Guilty: Jon Qwelane

South Africa’s LGBT community is celebrating after homophobic journalist Jon Qwelane was found guilty of hate speech and ordered to pay a large fine.

On Tuesday, the Johannesburg Equality Court handed down its judgement on Qwelane’s controversial July 2008 anti-gay article and accompanying cartoon.

It ruled that the cartoon amounted to hate speech and that both the article and the cartoon propagated hatred and harm.

Qwelane, who did not attend the hearing, was ordered to make an unconditional apology to the gay and lesbian community.

He was also instructed to pay R 100,000 to the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

The SAHRC has previously said that it would give any money awarded to it in the case to LGBT community groups.

“At long last. Justice is served; late but nevertheless! Today is a brighter day for the pink community, if only symbolically,” commented Cobus Fourie from SA GLAAD.

‘Recall Qwelane from Uganda’

LGBT activist Steve Letsike welcomed the news, but demanded that the government also recall Qwelane from Uganda, where he is currently serving in the post of High Commissioner.

“The R 100,000 isn’t enough. Hate speech is against the principles of South Africa’s constitution. The ruling is a clear message that he must be recalled. Bring him back to South Africa,” said Letsike.

The SAHRC received around 350 complaints after the Sunday Sun published Qwelane’s article, titled Call me names, but gay is NOT okay… in 2008.

In it, Qwelane 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. The accompanying cartoon depicted a man marrying a goat in church, which Qwelane suggested was equivalent to same-sex marriage.

Following demonstrations by the LGBT community and numerous complaints, 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.

An unrepentant Qwelane was fired from the Sunday Sun and was last year appointed high commissioner for South Africa in Uganda, a country which has been considering legislation that could impose the death penalty against gays and lesbians.

His posting was seen as grossly inappropriate, insensitive and a “slap in the face” to the LGBT community.

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