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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

South African Ambassador Jon Qwelane guilty of anti-gay hate speech

Jon Qwelane
By Melanie Nathan

Back in 2008, Jon Qwelane posted a piece in his column in the Sunday Sun. Well known to the South African LGBTQI community is the fact that Jon Qwelane, despite protest and outrage, was sent to Uganda as South Africa’s Ambassador to that country.

Qwelane, inter alia, writes about the Anglican Church’s internal rift over the ordination of gay priests, stating that the “real problem” is the “rapid degradation of values and traditions” and much worse draws the much abused analogy between homosexuality and bestiality.

This is one example of the degradation of a LGBTQI community that actually enjoys equality under the all-inclusive South African Constitution – specifically referencing sexual orientation and gender identity.

On Monday, Qwelane was found guilty of ‘hate speech’ and fined! But has he been recalled by the Zuma administration? Qwelane, the ambassador from the all inclusive country is still South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda, a country that still wants to “hang the homos!”

GLAAD SA (GLAAD South Africa) Gayspeak SA, a social news service, reports:
“We are happy that Ambassador Jon Qwelane was found guilty of hate speech and fined R100, 000 (equivalent to $15,000) and this will be given to LGBTI organizations by the SAHRC. (The South African Human Rights Commission.)"
When Qwelane equated gay relationships to bestiality, we stood together as a community as never before. The servers of the SAHRC crashed, thousands of e-mails were sent and over 350 formal complaints were received at the SAHRC. Never before was there such an organised protest run by the community itself – and not by the more well-known NGOs, funded by overseas donors, who were very slow in reacting.

It had a galvanizing effect on the community – and some very positive repercussions, such as the formation of SA GLAAD soon afterwards – a voluntary organization spearheaded by Cobus Fourie and Christina Engela. A Facebook group formed by Louise Reardon, who also became a founding member of SA GLAAD, quickly grew to more than 3000 members and from this group relentless pressure was put on the SAHRC who at the time admitted that it was the most complaints ever received regarding one matter. Gayspeak took an active role in this and was quoted in several newspapers.

If it was not for more pressure later on through groups like SA GLAAD, the SAHRC would have abandoned the case as it was well-known that Qwelane was a vocal supporter of Pres. Zuma – then the fired ex-deputy president – thus Qwelane’s appointment as ambassador to Uganda, of all places, where a Death to Gays Bill is pending. It was regarded as a slap in the face to the gay community by Pres. Zuma, himself known for his homophobic utterances.

We have to mention here that unlike most other LGBTI NGOs in South Africa, SA GLAAD is NOT funded by overseas donors or by anybody else – Cobus and Christina specifically use their own resources. We sincerely hope that the SAHRC remembers them when – and if – the fine is paid by Qwelane.

We will be watching.

It is indeed ironic that while Uganda already criminalized homosexuality under its current law, causing many Ugandan gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender and intersex citizens to flee and seek asylum in South Africa, the President Zuma continues to support a now ‘proven’ homophobe as his Ambassador to that country.

As homophobia festers in Uganda, South Africa serves as one of the only refuges for LGBTQI Ugandans – how can the world condone with its silence a proven homophobe in the seat of ambassador?

In the meantime I urge my comrades in South Africa to use this judgement as an opportunity to have your voice heard. This is a great example of the independence of the South African Courts ( In this case the SA Human Rights Commission). Now you must insist on Qwelane’s recall – please organize protests and make them loud!

From across the Atlantic, we hope to hear from the U.S. State Department as well as the U.K. Government that the recall of Jon Qwelane is an absolute necessity.

We are also calling on International Campaigns to step up the recall of Qwelane!

Melanie Nathan, formerly of, is author of the O-blog-dee-o-blog-da blog.
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