Qwelane column led to most complaints to SAHRC ever, court hears

2017-03-06 15:50
(File: Supplied)

(File: Supplied)

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Johannesburg – The contents of the 2008 Sunday Sun column by Jon Qwelane were harmful and hurtful towards the gay and lesbian community, the Johannesburg High Court heard on Monday.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), arguing through advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi in the hate speech case against Qwelane, said the commission had received 350 complaints – which is the highest number it has ever received.

Qwelane's column was published on July 20, 2008.

In his capacity as a journalist, Qwelane expressed his opinion about homosexuals. The column was headlined "Call me names, but gay is not okay".

Ngcukaitobi said the words contained in the column had negative psychological and emotional effects on the gay and lesbian community.

Comparison unacceptable

In the column – which was accompanied by a cartoon of a man marrying a goat – Qwelane lauded Mugabe's "unflinching and unapologetic stance" on homosexuality.

Qwelane wrote: "There could be a few things I could take issue with Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, but his unflinching and unapologetic stance over homosexuals is definitely not among those."

Ngcukaitobi said when Qwelane compared human beings to animals, he dehumanised them.

"One must take into account that this dehumanisation has the distinct possibility of justifying physical harm and physical violence against gays and lesbians."

Ngcukaitobi called on SAHRC head of legal services Pandelis Gregoriou, who said the column was unacceptable.

"Robert Mugabe is being recorded as having compared gays and lesbians to sub-animals," Gregoriou said.

Qwelane hospitalised

A handful of members of People Opposing Women Abuse protested outside court against hate speech.

Qwelane's counsel said he could not make it to the hearing because they received an indication from him on Saturday that he had been hospitalised.

"He collapsed at a shopping mall in Boksburg. He is still in hospital," his lawyer Advocate Musatondwa Musandiwa said.

He said they have also made a decision not to call him to lead evidence.

The matter was postponed previously because Qwelane was not well.

In the column, Qwelane also said that he would "totally refuse to withdraw or apologise" for his views in which he also condemned gay marriage.

However, Media24 wrote an apology and published it in the Sunday Sun newspaper.

Constitutional challenge

Qwelane said in the column he believed that when it came to homosexuals' "lifestyle and sexual preferences...wrong is wrong!"

Qwelane, who subsequently served as Ugandan ambassador, was originally found guilty in April 2011 by the Johannesburg Equality Court of hate speech in connection with the article, but was not present at the default judgment because of his job abroad.

The judgment was withdrawn on September 1, 2011.

In August 2013, the court heard that Qwelane would bring a challenge to the constitutionality of certain provisions of equality legislation.

At the time, Qwelane wanted to challenge sections 10 and 11 of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. Section 10 deals with hate speech and section 11 with harassment.

The matter continues.

Read more on:    sahrc  |  jon qwelane  |  johannesburg  |  lgbti rights  |  equality

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