Protestors outside the HRC’s offices in Johannesburg.

Jon Qwelane, the writer behind the infamous homophobic Sunday Sun article, is to be taken to the Equality Court, the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) said today.

This was announced by the CEO of the HRC, Adv. Tseliso Thipanyane, at a meeting with protestors who gathered outside its Johannesburg offices to demonstrate against the organisation’s delay in making a ruling on the matter.

The HRC said that it received around 350 complaints after the Sunday Sun published the July 20 article, titled Call me names, but gay is NOT okay…

The article equated homosexuality with bestiality, praised Robert Mugabe’s oppression of gays and lesbians and encouraged the removal of the sexual-orientation protection clause from the constitution.

In July, the Press Ombudsman ordered the Sunday Sun to apologise for the article but fell short of declaring the piece hate speech and refused to recommend any sanctions against Qwelane himself.

Adv. Tseliso Thipanyane, CEO of the HRC.

The LGBT community then looked to the HRC to take a position on matter, but the commission’s delay in doing so led to today’s protest.

“It’s an unfortunate matter because we have always been clear on LGBT rights. This was not handled as it should have been and we apologise for the lack of communication. It [the matter] should have been handled faster than it was,” Thipanyane admitted to the protest organisers.

In a statement issued to the protestors, the commission said that it believed that “the language used by Mr Qwelane is not consistent with the spirit and values of the constitution, and it’s hurtful at the least.”

The commission further acknowledged that homophobia is contrary to the inherent rights guaranteed in the constitution and is a common reality for many South Africans.

“This prejudice is experienced in the extreme by the attacks, rapes and even murders of gay and particularly lesbian persons, solely because of their sexual orientation,” it said.

The HRC explained that in light of Qwelane’s comments that he would refuse to abide by any ruling against him by the commission, and due to the importance of the matter, it had decided to refer the issue to the Equality Court.

Thipanyane said that the commission had not ruled out that the article could be classified as hate speech, and that this would be decided by the court.

Members of the HRC meet with protestors.

The HRC added that the court’s decision would be a “binding pronouncement, which will serve as a precedent in future matters.” It further said that it hoped Qwelane would collaborate with it in the matter.

At the meeting in the HRC’s boardroom, to which the protestors and media were invited, Thipanyane said that the commission was also looking into the issue of criminalising hate crimes. “Government needs to pass hate crimes laws,” he said.

While the protest was poorly attended, with no more than ten people showing up at the HRC’s offices, the organisers, from the newly formed South African Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (SA GLAAD), said that they were extremely happy with the commission’s statement.

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