Jon Qwelane has won his case to have the Equality Court's hate-speech judgment against him set aside, but this does not mean he is off the hook.
Jon Qwelane, South Africa’s High Commisioner to Uganda and a former newspaper columnist, has won his case to have the Equality Court’s hate-speech judgment against him set aside, but this does not mean he is off the hook.
In May the Equality Court found Qwelane guilty of hate speech for his 2008 Sunday Sun column headlined, “Call me names, but gay is not ok”.
Qwelane, who was on sick leave at the time, was neither in court nor legally represented. The Equality Court said it accepted the argument of the South African Human Rights Commission, which brought the case and was the only entity present.
Arguing that the judgment should be set aside, Qwelane’s lawyer, George Kairinos, told the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court last week the Equality Court had reached its ruling at a “directions” hearing. Such hearings iron out procedural matters before the case is heard.
Kairinos argued that it was impermissible to reach any judgment in a directions hearing because the case needed to be argued first.
On Thursday the court found Qwelane had given “a reasonable explanation” for his absence and the commission should not have applied for a ruling at a directions hearing.
The commission was ordered to pay Qwelane’s costs and it will have to re-apply to the Equality Court to have the matter heard.
Commission spokesperson Vincent Moaga said it would consider the judgment before deciding on any further “legal strategy ... on the matter”.
In his column Qwelane praised Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe for his “unflinching and unapologetic stance over homosexuals”. He said politicians would someday have “the balls to rewrite the Constitution” to get rid of the sections that allow gay marriage.
Citizens would next want bestiality to be made legal, Qwelane wrote.
The commission received more than 350 complaints about the matter.
In its May ruling, the Equality Court fined the former columnist R100 000 and ordered him to apologise in the Sunday Sun. The newspaper has since apologised but Qwelane has not.
On Thursday Qwelane’s attorney, Andrew Boerner, said he was “very pleased” with the ruling. If the matter returned to the Equality Court, Qwelane would be present, Boerner said.