Veteran Journalist, John Qwelane has been cleared of wrongdoing by the
SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for the use of the word “coconut”,
writes Phakamisa Ndzamela.

The SAHRC had received a complaint from Yusuf Abramjee, Group Head of News and Talk Programming at Primedia Broadcasting and Kieno Kammies, 702/567 Talk Show host, stating that the use of the word coconut “is not only insulting but discriminatory”.

Abramjee and Kammies were labelled “coconuts” after they walked out of an inaugural imbizo of the Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ) where ANC president, Jacob Zuma was a guest speaker. They had walked out in solidarity with white colleagues who were not allowed to attend.

In its finding the SAHRC said it was not satisfied that “Kammies and Abramjee have proved on a balance of probabilities” that Qwelane had the subjective intention to be hurtful and that he [Qwelane] was in a position “to have foreseen that it may be hurtful and proceeded regardless in uttering the racial epithet”.

The commission discouraged South Africans from using the word coconut as it could “evoke feelings of indignity”.

In response to the SAHRC ruling, Qwelane said: “I am very relieved that the commission found that I am not guilty of hate speech when I was talking about tropical fruits.”

Qwelane added that he was disappointed that the commission had not ruled on his complaint about “702’s continuing practice of manufacturing news. I complained that this tendency has a deleterious effect on human rights. It cheats people, it lies to people, it’s immoral and I find that the commission has not made a finding on that.”

Abramjee and Kammies welcomed the commission’s finding that the word coconut did not amount to hate speech in terms of the constititution

“We fully concur with the commission’s findings and recommendations that the word should not be used or people should refrain from using the word. In summary we welcome the findings of the commission.

“We hope Qwelane will take heed of the commission’s finding and recommendations. Others who also use the word ‘coconuts’ in a racial context must also take note of these findings,” they added.