20 Jan 2010
Dear President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma
The media is reporting that you may appoint Jon Qwelane as South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda. I trust these reports are wrong and that the rumours about the imminent appointment of Qwelane were started by your enemies. Surely such damaging rumours have been spread by those who wish to re-enforce racist and Afro-pessimistic stereotypes about our leaders. Such rumours will obviously tarnish your name and will re-enforce widely held perceptions about your alleged lack of commitment to our Constitution and the values enshrined in it.
In terms of section 84(2)(i) of the South African Constitution you are empowered to make ambassadorial appointments. In exercising this power, you have a wide discretion to appoint fit and proper individuals of any political persuasion – as long as you act rationally and do not make appointments in bad faith. (You obviously have a sense of humour in this regard as you even appointed the former leader of the official opposition, Tony Leon as South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina.)
As a constitutional law scholar I have to point out that your power is not unlimited. You may not appoint someone as an ambassador if such a person had paid a bribe or if he or she is fundamentally opposed to the values and rights enshrined in our Constitution as this would be irrational, arbitrary or capricious – given the fact that you have a duty to uphold the Constitution and promote the values enshrined in it. You have, I need to point out, a duty – when appointing ambassadors – to act in terms of the law and the Constitution.
When you took office you swore an oath of office (contained in Schedule 2 to the Constitution) and you promised on that glorious day that you would “obey, observe, uphold and maintain the Constitution and all other law of the Republic”. You also promised to “protect and promote the rights of all South Africans and to do justice to all”.
The appointment of Jon Qwelane as ambassador to Uganda will not promote the rights of gay men and lesbians living in South Africa or elsewhere in Africa or the world. In fact, such an act would present a fundamental breach of your solemn promise to uphold and maintain the Constitution and the law as it will encourage hatred, bigotry and even violence against a vulnerable minority of South Africans – something prohibited by section 9 of our Constitution and the provisions of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.
Qwelane has written that he agrees with the sentiments expressed by President Robert Mugabe that homosexuality:
Degrades human dignity. It’s unnatural and there is no question ever of allowing these people to behave worse than dogs and pigs. If dogs and pigs do not do it, why must human beings? We have our own culture, and we must re-dedicate ourselves to our traditional values that make us human beings… What we are being persuaded to accept is sub-animal behaviour and we will never allow it here. If you see people parading themselves as lesbians and gays, arrest them and hand them over to the police!
He also wrote that “something is rotten in this country, seriously stinking”, referring to the Civil Union Act – which you promised to uphold – as the “stabani Act”. He also slammed the Constitutional Court for wanting “to make this country the “trahssie” capital of Africa.” In addition to his bigoted opinions, the use of the words “stabani” (a derogatory term for gay) and “trahssie” (derogatory term for an inter-sexed person) are particularly repulsive.
He has also equated homosexuality with bestiality and claimed that he prayed “that some day a bunch of politicians with their heads affixed firmly to their necks will muster the balls to rewrite the Constitution of this country, to excise those sections which give licence to men ‘marrying’ other men, and ditto women”. Qwelane therefore believes that many South Africans like myself are no better than animals and that we have no right to have our dignity and equality protected.
He is a bigot who hates a group of fellow South Africans who cause no one any harm – for no other reason than the fact that they are emotionally and sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Mr Qwelane hates us because we happen to love differently than he does (assuming that he is capable of love at all).
As you might know, the Ugandan Parliament is presently debating a Bill that would impose the death penalty (which was outlawed in South Africa many years ago) on “repeat offenders” guilty of the “crime” of homosexuality. The appointment of Qwelane as South Africa’s ambassador to Uganda would send a signal to all gay men and lesbians in South Africa, Uganda and the rest of the world that our government does not object to this Bill and that people like myself are deserving of the death penalty.
Worse, it will send a signal to bigoted and homophobic South Africans that our President and the government he leads, at best, turns a blind eye to the humiliation, degradation, assault and killing of gay men and lesbians and, at worse, endorses such behaviour. This would encourage more hatred and violence against gay men and lesbians in South Africa, who are often targeted for attack by hateful bigots who do not believe that every human being has the inherent human dignity that guarantees them equal concern and respect – regardless of their differences from the majority.
The appointment would also constitute a grave affront to the family of women like Eudy Simelane, former star of the Banyana Banyana national female football squad. Simelane was found dead in a creek in a park in Kwa Thema, on the outskirts of Johannesburg after being gang-raped and brutally beaten before being stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs - all because she was a lesbian. Many other lesbians have been attacked and killed over the years because of the attitudes propagated by people like Qwelane. In that regard, he has the blood of fellow South Africans – many of them women – on his hands. If you appoint him, you will similarly have blood on your hands.
It is unthinkable that you would appoint as an ambassador a racist man or woman who has written extensively about his or her hatred of black South Africans. This would be rightly unthinkable, given our traumatic past in which so many human beings were oppressed, humiliated and attacked, not because of what they did but merely because of the way they were born. Surely then, it must be equally unthinkable that you would appoint Qwelane as an ambassador to Uganda as he believes that those of us who happen to have been born gay or lesbian are worthy of vilification, hatred and discrimination.
Given the constitutional prohibition against sexual orientation discrimination and the fact that you had sworn a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution and to promote the rights of all South Africans, the appointment of Qwelane will signal a profound disrespect for the Constitution, the law and for a small but vulnerable section of our society. It would also confirm what some pessimists have been fearing, namely that you are not a man of your word and that you do not adhere to promises made – even when those promises were made under oath in front of the whole nation.
I still hope that the rumours about the appointment of Qwelane are no more than an ugly smear-campaign launched by political opponents to discredit you and tarnish your name and the name of the ANC which you lead. Please Mr President, do not besmirch your name and do not besmirch the name of the ANC, who fought for our liberation and ensured that the rights of gay men and lesbians are protected by our Constitution.
Pierre de Vos
By Pierre de Vos