Jon Qwelane

Human Rights and LGBT groups have welcomed the Equality Court finding South Africa’s envoy to Uganda guilty of hate speech, but the government appears to be unmoved by the landmark decision.

The court on Tuesday ruled that Jon Qwelane’s 2008 article and associated cartoon published by the Sunday Sun “propagates hatred and harm against homosexuals”.

It added: “Homosexuals as represented by the complainant have suffered emotional pain and suffering as a result of the action of the respondent.”

It ordered Qwelane to “make an unconditional apology to the gay and lesbian community. Such apology is to be published in the Sunday Sun as well as one other national newspaper”.

Focus not on the money…

Damages of R 100 000 were granted to the SA Human Rights Commission “to be used to promote and raise awareness regarding the rights of gays and lesbians”.

The SAHRC, which sued Qwelane over the matter, welcomed the ruling.

“The focus is not on the money, but the message coming out of this. With recent hate speech and crimes against the community, the court is sending positive messages,” said SAHRC’s Vincent Moaga.

He added that the SAHRC will “make sure that Qwelane abides by the court order”. Qwelane has not commented on the case and neither attended court hearings nor filed any defence papers.

‘Hateful and offensive statements’

SA GLAAD, an LGBT organisation that came into being as a result of the outrage generated by Qwelane’s article, also expressed its satisfaction at the court’s action.

“It has taken almost three whole years since this issue first broke in 2008, marked by protests, letters, fax and email campaigns, international and local scrutiny, and consistent pressure from local advocacy groups and activists to come to this point,” said SA GLAAD’s Christina Engela.

“We are indeed satisfied with the verdict of the Equality Court…and the order that he must make an apology to the Pink Community and to women for his hateful and offensive statements – an apology which in his article he bragged that he never would make.”

‘More than a slap on the wrist’

Sexual health NGO Health4Men also welcomed the Equality Court’s ruling. “This is more than a slap on the wrist,” said Glenn de Swardt from Health4Men.

“It sends a clear message to prominent community leaders, and indeed to politicians, that they will be held accountable for prejudiced statements against any sector of the community.

“It is also a clear statement to the mass media that they cannot hide behind the concept of ‘freedom of the press’ when printing hate speech.”

A personal matter?

The organisations and other LGBT activists have called for the recall of Qwelane from Uganda, where he serves as South Africa’s High Commissioner to that country.

It’s a call that the government appears to be ignoring, saying that while it respected the decision of the court, the matter is a “personal” one.

“Qwelane did the article in his personal capacity before his appointment [as ambassador],” Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesperson Clayson Monyela told Sapa yesterday.

“The ruling today is a personal matter he will have to deal with,” he said.

In his article, titled Call me names, but gay is NOT okay, 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.

Read the article here (PDF format).

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