Jon Qwelane was found guilty of hate speech by the Johannesburg Equality Court today after the former Sunday Sun columnist penned an article titled “Call me names, but gay is NOT okay”.
Some four years after the article was published, Qwelane has now been ordered to apologise to the gay and lesbiancommunity and to pay a fine of R 100,000.00 to the SA Human Rights Commission.
“This is more than a slap on the wrist. It sends a clear message to prominent community leaders, and indeed to politicians, that they will be held accountable for prejudiced statements against any sector of the community. It is also a clear statement to the mass media that they cannot hide behind the concept of ‘freedom of the press’ when printing hate speech,” says Glenn de Swardt from Health4Men.
Health4Men, a project of the Anova Health Institute, are specialists in providing sexual healthcare to men who have sex with men (MSM) – a sector of the community whose sexual health is rarely considered, as prejudice and stigma often prevent these men from accessing public health services. For these men, articles like Qwelane’s only aggravate theirsituation, inciting further hate and violence against them.
But Qwelane’s ruling comes as the latest in a series of developments that suggest that unlike elsewhere on the continent, the tide may be turning for sexual minorities.
Last week, a spokesperson for the Minister of Health emphasised the Department of Health’s intentions to better respond to the needs of MSM by working closely with organisations like Health4Men. Government has also shown increasing recognition of sexual minorities with its recent inclusion of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sector within SANAC(the South African National Aids Council).
“The verdict against Mr Qwelane resonates strongly with these recent developments and it does well to highlight what we hope will be a significant and lasting shift in attitude,” commented Executive Director of the Anova Health Institute, Professor James McIntyre.
“Hopefully Qwelane’s verdict will also send a message to health care workers within the public sector, who are often blatantly prejudiced against gay and bisexual men,” adds de Swardt. “While the Department of Health is being supportive, clinic managers, doctors and nurses often harbour irrational hostile attitudes towards men who have sex with men, which prevents many men from accessing appropriate health care and taking the necessary steps to protect themselves and their partners from HIV.”
Whether the ruling will have further implications for Qwelane who is currently South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda – a country whose media are deeply prejudiced towards homosexuality – remains to be seen.
Health4Men in a project of the Anova Health institute and is funded by USAID/PEPFAR.