05/31/2011, 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!”
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 organized 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!
UPDATED Via Local Newspaper -George Herald.
“It was unclear whether the ruling against Qwelane would have any implications on his position. The South African embassy in Kampala on Tuesday said Qwelane was not available for comment. The Department of International Relations and Co-operation on Tuesday said it respected the ruling but called it a “personal matter” that Qwelane would have to deal with. “Qwelane did the article in his personal capacity before his appointment [as ambassador]. The ruling today is a personal matter he will have to deal with,” said spokesman Clayson Monyela. “We have taken notes of the pronouncement and decision of the court. We respect the decision. The SA Constitution is very clear on the rights of gays and lesbians…we will defend their rights in this country,” he said. The Presidency referred all queries to Monyela. High commissioners are appointed by the President.”
Again President Jacob Zuma may escape his truth! We want to hear from the President because he knew that Qwelane was under scrutiny and yet surreptitiously slipped him out of South Africa into and Ambassadorship, despite protests against the move. The fact that Qwelane wrote the articles in his personal capacity before this appointment is of no relevance. However the articles were clearly homophobic and Zuma was aware of such at the time of appointment. The fact that Qwelane was found guilty only adds to the evidence of his homophobia. Confirming he should never have been appointed in the first place and that he should be recalled now.
I am wondering what Qwelane has on Zuma – something has caused an alliance in defiance of the obligation for maintaining the integrity and respect that a sitting President owes his constitution and his people.
Since this Article there have been responses from many corners of the LGBTI community. I am wondering if we will hear from the U.S. Department of State,
Added: 6/01/2011 Here us an updated Report from SA Times.
Mazibuko Jara, chairman of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, said yesterday the organisation was “overjoyed” at the court ruling, which exposed “Qwelane as the homophobe he is”.
Jara said the government now had “no basis whatsoever to continue protecting Jon Qwelane . [it ] must recall him, fine him . and order him to apologise”.
Jacob van Garderen, director of Lawyers for Human Rights, said “it is certainly problematic that our representative in Uganda has been found guilty of this speech, which is clearly not representative of the values and aspirations of our country”.
Activist Rhoda Kadalie said it was an “embarrassment” that a South African ambassador appeared to support Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s “horrendous anti-gay laws”.
Presidency spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the judgment would be studied.