Why is Qwelane no longer Ambassador to Uganda – why the secrecy?
By Melanie Nathan, November 14, 2014.
While the Johannesburg High Court must decide whether the Jon Qwelane’s hate speech case and a constitutional challenge to the Equality Act are closely linked enough so that the Court can hear both cases as one, it seems the known homophobe has been recalled or lost his job as High Commissioner to Uganda. We know for sure he is no longer there, as the seat registers as “vacant,” according to the South African Government website. (see Screenshot below)
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has asked the Johannesburg High Court to join its Equality Court case against former South African High Commissioner to Uganda Jon Qwelane with his constitutional challenge of provisions of the Equality Act. The court heard arguments on Thursday.
Many of us in the LGBT community believed that the homophobic remarks made by Qwelane when he was a journalist amounted to hate speech and that Qwelane should be held responsible.
The SAHRC, according to SA Times, first instituted a hate speech case against Qwelane in 2009 following his Sunday Sun column on July 20, 2008, headlined “Call me names, but gay is NOT okay…”
The commission argued that the column amounted to hate speech and wanted Qwelane to apologise to the gay and lesbian community.
In 2011, the Equality Court ordered Qwelane to apologise to the gay and lesbian community and pay R100 000 to the commission. He refused, saying the column was not hate speech. Qwelane succeeded in having the judgment rescinded but the commission instituted new proceedings against him, seeking the same relief again.
Qwelane has in the meantime brought a case challenging certain provisions of the Equality Act and wants the Equality Court case to be halted pending the outcome.
He brought his challenge against Minister of Justice Michael Masutha and the Freedom of Expression Institute and Psychological Society of South Africa have joined the proceedings as friends of the court.
Arguing on behalf of the SAHRC, Advocate Thembeka Ngcukaitobi said it was in the interest of all the parties that the commission’s Equality Court case and Qwelane’s constitutional challenge be decided “concurrently”.
Many believed that President Jacob Zuma owed favors to Qwelane for his support, and so sent him to Uganda, as South Africa’s Ambassador, when the hate speech case was brought against Qwelane. The anti-gay country seemed like the perfect spot for the man who wrote a column using speech disparaging gay people.
Qwelane was conveniently out of the country for the case. Many believed Qwelane was not exactly qualified to be an ambassador, especially in a country that fostered an intense anti-gay climate and institutionalized Anti-Homosexuality legislation. Now word has it that he is now notably the “former high commissioner” and there seems to be no press about his ‘lost job.’ Why was his return to South Africa kept hush? Well there could be good reason. And indeed this may only be speculation.
Sources have informed us that the South African Embassy in Uganda is fraught with corruption and ineptitude, with people bribing officials for visas, “down to the personnel at the gate,” according to one informant. There are also rumors of an anti-gay stance in the Embassy itself. This could be a remnant of Qwelane leadership.
I am receiving reports that LGBTI people in Uganda have been having a difficult time obtaining visas for workshops and events that are being held in South Africa especially with topics that impact HIV/AIDS. The workshop industry is quite lucrative for South Africa as non profits gravitate to the myriad of venues, supporting facilities, catering, tours, and providing much revered visitor income.
Members of the LGBTI community in Uganda have expressed that organizations should now refuse to hold these events in South Africa as Ugandans are unable to obtain visas in a timely fashion, or at all. This may cause the myriad of organizations holding conferences and workshops in South Africa to reconsider the destination. This should be investigated.
Updated comment by Christina Engel of SA GLAAD:
“I’m pretty sure Qwelane’s intent is to have the Equality Act overturned or stripped bare – if you look at the rest of SA’s current ‘allies’ in Africa, they all have homophobic laws in place or under consideration, and we know they have been pressuring SA to follow suit… basically this is what we’ve been warning about since 2008.All the while chipping away at the underpinnings of the Constitution, repositioning and reshuffling the safeguards until they are ready to be pushed over – and now they finally manage to haul Qwelane into court? And how come the papers only get to post about it NOW? How come we, as chief complainants in this case, weren’t informed by the SAHRC? Smells fishy.”
Updated Letter sent to Ugandan Embassy and South African Government:
TO: South African Embassy in Uganda:
Counsellor (Political) – W Swartz (Ms)
Counsellor (Regional Affairs) – S K Mnisi
First Secretary (Political) – M Mminele
First Secretary (Regional Affairs) T Memela (Ms)
First Secretary (Corporate Services) – V Theunissen (Ms)
Third Secretary (Corporate Services) – D E Tlali (Ms)People are speculating about corruption and ineptitude in the South African Embassy in Uganda. We did not see any press release when Mr. Qwelane returned to South Africa. Was there one released?
Many people have been writing to me to complain that they have been subjected to long queues and failures on part of the SA Government to issue visas via the Embassy in Uganda. They are reporting that they have missed workshops and conferences to which they have been invited as a result. Others have reported being asked – even by personnel at the gates – for bribes.
Can you comment on these questions:
1) Why and when was Mr. Qwelane returned to South Africa
2) Why is the process for visas for conferences taking so long
3) Who is head of the Embassy now that Mr. Qwelane is no longer there
4) What is your response to the allegations of corruption
5) Will an investigation be launched
Can you kindly comment on this article? http://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2014/11/14/homophobic-south-african-ex-ambassador-to-uganda-back-in-court/Thanks for your prompt – on the record response – to these questions.
MELANIE NATHAN BA LL.B
PRIVATE COURTS, INC.
Conflict Resolution & Human Rights Advocacy
DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION