Wednesday June 1 2011

Court fines S. African envoy over hate speech

By Tabu Butagira


South Africa’s High Commissioner to Uganda Jon Qwelane was yesterday convicted by Johannesburg Equality Court for hate speech and fined $14,450 (Shs34.5m), according to media reports.

Mr Qwelane, posted to Kampala last year, was ordered to apologise unconditionally to the gay and lesbian community over his July 20, 2008 article in the Sunday Sun, where he was a columnist, bullishly titled: “Call me names, but gay is NOT okay.”

The court found the article and accompanying cartoon amounted to hate speech, propagating hatred and harm as a result of which homosexuals experienced “emotional pain and suffering”, The Mail & Guardian reported online.

A top South African High Commission official in Kampala last night said only envoy Qwelane, whom we were unable to reach by press time, could comment on the “personal” matter. “He wrote the (Sunday Sun) article before he was appointed a high commissioner,” the official, who asked not be named for protocol reasons, said, unsure about the likely career ramification of yesterday’s verdict.

South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation tasked Mr Qwelane to sort out himself. Spokesman Clayson Monyela was quoted as saying: “The ruling is a personal matter he will have to deal with. We have taken notes of the decision of the court. We respect the decision. The South African Constitution is very clear on the rights of gays and lesbians ... we will defend their rights in this country.”

Unlike much of Africa where same-sex relation or marriage is proscribed, the Rainbow Nation’s liberal laws permit homosexuality, explaining why the article was criticised by activists as “inflammatory”.