Human Rights Advocates Elated at ‘Hate Speech’ Ruling

South African human rights advocates are elated at the Johannesburg High Court’s judgement which has found Jon Qwelane, former ambassador to Uganda, guilty of hate speech on Friday.

The case, which was brought by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was the upshot of many complaints after Qwelane’s controversial anti-gay newspaper column, ‘Call Me Names But Gay Is Not Okay’, was published in 2008. It was denounced for violating the protection of the rights of members of the LGBTI community.

The Commission said in a statement that it “was of the view that the article reinforced and perpetuated the prejudice directed at LGBTI GNC persons [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming], and that the contents of the article exceeded the limits of freedom of expression.”

Qwelane challenged the accusations, arguing that his constitutional right to freedom of expression under article 16(1) overruled the hate speech clause in the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

However, Judge Dimpheletse Seun Moshidi held that the newspaper column held no constitutional value at all; adding that article 16(2)(c) provides the right to freedom of expression does not extend to the advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender, or religion. He reinforced the fact that the column constitutes incitement to cause harm by persuading readers of Qwelane’s views on homophobia to call on others to join.

The SAHRC said that the decision ensured that the distinction between hate speech and freedom of expression was not nebulous.

The High Court has ordered Jon Qwelane to apologise for his comments within 30 days.

Phoebe Egoroff

Founder and of Jurist International, a website focusing on the latest developments in international human rights and criminal law.