07/03/2017 09:25 SAST | Updated 07/03/2017 09:48 SAST

Jon Qwelane's 2008 Homophobic Column Was Not Hate Speech, Says His Lawyer

The column reportedly resulted in the most complaints ever to the South African Human Rights Commission.

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Hundreds of people gathered on the streets of Green Point in Cape Town, South Africa, on March 1, 2014 to take part in the 2014 Gay Pride Parade.

South African ambassador to Uganda Jon Qwelane's 2008 homophobic column may have been offensive, but his comments did not constitute hate speech, argues his lawyer.

According to The Times, the former journalist's lawyer, Musatondwa Musandiwa made the comments in the Johannesburg high court on Monday.

In 2011, the Equality Court found that Qwelane's comments were hate speech and told him to apologise, but the judgment was later withdrawn.

In August 2013, Qwelane said he would challenge sections of the Equality Act.

He returned to the country under a cloud when his term as ambassador came to an end, with allegations of corruption at the SA embassy in Uganda remaining unresolved.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), which had found his comments to constitute hate speech and had directed him to apologise, but Qwelane did not.

In 2008, Qwelane wrote a column for the Sunday Sun in which he endorsed Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's homophobic views, and in which he warned that legalising gay marriage would lead to people wanting to marry animals.

News24 reported that SAHRC's lawyer, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi told the court on Monday that the column had resulted in 350 complaints to the SAHRC which was the highest number ever received.

He reportedly said: "One must take into account that this dehumanisation has the distinct possibility of justifying physical harm and physical violence against gays and lesbians."