Vincent Moaga, spokesperson for the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), currently has his work cut out for him with complaints coming in about columnist Jon Qwelane’s recent href=”http://www.mambaonline.com/article.asp?artid=2162″ target=_blank mce_href=”http://www.mambaonline.com/article.asp?artid=2162″homophobic diatribe in Media24’s Sunday Sun.
In an attempt to discuss the rift in the Anglican Church over the ordination of gay priests, Qwelane appears to laud Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for his “unflinching and unapologetic stance over homosexuals”, saying that the “real problem” is the “rapid degradation of values and traditions…”
Qwelane also says: “And by the way, please tell the Human Rights Commission that I totally refuse to withdraw or apologise for my views” because, he adds, “wrong is wrong.”
Well, Mr Moaga: What say you?
Personally, I feel that an apology wouldn’t be adequate for comparing homosexuality and bestiality. In fact, it sounds remarkably like our previous regime’s feeling on homosexuality. So when Qwelane suggests that our constitution be rewritten when “someday a bunch of politicians will muster the balls” to rewrite it, should we not just bring the old one back? Was that not also filled with hateful policies and ideas?
With the advent of the internet, one doesn’t have to be a newspaper columnist to have a platform. The abuse of that platform online, however, results in no traffic to the offending website. Qwelane has had various platforms over the years and has not been a stranger to controversy either. The platform he occupies at Sunday Sun, however, is one that needs to make money in order to remain where it is.
The July 14 edition of the New Yorker magazine depicted US senator Barack Obama and his wife as “flag burning radicals”, and was condemned around the world for being racist and – many felt – Islam-ophobic. Importantly, many columnists and bloggers from across the media publicly announced they were cancelling their subscription to the magazine. It’s called “voting with your wallet”.
How long before the public tires of people like Qwelane using their privileged platform to incite more hatred in a country that needs it least of all? Have newspapers become glorified soapboxes for the unhappy, in their quest to protect our hard-earned freedom of speech?
With the vast array of media available to us, you can’t keep a journalist quiet. But you can appeal to any sense of dignity and human kindness that journalist has, and ask him or her to consider the consequences their column may have. Failing that, one would have to consider that – should Qwelane’s statements incite people to perpetuate homophobia – then Qwelane, Sunday Sun and Media24 would have blood on their hands. Is that what’s required to sell papers these days?