held up placards which read “Honk if you hate homophobia”, “Sunday Sun promotes violence”, “Hate speech kills” and “Educate against hate”.

Many passing cars and trucks on the busy Kingsway road in Auckland Park hooted in support as they drove past.

“The LGBTI community is under attack and this article promotes hate and violence against LGBTI people,” said Smolinsky, referring to the growing spate of deadly hate crime attacks across the country, specifically on black lesbians.

The protestors were led into the office grounds were they continued to demonstrate on a stretch of grass facing the building entrance. A group of Media24 employees and journalists gathered outside to watch the unfolding events.

The event was videotaped by police who had a small but visible presence at the protest.

Mixael de Kock, host of the Bravo Brava radio show, made an impassioned speech to the crowd, slamming Jon Qwelane’s homophobia, and warning that ignoring hate speech would ultimately have dire consequences for everyone – gay and straight.

“Media24 cannot distance itself from the views of its employees – not if those views have been printed on paper owned by and then sold by the company,” said de Kock.

“And there is only one question for Media24 to answer: Is it ethical for Media24 to be making profits from spreading writings of intolerance and which may even incite the uninformed to commit crimes of violence against their fellow citizens?”

Steve Letsike from OUT LGBT then read out a memorandum from the Joint Working Group before handing it over to Themba Khumalo, Editor in Chief of the Sunday Sun, who was accompanied by his attorney.

The memorandum demanded that the Sunday Sun make an immediate apology and retract the article, that all Media24 publications distance themselves from Qwelane’s comments and that he be fired as a writer for Media24 publications.

Asked to make a comment to the protestors, Khumalo, who wore a Sunday Sun cap, refused to apologise: “I am not prepared to commit to anything until we have seen the memorandum,” he said before returning back to the building.

“I think [we] did well to deliver a strong, united response from the community that the advocating of hate in the mainstream media is a violation of Freedom of Expression, the SA Press Code as well as the foundational values of our Constitution, namely the Freedom, Dignity and Equality of all South African Citizens,” said Smolinsky in statement after the protest.

“I also think this highlighted the fact that for many South Africans, and particularly those that have become victims of Hate, these ideals exist only in theory whereby the choice to live one’s life freely and openly carries with it a deadly cost. To that extent our Democracy is failing, and the media can’t escape it’s complicity with that, nor shrug its responsibility to address these failures.”

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