by Thobeka Bhengu
The 29th edition of Johannesburg Pride had another run on the 25th to the 28th of October 2018, packed with multiple events that ranged from a lifestyle conference focusing on health and LGBTQ+ rights, a fitness event, a gala dinner showcasing community heroes, the official pride parade and festival, closing with a family brunch on the 28th. The event that seems to attract large numbers of the LGBTQ+ community is the official pride event, which is a parade and festival; with the festival attracting the largest numbers of people and the event trending on social media.
On the 27th of October, I was up early in the morning after a six-hour drive to Johannesburg with my acquaintances. After a few drinks and light conversations when we arrived on the 26th, I was certain I was skipping the parade as I was the only one who had asked if we were going to make it to the parade. The responses made it clear that the parade was not the main event of pride, the responses seemed quite familiar to me. This didn’t come as a shock as I have never had any desire to persuade or share my thoughts with my friends and acquaintances on the importance of pride marches. The morning of the 27th we woke up around 11 am, leisurely got ready and headed for the pride festivities and I couldn’t help but be anxious about what I was to expect since it was the first Johannesburg Pride I have ever attended.
After we had arrived at Melrose Arch, we decided to take a quick walkabout trying to figure out what was happening around the venue that saw large numbers gathered at Melrose Arch. People were still arriving in their numbers hours after our arrival, within the first hour of being in the space my feet were sore and there was no way of getting a seat in the packed venue with small to large groups randomly spread in selected spots that they could find in the venue. I watched as large numbers of queer people tried to move about to and around the packed beverage stalls in their fashionable clothing, looking like they just stepped out of the runway. It was refreshing to see so many diverse queer people looking their best. As the sun began to set, the venue was packed to capacity, leaving very little room to move around and socialize, as groups gathered in their preferred spots dancing to their favourite jams and enjoying live performances from various artists such as Toya Delazy as a headlining artist, DJ Tinks, DJ Biskit and many more. Johannesburg Pride 2018 was precisely what they had promised, a festival at Melrose Arch that was meant to “Colour the Streets in our Diversity.’’ A few people expressed their disappointment about the turnout at the parade as opposed to the festival.
After reflecting on my experience I had a better understanding of the importance of the discussions around the politics of pride. Without failure to acknowledge that the politics of pride have evolved over time. We have to acknowledge that for some people, pride festivals are merely a platform to celebrate and be merry and for others it is political. Whilst I recognize the diversity amongst the LGBTQ+ community, it is a shame that we continue to allow the commercialization of pride and consciously disregarding the opportunity to join the ongoing fight for LGBTI+ rights in our numbers at pride parades.
There are clear odd dynamics created by the origins of pride celebrations, that were born of strong political acts and the current pride celebrations across the world have become more about the fun and parties. South Africa is no different from the rest of the world and has hastily moved towards the commercialization of pride festivities across the country. The discussions of the politics of pride are still continuing around South Africa. As deliberations continue and in some spaces still being overlooked, we have a number of questions to ask ourselves as the queer community about the aim of these pride celebrations. Have we won the fight for acceptance, respect, and equality for LGBTQ+ people in South Africa? Is there no longer any violence and oppression of LGBTQ+ people in South Africa? I have a lot of questions in mind that would suggest there is an ongoing necessity for a political pride before the big party. As long as LGBTQ+ people are still targets, to corrective rape, murder and discrimination then there is still a need to organize and address the ongoing violations of basic human rights for queer people in South Africa.
As we celebrated and enjoyed the festivities of Johannesburg Pride 2018, let us not forget that our voices are louder when we stand hand in hand and completely disregard the idea that pride is just a loud party but highlight the importance of visibility and the ongoing fight against discrimination and homophobia. Let us work towards inclusive and safe pride celebrations across the country.
About the author
Thobeka Bhengu is a performance art & human rights activist, performer, choreographer and an artistic director of the Rainbow Theatre Company, a project of the Gay & Lesbian Network. She was born in Inanda, Durban in 1988 and lives in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal.
She studied BA Drama & Performance Studies at the University Of KwaZulu Natal in Pietermaritzburg; where she performed in productions such as William Shakespeare’s Mid-Summer Night’s Dream directed by Paul Datlen, Tortouise’s Dream directed by Ntokozo Madlala, The Beatles & Young Gifted and Gorgeous(Musicals) directed by Peter Mitchell.
She was introduced to theatre and dance when she was doing her first year of Law in 2007 and had chosen drama as an elective.
In 2010 she dropped her Law degree and registered for a BA in Drama & Performance Studies. She started taking extra dance classes with Vusi Makhanya, Mandisa Roelene Haarhoff, Mlondi Zondi, Mbo Mtshali and Kwanele Finch Thusi. Dance became a language that she understood, a way to tell stories using the body as a tool. She first performed on a professional stage outside the University in 2011 at the Jomba Contemporary Dance Festival (Fringe) in two works by Mandisa Roelene Haarhoff and Zenzelisphesihle “Sparky” Xulu.
In 2013 she moved to Cape Town and joined the Earth Child project as a volunteer, teaching drama and contemporary dance.
After her first tour in 2014 to Swaziland & Zimbabwe with a production titled Sound Gaze: Moving Images of Marie in Woyzeck , directed by Juanita Chitepo, she decided to dedicate her career to creating work that moves people, a platform for dialogues and work that addresses social ills, injustices and violence directed towards marginalized people, specifically focusing on the LGBTI+ community and women.
In 2015 she took her first production as a working artist to the Jomba Contemporary Dance Festival (Fringe) with the Rainbow Theatre Company. In the same year, she launched her first photography exhibition that represents and captures from a different eye, a series of well-known hate crime cases in South Africa and original stories of real life LGBTI+ members around Pietermaritzburg, through the use of photography, performance art and music. This exhibition supported by the Gay & Lesbian Network became part of the Pink Mynah Festival Film & Arts Exhibition, which is an annual festival aimed at celebrating diversity within communities, bringing people together and creating awareness.
She has created several works such as Ab/normal; My Body, My Life, My Decisions; Reality Check: Living Vulnerable lives; Breaking Dawn.
Her recent interest in photography has given her a platform to include images of her visual work in performance. Some of the visuals were included in the 2016 National Arts Festival (Fringe) production titled My Body, My Life, My Decisions by the Rainbow Theatre Company.