Cartoonist Zapiro offered his take on hate-speech convict Jon Qwelane’s position as South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda in this week’s copy of the Mail & Guardian.
Qwelane was convicted of hate speech in the Equality Court this week for a column carrying homophobic views. In a move decried by activists, Qwelane — a long-time supporter of President Jacob Zuma — was named as ambassador to Uganda soon afterwards. The country has instituted stringent laws against homosexuality, and gay and lesbian people are often violently persecuted.
Zuma himself has made homophobic statements in the past, which he subsequently had to apologise for.
Zuma, who was then deputy president, told an audience during 2006 Heritage Day celebrations in KwaDukuza in KwaZulu-Natal that, when he was growing up, “an ungqingili [a gay person] would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out”.
The central figure of the Zapiro’s cartoon is Qwelane, depicted as the ambassador to Uganda. He has the body of man hanging in a noose dangling between his teeth.
In July 2008 Qwelane wrote a column in the Sunday Sun entitled “Call me names but gay is not okay”. In it he referred to homosexual marriages saying, “— at this rate, how soon before some idiot demands to marry an animal and argues that this Constitution ‘allows’ it?”. The article was accompanied by a cartoon of a man getting married to a goat.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) took the matter to the Equality Court, citing the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. The SAHRC was vindicated when the court ruled on Tuesday that Qwelane’s column constituted hate speech . He was ordered to issue an unconditional apology to the homosexual community in the Sunday Sun and another national newspaper and was ordered to pay a fine of R100 000 to the SAHRC.
Qwelane was appointed South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda in 2010, while he was still facing charges of hate speech.
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and can be punished by a jail sentence.
During Qwelane’s time there, Uganda has received negative feedback from United States President Barack Obama regarding a proposed anti-homosexuality law. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also made her condemnation of the proposed law clear, making it difficult for the country to manoeuvre around displeasing one of its biggest aide donors.
The proposed legislation was intended to make homosexual relations, as well as the recognition of homosexuality as a lifestyle choice, illegal. Drastic penalties were imposed for homosexual offences, including the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” in cases of rape of a minor by a person of the same sex, or where one partner has HIV. The Bill has since been shelved.
When the M&G approached the African National Congress (ANC) about Qwelane’s suitability for an ambassadorship following his widely slated column, the party said that there was no “scientific proof” that Qwelane was homophobic.
The Democratic Alliance requested that Qwelane be recalled from his position after a spate of attacks on homosexuals in Uganda.
When asked on Monday about the ruling by the Equality Court against Qwelane, the ANC said the ruling was a “personal matter” and that he would have to deal with the department of international relations and cooperation.