In a surprising development, Jon Qwelane’s advocate has told the Johannesburg High Court that his client might be willing to apologise for his infamous homophobic article.
According to Times Live, Judge Dimpheletse Moshidi on Tuesday asked advocate Musatondwa Musandiwa how Qwelane should be punished if found guilty of hate speech.
Musandiwa replied: “I do not think Mr Qwelane would be against making an apology but we would need proper instructions from him regarding that.”
The statement is a huge about turn as Qwelane previously refused to apologise and said that he would not engage with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on the matter.
Astonishingly, Musandiwa went on to argue that the SAHRC should have approached Qwelane again to give him another opportunity to deal with the matter. “People say things in the heat of the moment and later‚ given an opportunity to retract‚ they would retract.”
It’s unclear why Qwelane could not have come forward of his own accord to retract his hateful comments or apologise, instead of allowing the matter to drag on for almost nine years.
In his closing argument, Musandiwa reiterated his view that the SAHRC, which brought the case against Qwelane, had “not demonstrated to this court there was a clear intention to be harmful or [commit] harm or a clear intention to propagate hatred.”
Representing the SAHRC, Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, slammed the former journalist for not attending the trial on the basis of ill health.
“He has not produced evidence to excuse him [from proceedings]. He did not even bother to get a medical certificate,” he said, reported Times Live. “We are not only dealing with a delinquent but someone who has no respect for the institutions of the Constitution.”
Ngcukaitobi further asserted that “the article is in and of itself harmful. It is harmful to the indignity and causes deep psychological and emotional harm to the target group.”
He added: “Gays and lesbians are subject to acts of violence against them on account of their sexual orientation. Those violent acts are not spontaneous. They begin by hate speech and escalate into actual physical violence.”
In his 2008 Call me names, but gay is not okay article, Qwelane suggested that homosexuality was similar to bestiality, said he supported Robert Mugabe’s homophobia (which includes calling gays and lesbians “worse than pigs and dogs”), and urged politicians to remove the sexual orientation equality clause from the Constitution.
A cartoon alongside the article depicted a man marrying a goat in church, further enforcing the idea that same-sex relationships are akin to bestiality.
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, however, had the ruling rescinded on a technicality, but the SAHRC re-filed the charges.