PsySSA joins Qwelane hate speech case

Jon Qwelane is South Africa's ambassador to Uganda. FILE PIC: LORI WASELCHUK

Jon Qwelane is South Africa's ambassador to Uganda. FILE PIC: LORI WASELCHUK

Published Oct 29, 2013


Johannesburg - The Psychological Society of SA (PsySSA) filed papers in the High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday to be admitted as a friend of the court in the hate speech case against Jon Qwelane, it said.

“As a friend of the court, PsySSA will present evidence and make submissions regarding the important purpose served by section 10(1) of the Equality Act to stem systemic verbal and physical violence based on the prohibited grounds of discrimination in that act,” it said in a statement.

The law firm Webber Wentzel would act on behalf of PsySSA pro bono.

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) took Qwelane to court seeking an apology and damages over a column he wrote in 2008, and which was published by the Sunday Sun, in which he expressed his opinion about homosexuals.

The column was headlined: Call me names, but gay is NOT okay.

Qwelane, South Africa's ambassador to Uganda, filed a constitutional challenge in the High Court in Johannesburg to certain provisions of the equality legislation on September 27.

He intended challenging sections 10 and 11 of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. Section 10

deals with hate speech and section 11 with harassment.

In April 2011, Qwelane was found guilty of hate speech, but was not present at the default judgment because of his job abroad.

On September 1, 2011, the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court withdrew the judgment.

Qwelane's counsel argued at the time that the default judgment was not allowed, and that a direction hearing needed to be convened before such a judgment could be handed down.

PsySSA said it would present research-based evidence of the harmful psychological effects and consequences of hate speech on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community and on broader society.

It would submit that the legislation on hate speech was constitutional, as it limited the right to freedom of expression in a reasonable and justifiable manner

“Importantly, the Equality Act does not criminalise hate speech. Rather, it balances the right to freedom of expression against the constitutional protection of equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their status or identity.”

Qwelane's lawyer Andrew Boerner has defended his client's right to freedom of expression.

“His particular expression of his views may have been unpopular, controversial and even shocking, but it neither advocated hatred nor constituted incitement to cause harm. His expression is therefore protected by our Constitution.”

Qwelane had been labelled a homophobe and a bigot by the press and in social media.

“What people fail to understand is that the very same offensive views that they express about Jon, and the right with which they have to express their views, is the same right which Jon expressed in writing the article,” Boerner said.

“This is the same right which he is now fighting to protect.”


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