South African ambassador to Uganda found guilty of gay-hate speech

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The South African Human Rights Commission has won a hate speech case against journalist Jon Qwelane over an anti-gay column he wrote prior to his appointment as the country’s ambassador to Uganda.

As reported in the Star Tribune, the Commission’s spokesman Vincent Moaga said a judge ruled that the newspaper column in question – which was headlined “Call me names, but gay is NOT OK” – was promoting hatred. Qwelane was ordered to apologise and pay a fine of 100,000 rand (about £7,000).

The commission said they will donate the money to a gay rights organisation.

The outcome of the case is particularly significant in the light of the recent attacks and rapes of lesbian women in South Africa.

Mr Moaga said: “We are hoping really that this finding will send a message to community members, a message that says gay and lesbian people have an equal right to the protection of their dignity.”

Qwelane did not mount a defence against the case and the commission have not yet taken any position on whether his appointment as ambassador should be terminated. However, Mr Moaga said he expected the government to review the court ruling.

Uganda itself has been the subject of criticism by international human rights groups since one of its lawmakers proposed in 2009 that gay people should face capital punishment in certain cases. The Ugandan parliament has, however, not yet voted on the bill.

Despite the realities of anti-gay violence and prejudice in South Africa, the country does have strong anti-discrimination laws around sexual orientation and same-sex marriage is legal.

A government agency said in a statement following the outcome of the Qwelane case: “One of the major legacies of apartheid is that of intolerance towards difference – be it in terms of race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other such factors. As a result, 17 years after South Africa’s first democratic elections, the country is still grappling to find ways to better manage difference.”