South Africa's controversial gay-bashing High Commissioner to Uganda, Jon Qwelane - who is supposed to be the face of South Africa - quietly sneaked into Kampala during President Jacob Zuma's state visit amid protests by gay groups for his recall.

Qwelane's presence has angered Ugandan gay groups, who feel his presence would reverse their fight against homophobia - given the country's own repressive anti-gay laws.

It is understood that interest groups had previously written to International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, requesting that the South African government reconsider Qwelane's posting.

It appears Zuma's decision to post Qwelane was not reversed even when it was clear that it would cause diplomatic embarrassment for Pretoria.

Qwelane publicly supported Zuma during the ANC's ugly succession battle, including during the rape trial.

To the shock of Uganda gay groups, they found out during Zuma's visit that Qwelane was already in the country.

Independent Newspapers has learnt that the authorities kept Qwelane's presence in Uganda a low-key event - fearing a media storm that would overshadow Zuma's visit.

The usually outspoken Qwelane also kept a low profile during the state visit.

When Zuma was in London last month, South Africa's high commissioner to the UK, Zola Skweyiya, was at the forefront, briefing the media and diplomats and introducing the president to the host government.

It is understood that the Department of International Relations and Co-operation has gagged Qwelane from commenting about homosexuality. Under Uganda's penal code, homosexuality is criminalised.

Uganda's programmes co-ordinator of sexual minorities, Julian Pepe Onziema, told Independent Newspapers that they were working on a strategy to challenge Qwelane's posting.

"We are definitely talking about that with our allies, but at this stage we can't reveal anything. (We are being secretive) about our plans because they are also being secretive about (Qwelane's) presence in this country," Onziema said.

"The campaign (against him) is going to go ahead.

"Because we haven't heard from him we haven't heard from the government."

It is understood that the groups also wanted to protest outside the South African High Commission - but Onziema denied this.

Onziema said it was hypocritical for South Africa - with its gay-friendly laws - to post someone like Qwelane to the central African country.

"How do you bring a very homophobic person to lead a diplomatic institution in a place where there is a lot of violation and discrimination of (gay and lesbian) people?" she asked.

Onziema confirmed that they had lobbied local, regional and international interest groups to oppose Qwelane's posting.

But Qwelane said it was "news to me" that gay and lesbian groups in Uganda were against his posting.

He denied that his arrival had been kept secret.

"I don't know what they are talking about. I was with (government) ministers the whole of last week," he said, adding that he had arrived in the country on March 23. Zuma landed a day later.

Qwelane refused to comment further.

Meanwhile, the Ugandan parliament is sitting with the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill - which sent out shockwaves across the world with a clause which proposed that homosexuality should be punishable by death.

Following international uproar, including a diplomatic protest from the US and UK governments, the offensive clause was removed.

However, the bill is still considered to be harsh as it seeks to compel citizens to report anyone involved in homosexual activities.

Qwelane has been quite open about his anti-gay views, and once wrote a homophobic column titled "Call me names, but Gay is not ok" in the Sunday Sun in 2008.

The article compared homosexuality to bestiality.

Qwelane even commended Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for his "unflinching and unapologetic stance over homosexuals".

The column also prayed for politicians to have "the balls" to rewrite the South African constitution to outlaw homosexuality.

South African interest groups complained to the Equality Court about Qwelane's column, arguing that it promoted hate speech. The outcome is still pending.

South Africa is the only country on the African continent that recognises the rights of homosexuals, which legally acknowledges their matrimonial contract through the civil union bill.

Department of International Relations spokesman Saul Molobi could not confirm Qwelane's diplomatic posting.

"The reason I can neither confirm nor deny Mr Jon Qwelane's alleged appointment is that according to diplomatic protocol you can't confirm an appointment until the head of state of the receiving country has accepted the credentials of such a high commissioner/ambassador designate," said Molobi.

"Any deviation from this norm is interpreted as disrespect to the head of the receiving country, as he or she reserves the right to accept or decline the approval of the appointment of the nominated candidate.

"This means I can't comment beyond this on the matter at this stage".