Johannesburg – The homophobic hate speech case against South Africa’s former ambassador to Uganda, Jon Qwelane, is expected to continue in the High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
In July 2008, the Sunday Sun published a column by Qwelane titled “Call me names, but gay is not okay”.
On Monday, the court heard that the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) received 350 complaints against Qwelane about his column – the highest number it had ever received.
In his column – which was accompanied by a cartoon of a man marrying a goat – Qwelane lauded Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s “unflinching and unapologetic stance” stance on homosexuality.
Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, for the SAHRC, told the court that when Qwelane compared human beings to animals, he was dehumanising 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 said.
Qwelane could not attend the hearing due to poor health, his lawyer Musatondwa Musandiwa said. The matter was previously postponed because Qwelane was not well.
In April 2011, the Johannesburg Equality Court found him guilty of hate speech for his column. He was ordered to apologise and fined R100 000. He was not present at the default judgment because of his job abroad. The judgment was withdrawn on September 1, 2011.
Qwelane’s counsel argued at the time that the default judgment was not allowed, and that a direction hearing needed to be convened before such a judgment could be handed down.
In August 2013, the court heard that Qwelane intended challenging the constitutionality of certain sections of the Equality Act.
The SAHRC later initiated proceedings against him again.