South Africa’s openly homophobic ambassador to Uganda has won his bid to rescind the hate speech verdict against him, a blow against the country’s LGBTI community.
Jon Qwelane, a former journalist, was sued by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) over his 2008 anti-gay article Call me names, but gay is NOT okay…, published in the Sunday Sun.
In May he was found guilty of hate speech in absentia, ordered to apologise and fined R 100,000.
In June, Qwelane’s lawyers applied to have the judgment rescinded because he was out of the country at the time and was apparently not aware of the seriousness of the matter. The SAHRC argued that he could have secured legal representation in South Africa to attend the hearings.
Today, the Johannesburg Equality Court ruled that Qwelane gave a reasonable explanation for his absence and set aside the hate speech judgement.
The SAHRC’s Vincent Moaga told Mambaonline that the decision wasn’t a surprise, “but for us we are disappointed with the outcome. We remain firm in our commitment to fight discrimination and inequality”.
Moaga was quick to emphasise that the decision did not reflect on the hate speech charge itself. “This court was only appointed to deal with the procedural issues relating to the matter not its content,” he said.
He added that the SAHRC was “in principle” committed to taking the matter forward and that this “would be the correct thing”. He noted that the Commission is still assessing the judgment and “the details and strategy remains to be determined”.
“The Equality Court will hear this matter afresh and all the parties will have to make their submissions and argue the merits of the matter, which is what Mr. Qwelane wanted,” said Moaga.
He was unable to say when a final decision on the way forward would be made.