Gay rights advocates in South Africa have attacked the country’s Human Rights Commission for failing to comment on the case of a columnist who wrote a homophobic newspaper article.

The “GLBTIQ equal rights advocacy group” SA GLAAD has arranged a picket of the commission offices in Johannesburg over “their continued silence on the Jon Qwelane hate speech in the Sunday Sun issue in July.”

The group said that complaints were lodged by individuals and organisations and the commission has acknowledged receipt of these but has refused to comment on the issue in more than four months.

Established in 2002 and aimed at black readers, Sunday Sun is the fastest-growing newspaper in South Africa.

The Qwelane article attacked ‘leftists’ and ‘liberals’ and those who support the ordaining of homosexuals and women as bishops in the Anglican Church.

“The real problem, as I see it, is the rapid degradation of values and traditions by the so-called liberal influences of nowadays; you regularly see men kissing other men in public, walking holding hands and shamelessly flaunting what are misleadingly termed their ‘lifestyle’ and ‘sexual preferences,’” he wrote.

“There could be a few things I could take issue with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, but his unflinching and unapologetic stance over homosexuals is definitely not among those,” said Qwelane.

In July Press Ombudsman John Thloloe issued a ruling after his office received nearly 1,000 complaints.

He said the Qwelane article violated Section 2.1 of the Press Code which states:

“The press should avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s race, colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or preference, physical or mental disability or illness, or age.”

The Sunday Sun was judged to have published denigratory references to people’s sexual orientation in the column by Qwelane; implied that homosexuals are a lower breed than heterosexuals; and a cartoon accompanying the column was also disparaging of homosexuals.

Gay rights campaigners are angry with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for its lack of action.

They pointed to an incident several weeks ago when a racist South African Facebook site operated by students was reported to the SAHRC and dealt with publicly by the commission within the space of three days.

“By stark contrast this is a worrying indicator of the light in which the SAHRC views the dignity of GLBTIQ citizens and the worthiness of our rights to not be targeted by those who engage in hate speech and incitement to violence in the media,” said Christina Engela of SA GLAAD.

“We are holding this peaceful picket to initiate urgent response and final outcomes to this case, as it has been four months with no feedback thus far,” said protest organiser Louise Reardon.

The protest is set to take place on Thursday, December 4th from 1pm, at 29 Princess of Wales Terrace, Parktown, Johannesburg. SA GLAAD is awaiting the final outcome of the application for the protest permit.

As if anticipating the onslaught of complaints his article would cause, Qwelane wrote:

“Please tell the Human Rights Commission that I totally refuse to withdraw or apologise for my views. I will write no letters to the commission either, explaining my thoughts.”