Equality Act under the microscope in 'gay is not okay' hate speech case

The Johannesburg High Court is hearing the hate speech case against former South African ambassador to Uganda Jon Qwelane, where the Equality Act is being put to the test.

The case has been brought by the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) has joined the matter as friends of the court.

Aside from the Equality Court trial which is leading evidence, Qwelane's lawyers will also be challenging the Equality Act's constitutionality.

In 2008, Qwelane wrote a column for the Sunday Sun titled "Call me names, but gay is not okay".

PsySSA (Psychological Socieety of South Africa) attorney Kerry Williams explains that the contents of the 2008 column was filled with hateful remarks, comparing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community with animals.

As soon as you start invoking animal metaphors in relation to people, then you get into a very damaging space and hateful speech.

Kerry Williams, partner at Webber Wentzel and PsySSA's attorney

She maintains that the case is not about freedom of expression, but rather equality, dignity and integrity.

Williams advises that hate speech is any utterance that is hurtful, or harmful or which propagates hatred.

Meanwhile, LGBTI activist Melanie Judge says the law can often do the work of prejudice in African countries where homosexuality continues to be criminalised.

Despite this, Judge says the law remains an important tool and "language" to shift social relations.

According to Judge, dehumanising hate speech has the ability to legitamise and perpetuate the undignified treatment of LGBTI people.

That kind of speech can actually create the conditions that make more direct forms of violence possible. In a country like ours, we know what that looks likes.

Melanie Judge, LGBTI activist

The pair talk about the limitations of the legislation, why law is important around hate speech and other measures to deal with hatred in society.

Take a listen:

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