South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda was found guilty of hate speech on Tuesday for a homophobic newspaper column penned three years ago in which he compared homosexuality to bestiality.
The Johannesburg Equality Court ordered Jon Qwelane to publish an unconditional apology to gays and lesbians in two newspapers, including the Sunday Sun, which carried his piece in 2008 before his appointment to Kampala.
It ruled that the article and a cartoon had propagated hatred and harm against homosexuals who had suffered emotional pain and suffering.
The column, headlined “Call me names, but gay is NOT okay…”, sparked a massive outcry in South Africa, which guarantees sexual rights in its constitution and is the only country in Africa to have legalised same-sex marriage.
However, like many African countries, South Africa still battles homophobic attitudes, with horrific cases of sexual assaults against lesbians targeted for “corrective rape” by men.
“I do pray that some day a bunch of politicians with their heads affixed firmly to their necks will muster the balls to rewrite the constitution of this country, to excise those sections which give licence to men ‘marrying’ other men, and ditto women,” Qwelane wrote three years ago.
“Otherwise, at this rate, how soon before some idiot demands to ‘marry’ an animal, and argues that this constitution ‘allows’ it?”
His subsequent appointment last year as high commissioner to Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by life imprisonment in some instances, drew controversy.
Qwelane was also ordered to pay 100,000 rand ($14,600, 10,100 euros) to the South African Human Rights Commission, which brought the case against him.