The head of a rights-based NPO and the University of Venda community radio station have been taken to the Equality Court over claims of anti-LGBTI hate speech.
The incident took place on the 19th of September last year, when the station’s current affairs programme Nkho Ya Lushaka hosted Dr Baldwin Mufunwaini, head of the organisation Munna Ndi Nnyi, to talk about the youth and drug abuse.
According to Raedane Thalukanyo, a former student and Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme Minority Rights project manager, who lodged the complaint with the court, the discussion then veered onto the topic of LGBTI people.
Thalukanyo claims that Dr Mufunwaini went on to make “reckless and irresponsible” comments that equate to hate speech.
He asserts that Dr Mufunwaini suggested that people can join ‘gayism’, that being gay or lesbian is evil and that gay men want to be women and lesbian women want to be men.
Thalukanyo also claims that Dr Mufunwaini stated that gay and lesbian people should repent and that his organisation seeks them out in order to convert them to heterosexuality.
“The remarks made by Dr Mufunwaini that day made me feel undignified, and I felt there was an attribution of my sexuality being a contributor of that which is wrong and a taboo,” said Thalukanyo. “It made me feel like I am a menace to society…”
Thalukanyo has included the radio station, its manager and the show’s host in the complaint, alleging that they failed to stop or challenge Dr Mufunwaini when he made the alleged statements.
Thalukanyo told Mambaonline that he was appalled that the public could have been influenced by the radio show, “especially in Venda, which is very patriarchal and religious”.
He noted that the area had seen a number of violent hate crime attacks against LGBTI people and warned that these kinds of “hate speech” comments could lead to further violence.
Thalukanyo expressed his outrage that “someone who is working with human rights and key populations is saying these kinds of things and wanting to ‘convert’ gays and lesbians”.
Dr Mufunwaini responded to questions from Mambaonline about the case and denied making any of the alleged statements about LGBTI people.
“On the day in question, I was not talking about LGBTI people. I was talking about drug and alcohol abuse,” he insisted.
“No one has the right to discriminate against these [LGBTI] people,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with LGBTI people and same-sex relationships,” he added.
Dr Mufunwaini, who said that the matter was a “misunderstanding”, went on to point out that he employed LGBTI people as well as sex workers in his organisation. “I don’t have any hatred towards them,” he said.
When asked if he believes that gays and lesbians can be ‘converted’, he replied: “That’s above my scope.”
Dr Mufunwaini’s community-based organisation, Munna Ndi Nnyi, (“who is the real man”), works in a range of spheres, including combating gender-based violence and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
According to court documents, the Univen Community Radio Station did not deny that the comments were made but said that the views expressed in the show were not that of the station or its staff. It argued that it cannot be held responsible for Dr Mufunwaini’s utterances and that they were “unexpected” because they were “not related to the topic at hand”.
It also stated that it “believes and upholds the principle of freedom and equality as enshrined in the bill of rights,” including on the basis of sexual orientation.
The station further noted that it had given Thalukanyo and fellow activist Cindy Moatoana a space on its station the following day after the contentious programme to specifically address LGBTI issues.
Thalukanyo, however, said this appearance dealt specifically with LGBTI hate crimes and did not address Dr Mufunwaini’s comments. He is demanding that the respondents “apologise earnestly to LGBTI people for uttering hate towards them and for propagating wrong information to the public” and to pay compensation.
He also wants Dr Mufunwaini to undergo training on sexual diversity and for the radio station to host programmes on sexual diversity and issues affecting LGBTI people.
The Thohoyandou Equality Court has requested a copy and translated transcript of the radio show in question. The matter is set to be heard on the 12th of May.