Gay rights advocates in South Africa have expressed delight that after pickets and protest the country’s Human Rights Commission are to take a journalist to court over a homophobic newspaper article.

The “GLBTIQ equal rights advocacy group” SA GLAAD 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.

Protesters ouside the HRC offices were invited in to meet Tseliso Thipanyane, the chief executive of the commission, who announced that Mr Qwelane will be taken to the Equality Court.

“It’s an unfortunate matter because we have always been clear on LGBT rights,” Mr Thipanyane told the activists, according to mambaonline.com.

“This was not handled as it should have been and we apologise for the lack of communication. It [the matter] should have been handled faster than it was.”

The HRC said the court’s decision would be a “binding pronouncement, which will serve as a precedent in future matters.”

Equality courts deal with issues such as hate speech, racism, unfair discrimination and other forms of injustice.

Established in 2003, they “provide a forum for all South Africans, especially the poor and marginalised, to assert their constitutional rights and to seek redress for any violation of the right to equality,” according to Justice minister Brigitte Mabandla.

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.”

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.”

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.