Now is the Time for South Africa to Recall Anti-Gay Ambassador Jon Qwelane from “Kill-the-Gays-Bill” Uganda – Melanie Nathan’s scathing attack on DIRCO, ZUMA and ANC Administration
“In light of Bahati’s Kill-The-Gays Bill, the virulent homophobia so prevalent in Uganda, and the constitutional imperative placed on President Zuma, we call for the immediate recall of Qwelane. It is high time South Africa starts sending out the right messages and spreading the progressive all-inclusive egalitarian values.” Cobus Jesse Fourie, South African LGBTI Activist,
by Melanie Nathan, Dec 04, 2011
South Africa, the only African country that boasts a fully LGBT inclusive constitution, has not only remained silent on the question of the criminalization of homosexuality in Africa, but has nurtured anti-gay sentiment in Africa through its failure to recall Jon Qwelane, its High Commissioner to that country.
While South Africa has voted favorably in the United Nations on the issues of homosexuality as a human right, it fails to explicitly stand up to the rest of Africa and its first call to action should be the firing and recall of Jon Qwelane. South Africa’s unique political standing and post-apartheid promise to quell prejudice stands in stark contrast to the rest of the continent, yet its leadership vacillates between a performance for the West in the United Nations and a dithering operation on the field against homophobia in Africa.
These past months gay communities in Africa have seen an increase in institutionalized homophobia, as governments across the continent seek to quash homosexuality. The Nigerian Senate succeeded in passing a sweeping criminalization bill, Cameroon handed down prison sentences for three gay men based on a perception of being gay and Uganda’s house speaker has tabled the far reaching Anti-homosexuality Bill, otherwise known as the Kill-the-Gays-Bill.
Qwelane, who was posted to Kampala in 2010, is the controversial journalist who earlier this year was fined and ordered to apologize to the South African gay (LGBTI) community through a conviction in the South African Equality Court in Johannesburg. In finding Qwelane guilty of hate speech in his column that was published in the Sunday Sun, the court determined that the work propagated hatred and harm as a result of which homosexuals experienced “emotional pain and suffering.” (1) (The conviction was rescinded only because of a procedural technicality pertaining to the manner of the default judgment; noting that Qwelane was out of the country and has not made an appearance.)
The South African Constitution supports full equality based on sexual orientation and gender identity, yet the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) under President Zuma and his ANC administration saw fit to send this particular ambassador to Uganda, a country spearheading anti-homosexuality fervor in Africa through its infamous anti-homosexuality bill, otherwise known as Kill-the-Gays-Bill – currently pending passage in Parliament.
Qwelane can never eradicate his words in the damning Sunday Sun article titled “Call me names but gay is not okay” which was also accompanied by a cartoon of a wedding between a man and a goat.
From this series of events stemmed the critical question delivered on Wednesday by a Member of Parliament of the opposition party Democratic Alliance, Kenneth Mubu, who asked the DIRCO minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, whether DIRCO intended to recall Qwelane from his position, in light of the fact that he had been found guilty of hate-speech in the Equality Court’s original ruling in June.
In response the Minister Nkoana-Mashabane justified Qwelane’s continued presence in Uganda as high commissioner by reiterating that the column in question had appeared long before Qwelane was appointed to his current position.
Showing continued insensitivity to the Constitution and its intent Minister Nkoana-Mashabane went on to state: “As a representative of the South African government in a foreign country, Mr. Qwelane upholds the values and principles of the South African Constitution. South African envoys are made aware of the provisions of the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, when addressing sensitive issues like the one quoted above.”
This defense of Qwelane is ludicrous. There is no evidence in fact that supports the Minister’s contention that Qwelane has done anything other than spit on the constitution. How can he be said to uphold the constitution when he has flagrantly refused to apologize and stated that he stands fully by his comments?
“And by the way, please tell the Human Rights Commission that I totally refuse to withdraw or apologise for my views. I will write no letters to the commission either, explaining my thoughts…”
The Sunday Sun, after Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe launched an investigation pursuant to about 1,000 complaints about the column, in which Qwelane likened marriages between people of the same gender to bestiality, launched its own apology, citing an admission of the breach of the “Press Code” – only to further highlight Qwelane’s defiance.
The very appointment of Qwelane thereafter was seen by many as a means to get Qwelane out of South Africa so he could avoid appearing in the Equality Court to answer to these charges.
DA member of parliament Mubu responded to the minister’s answer: “Qwelane has in the past made disparaging remarks about gay and lesbian people. That the Department of International Relations and Cooperation has seen fit to appoint him as a representative of South Africa, particularly to a country which has seen vicious homophobic attacks, is a serious error of judgment.”
This is not the first time that the DA has challenged Zuma on the question of Qwelane: “It is with dismay… that we contemplate the fact that Ambassador Qwelane remains as our emissary to Uganda,” DA international relations spokesman Stevens Mokgalapa said in a statement at the beginning of this year. “Qwelane had in the past launched many verbal assaults on gay and lesbian people among other things stating publicly that he would have disowned his own children if they were gay”
The director of, South Africa GLAAD, Christina Engel, told me: “I feel that the first citizen of my country South Africa – the ONLY country on the African continent to be lucky enough to have such a fantastic, forward-thinking and progressive human rights oriented Constitution – should be seen to publicly cherish, defend and promote the principles in that Constitution applying to human rights – and the human rights of the LGBTI Community; particularly in ALL its dealings with foreign governments; be it economical, social or political – and in ALL internal South African law-making processes.”
