Will he show up? After more than eight years, the Jon Qwelane hate speech case will resume in the South Gauteng High Court from 6 to 17 March.
The SA Human Rights commission has been attempting to ensure that the former journalist and diplomat accounts for his 2008 article Call me names, gay is not okay, which outraged the LGBTI community.
While he was found guilty of hate speech in 2011, Qwelane has challenged that ruling on the basis that the Equality Act, under which he was convicted, violated his right to freedom of speech.
In August last year, justice was again deferred after the trial was suspended when Qwelane’s legal representatives said that he was in poor health. It remains unclear if Qwelane will now appear in court or if he will again claim to be too ill to continue.
As ‘friend of the court’, the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) said it will make submissions defending the constitutionality of the relevant provisions of the Equality Act and will highlight the “pernicious psychological and social effects of the speech” contained in Qwelane’s article.
“Mr Qwelane’s article was a flagrant attack on the dignity of LGBT people that promotes discrimination,” said Prof Juan Nel, former President of PsySSA.
“It is now time that he apologises for the hurt and harm his words have caused. We are hopeful that the court will act against this hate speech, and, in doing so, send a message that utterances which denigrate and dehumanise people, undermine the advancement of equality and discrimination for all.”
A strong civil society presence is expected at the court hearing, including PsySSA members, People Opposing Women Abuse, LGBT activists and organisations, and other social justice allies.
In his infamous article, Qwelane compared homosexuality to bestiality and urged politicians to remove the sexual orientation equality clause from the Constitution.
In 2011, an Equality Court ruled that the article “propagates hatred and harm against homosexuals” and ordered Qwelane to apologise to the gay community and to pay damages of R100,000 towards an LGBTI rights group. He had the ruling rescinded on a technicality, but the SAHRC re-filed the charges.
Despite his statements flouting the country’s Constitution, Qwelane was unexpectedly made South Africa’s high commissioner in Uganda by President Jacob Zuma in 2010. This was described at the time as a “F*** you” to South Africa’s and Uganda’s LGBTI communities. Qwelane left the position some time in 2014.