A column written by Jon Qwelane, for the Sunday Sun in 2008, comparing homosexuality with bestiality was offensive and incited violence, the People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) said in the Johannesburg High Court on Tuesday.
“In Powa’s view, the comments made in Mr Qwelane’s article exceeds the limits of the right to freedom of expression that is guaranteed in the constitution,” said Powa’s executive director Nonhlanhla Mokwena.
“The publication of the article grossly offends our constitutional values of our democracy.”
The organisation was part of the 350 complaints received by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) against Qwelane’s column.
Qwelane wrote that he hoped politicians could have “the balls to rewrite the constitution” regarding the legalisation of same-sex marriages because, “at this rate, how soon before some idiot demands to ‘marry’ an animal, and argues that his constitution ‘allows’ it?”
On Tuesday, Mokwena said Qwelane was in position of power and influence and his article contributes to the high level of stigma and homophobia which was rampant in communities.
“The type of speech propagated in the article feeds these homophobic perspective and encourages the existing moral condemnation, exclusion and even acts of violence against member of the LGBTI community in South Africa,” she said.
Mokwena also took the court through some of the horrific incidents including rape and murder which were suffered by homosexual people.
Qwelane’s column was accompanied by a cartoon of a man marrying a goat and he lauded Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s unflinching and unapologetic stance on homosexuality.
Mokwena said equating people to animals was dehumanising.
“To us you can’t say people are dogs, pigs, pigs are dirty and live outside,” she said.
“Homosexuality is not a lifestyle, they don’t choose to be homosexual, they are homosexual and they are humans.”
Powa supporters who had filled the court gallery muttered in obvious agreement.
The SAHRC took the matter to court, asking for Qwelane to pay R100,000 to a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex (LGBTI) organisation and issue an unconditional apology.
Qwelane could not attend the hearing citing poor health.
During cross examination his lawyer Musatondwa Musandiwa asked Mokwena if Qwelane’s article was linked to the violence she had mentioned earlier in her testimony.
“No, it’s not linked, they were before,” Mokwena said.
“Problem is the role of using the media,” she said.
Musandiwa responded: “But bottom line is there is no direct link.”
Mokwena replied: “To us it goes back to the responsibility of media reporting.”
Mokwena emphasised that Qwelane was in a position of power and he used a powerful tool to communicate his message.
She said Qwelane article was irresponsible and fuelled the existing ill treatment against homosexual people especially in the townships.
“Before we engage we can’t condemn and equate people to non entities,” she said.
“If this article says being homosexual is wrong in a community that already has a stigma towards LGBTI community, what will that do.”
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 2011.
But Qwelane is challenging the Equality Act’s constitutionality because he feels it is vague when it defines hate speech as “hurtful”.
The trial continues.
– African News Agency