The words of former ambassador to Uganda Jon Qwelane‚ accused of spewing hate speech in a 2008 newspaper column‚ may have fuelled the attacks on homosexual people in their communities.
This was the testimony of the executive director of organisation People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) Nonhlanhla Mokwena in the High Court in Johannesburg‚ in Qwelane’s hate speech hearing.
The South African Human Rights Commission approached the court after Qwelane failed to apologise for his 2008 Sunday Sun column titled‚ “Call me names‚ but Gay is NOT okay”.
In the column Qwelane suggested that the Constitution’s acceptance of gay marriage would lead to “some idiot [demanding] to marry an animal”. He also endorsed Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s views on homosexuality.
Powa was one of the 350 complainants that took issue with Qwelane’s column at the commission‚ which found its language amounted to hate speech.
Mokwena told the court that she believed Qwelane’s column‚ which also called homosexuality a lifestyle‚ incited violence because it fuelled the already-existing stigma and violence lesbian‚ gay‚ bisexual‚ transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community faces.
“Homosexuality is not a lifestyle. Homosexuals don’t choose to be homosexuals. They are homosexuals and they are people.
“When I read something like [Qwelane’s column] my thoughts are that they are not people‚ they shouldn’t be amongst the community‚ and I must do something about it.”
That something may be acts of violence in the understanding of the reader‚ Mokwena said.
She sketched the climate LGBTI people face in the communities Powa serves‚ in Katlehong‚ Vosloorus‚ Tembisa‚ Sebokeng and Soweto. These include incidents of verbal abuse‚ rapes‚ assaults and murders‚ allegedly as a result of their sexual orientation.
In November 2015 a black lesbian woman living in Katlehong was asked by a male passenger in the taxi she was travelling in why she is a lesbian‚ Mokwena testified.
“The man proceeded to say: ‘I would f**k you so hard‚ you will forget that you are lesbian and become a straight woman’.”
Under cross-examination‚ Mokwena said that Powa had not received any complaints of violence directly linked to Qwelane’s column but insisted that his language was dangerous.
“Responsible messaging is important. Particularly if you are in a position of power. We must build this country‚ not destroy it.”
The case is being heard years after Qwelane’s column was published and he was ordered to pay R100 000 and issue an apology by the Equality Court.
Qwelane had this ruling rescinded in 2011 and is now opposing the commission’s application. He is also questioning the constitutionality of the section of the Equality Act which deals with hate speech.
Qwelane‚ who was recently hospitalised‚ was not in court.
– TMG Digital