Jon Qwelane's hate speech case gets underway
Though former ambassador to Uganda Jon Qwelane is ill in hospital‚ the Johannesburg High Court has started hearing the hate speech case brought against him by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
The matter was postponed last year due to Qwelane's ill health but his counsel said on Monday that it was ready to proceed.
Qwelane informed his legal team that he had collapsed in a shopping mall and was admitted to hospital at the weekend.
“We won't be calling him to lead evidence as his evidence is already on record‚” advocate Musatondwa Musandiwa said.
In 2008 Qwelane suggested in a Sunday Sun column titled‚ “Call me names‚ but Gay is NOT okay‚” that the Constitution's acceptance of gay marriage would lead to people having relations with animals.
The SAHRC was due on Monday to begin calling witnesses in its case against Qwelane‚ starting with an employee who will give details of the commission's complaints' process.
About 350 complaints relating to Qwelane's column were received by the commission‚ SAHRC advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said.
The commission will call two other witnesses‚ including a lesbian woman who has been a victim of physical violence due to her sexual orientation.
“Once one begins to look at human beings in the same way as animals you are going down a dangerous path… that may fuel certain sections of the population to cause physical harm to someone who is gay or lesbian‚” Ngcukaitobi said‚ summarising the commission's argument.
Organisations like the Psychological Society of South Africa and the Freedom of Expression Institute have joined the case as friends of the court.
The case is being heard years after Qwelane's column was published and he was ordered to pay R100 000 and apologise to the lesbian and gay community by the Equality Court. Qwelane is appealing this ruling.
In 2013 Qwelane filed a new case that questioned the constitutionality of the Equality Act‚ which defines hate speech as “hurtful” - which he claimed was a broad and vague definition.
The Johannesburg High Court will deal with both these matters.
Previously the court heard that Qwelane has suffered from heart problems and a lung disease.
- TMG Digital