The South African government is the only hope to curb the oppression of homosexuals in Africa. Its support should be voiced in the United Nations, in no uncertain terms, for decriminalization of homosexuality as a vital human rights issue all across Africa, yet its actions in Africa itself, by virtue of the Qwelane appointment fail to align accordingly.
When I asked Ugandan gay activists to comment on a Qwelane recall, they preferred to tread cautiously by not making statements. One well known activist who I have chosen not to mention for safety reasons revealed: “We fear admonishing the South Africans for the appointment of the admitted homophobe may alienate them from continuing to be the only enlightened African voice in the United Nations.”
I am somewhat torn about accommodating the cautious footsteps of the Ugandans. I would be remiss if I did not opine that the very appointment of Qwelane not only exacerbates the anti-gay climate in Uganda and Africa, but also hinders the leadership role that South Africa must assume in the international human rights advocacy fight against homophobia. The contradiction between overt displays of support in the United Nations and floundering on the field of operation in Africa is simply untenable.
When Ugandan gay activist David Kato, was brutally murdered in February of this year U.S. President Barak Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Rodham-Clinton offered condolences and appropriately harsh statements, yet South African President Jacob Zuma was notably silent, thereby exalting the hallowed presence of Jon Qwelane.
What makes matters worse is the circumspect nature of Qwelane’s deployment. Representatives of South Africa’s gay activist community have alleged that it was Zuma’s way of providing thanks for the support he had received from Qwelane during his election to office and during his rape trial. Cobus Jesse Fourie, an activist from South Africa told me that the appointment of Qwelane was “seen by many as a ‘payback’ appointment after Qwelane’s unflinching support of Zuma before his appointment as ANC president.”
Fourie added, “the appointment of Qwelane came as a shock. While the clerk of the Equality Court had quite a run-around trying to trace Mr. Qwelane, DIRCO and those in the upper echelons of the ANC allegedly knew where Mr. Qwelane was.” Fourie expressed that it seemed obvious that “Qwelane was ‘sneaked’ out of the country and the public only heard about his improper appointment after President Zuma’s visit to Uganda thereafter.”
The statement this week of DIRCO is a feeble and dishonorable attempt at justifying Qwelane’s continued presence in Uganda, especially in light of the initial Equality Court conviction. That in itself, regardless of the technical rescission of judgment, is an indictment on the tenure of Qwelane. After all the timing of the Qwelane anti-gay statements are of no relevance until such time as he apologizes or provides a retraction.
Despite the fact that he may be “aware” of the Constitution, as the Minister Nkoana-Mashabane suggests, failing a renunciation of his article, which still stands on the record despite the years, reveals the plain fact that the emissary Qwelane, who represents an all inclusive country, remains on the record as the homophobic ambassador to a homophobic country. Nothing alters that picture; and so DIRCO, Minister Nkoana-Mashabane, President Jacob Zuma are complicit in what is clearly Qwelane’s contempt for the South African Constitution.
If the Zuma government had any concern about homophobia in Africa it would make that clear by recalling Qwelane now. President Zuma and the ANC cannot quell the logic that NOW is the right time.
In the voice of South African activists, as if one, Fourie declares: “In light of Bahati’s Kill-The-Gays Bill, the virulent homophobia so prevalent in Uganda, and the constitutional imperative placed on President Zuma, we call for the immediate recall of Qwelane. It is high time South Africa starts sending out the right messages and spreading the progressive all-inclusive egalitarian values.”
by Melanie Nathan
O-blog-dee-O-blog-da – 2011 all rights reserved ©2011
(1) THE EQUALITY COURT RULING:-
IN THE EQUALITY COURT OF JOHANNESBURG HELD AT THE JOHANNESBURG MAGISTRATE’S COURT
CASE NUMBER: 44/EQ JHB
IN THE MATTER BETWEEN:
SOUTH AFRICAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISION COMPLAINANT
JON QWULANE RESPONDENT
1. This is an application for judgment by default in terms of Rule 32 of Act 32 of 1944. The court finds that there has been proper service on the respondent. The respondent was not in attendance at court. The complainant relied on the founding affidavit and argued the matter.
2. The complaint is undefended. The respondent has filed no papers. In the circumstances there is only one version before court. It is that of the complainant. The court is not going to repeat the argument presented as it already forms part of the record. This argument is accepted.
3. In the totality of the submissions tendered by the complainant the court finds the following:
3.1 The complainant has the necessary locus standi to institute these proceedings.
3.2 This court has the necessary jurisdiction to adjudicate this matter.
3.3 The contents of the article and cartoon amount to hate speech (see here).
3.4 The article and cartoon propagates hatred and harm against homosexuals. Homosexuals as represented by the complainant have suffered emotional pain and suffering as a result of the action of the respondent.
4. The court therefore grants judgment in favour of the complainant as follows:
4.1 The respondent is ordered to make an unconditional apology to the gay and lesbian community. Such apology is to be published in the Sunday Sun as well as one other national newspaper.
4.2 Damages in an amount of RI 00 000-00 is granted. Such amount is to be paid to the complainant and to be used to promote and raise awareness regarding the rights of gays and lesbians.
4.3 No costs are ordered.
DATED AT JOHANNESBURG THIS THE 31ST DAY OF MAY 2011.
ADDITIONAL MAGISTRATE (EQUALITY COURT)