by: Thobeka Bhengu
My familiarity with gay pride spaces has been rather systematic since my active involvement in queer activism for the past seven years. My first pride was in 2012 in Cape Town, which was before my involvement in queer arts within the civil society, specifically LGBTI+ organisations and the LGBTI+ movement in South Africa.
Pride celebrations across the country have had their fair share of political squabbles and clashes around the politicization of pride. November 24 2018 saw my first attendance of Mzansi Pride, another space I was about to experience with Inkanyiso team as we came to support our very own Yaya Mavundla and other Brave Beauties that were participating in the pageant.
We woke up just in time after a long night. We got up with a mandate to document the 4th Mzansi Pride. Getting ready and getting into the spirit of pride was the only option after a very long night of an amazing dinner and discussions with brilliant creatives and friends of Sir Zanele Muholi. However, no matter how many hours of sleep we managed to get, the decree was a clear one and we were up bright and early to prepare for Mzansi Pride.
After a briefing session with Sir Muholi and Inkanyiso team, we made our way to the venue. Mzansi Pride brought to us by Moja Love was held in Newtown Precinct Park and the march was scheduled to start at 12 noon but people were encouraged to start arriving at 9 am. When we arrived, the setup at the venue had already been done and my attention was immediately directed to the largest LGBTI+ flag and trans flag draped on the sides of the stage. The barricaded open venue had stalls around the open field and a large stage at the front.
When we were scheduled to leave the venue and take it to the streets at 12:00 there were less than fifty people who came, however the march continued as planned. The attendance of the march was not even a third of the overall attendance of the pride festival and pageant. I have previously articulated my personal frustrations and concerns over the attendance of pride marches around the country compared to the attendance of the social event or picnic which is customarily after the march. This is a matter we need to discuss and revisit as the LGBTI+ movement, so as to redefine the role of the march and consider whether it is time to do away with marches or continue marching regardless of the lack of support from the majority of LGBTI+ people.
The overall attendance of the event was beyond what I had imagined; people began to arrive in their numbers in the afternoon. The event saw hundreds of people in attendance and the line-up of great performances from the likes of Amstel, who as usual delivered another delightful performance. King B from the recent Idols SA saw hundreds of voices scream his name as he belted out some of the songs he sang on Idols SA 2018 recently and in my opinion that was the performance of the day. King B gave a stunning performance and managed to attract hundreds of people who were scattered around the venue to come to the front of the stage.
Also as part of the programme for the day was the Miss & Mr Mzansi Pride pageant which was spread in-between performances whilst the beautiful contestants changed into different outfits. The pageant had three different categories. It opened with traditional wear, followed by swimwear and finally evening wear. The competition was tough as all participants went all out with their outfits, but as usual, there had to be winners as it was a competition. Two of the Brave Beauties participants managed to take two spots under Miss Mzansi Pride, Kim Monoto as the 2nd Princess and Vilender Twala was crowned Miss Mzansi Pride 2018.
As the pride festival was at its peak and people were still arriving in their numbers an unfortunate event took place. The stage was not barricaded and audience members were able to come right in front of the stage. In an attempt to get the best shots of the performances, I squeezed myself in-between a large speaker and an erected microphone stand at the right corner of the stage, the space had little room for movement with equipment, hence I had to place my bag by my legs and continue shooting and in the blink of an eye, the bag was snatched in the presence of hundreds of people. The Mzansi pride team immediately announced that a media person’s bag had been stolen and denounced any criminal activity, as the space was meant to be safe and a space to celebrate. The security team was immediately alerted, and they were very helpful in trying to recover the bag, but unfortunately it could not be found among the hundreds of people gathered at the event.
Irrespective of this minor setback, in my opinion, the event was still a huge success and congratulations are well deserved to the Mzansi Pride’s organizing team for being able to put together such an event. With many pride events around the country struggling with the issue of safety, it is important to also acknowledge that pride events have not prioritized safety, and these spaces that are meant to be safe are never safe. As the queer community, we have found a way to change such progressive events into toxic and violent spaces.
As Mzansi Pride grows each year into one of the biggest pride events in the country, we are hoping that the organizing team will find ways to mobilize for the march and also that we as the LGBTI+ community support and acknowledge the importance of marches in South Africa. We ought to understand that our fight for LGBTI+ rights did not end when the Civil Union Act, 2006 was passed. The LGBTI+ community continues to face challenges of homophobic violence, ‘corrective’ rape, unemployment, homelessness, access to health care services, high rates of dropouts due to discrimination in educational institutions, bullying in schools, discrimination in the workplace and discrimination at government facilities. The fight for LGBTI+ rights is not over, and events like Mzansi Pride are a platform to echo the cries of LGBTI+ people. We must never forget that we are stronger and louder in numbers.