Jon Qwelane who was appointed South African ambassador to Uganda sneaked into the country during Jacob Zuma’s recent visit. Qwelane was appointed ambassador despite facing charges in the SA Equality Court for an article in the Sun written in July 2008 – “Call me Names But Gay Is Not OK”. In the article Qwelane praises President Mugabe for his “unflinching and unapologetic stance over homosexuals” and no doubt is cheering the recent endorsement by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Incidentally the statement by Tsvangirai contradicts the official MDC party statement so it is not clear what his motives were in making that statement.
Under the Bill of Rights section, the MDC position paper states that: “In addition, the right to freedom from discrimination, given our history of discrimination and intolerance, must be broad to include the protection of personal preferences, that is gays and lesbians should be protected by the constitution.”
Qwelane’s article — which includes a despicable cartoon equating same sex relationships with bestiality, calls for a rewriting of the SA constitution and the criminalisation of same-sex relationships. Qwelane and his publishers Media 24 have been sued for his statements by the South African Human Rights Commission for hate speech. Given the increasing number of attacks — murder, rape, beatings — against lesbians this article is outrageous and irresponsible and does nothing but incite even more hate crimes against the LGBTI community in Africa. As well as being a direct attack against the rights of all, enshrined in the SA constitution, the appointment is an unequivocal support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill presently under discussion in Uganda. It’s also a terrible setback to LGBTI activists across the continent and especially Ugandans.
The election of Jacob Zuma has seen SA turning away from the principles of rights for all towards bigotry, xenophobia and Christian fundamentalists such as Rhema leader Ray Mc Caulley. Recently the Culture and Information Minister Lulu Xingwana described the work of photographer and culural activist , Zanele Muholi’s exhibited work as “pornographic” and “Immoral, offensive and going against nation-building.” On reflection should we be really so surprised as homophobia has always been just below the surface and at odds with the Constitutional position. Zuma is known for his homophobic language in the past and this appointment simply reinforces his true feelings. It’s not hard to begin to think there is some sort of conspiracy taking place between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda. For Ugandan LGBTI the entry of Qwelane at this time is alarming particularly the way he has been smuggled into the country and kept quiet.
Uganda’s programmes co-ordinator of sexual minorities – [SMUG] 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.”