By: Lindiwe Dhlamini
Soweto Pride has always been one of my favorite LGBTIAQ+ events because of its roots and substance. It used to be about the issues that affect us as LGBTIAQ+ people, it was about creating awareness of our existence until it lost its meaning. On the 28th of September 2019, Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) hosted Soweto Pride for its 15th year anniversary at Ubuntu Kraal situated at Orlando West, Soweto. For the first time attending Soweto Pride, I felt disconnected, the people were friendly and the overall event was a success. I have a few concerns to raise with the route our LGBTIAQ+ Prides are taking I was not going to share my thoughts but, I feel it is important to document our own stories, so, here it goes.
LGBTIAQ+ Pride was started as a way to create awareness about the struggles faced by the Queer community in South Africa. The first pride was organized by legendary Queer activists who fought for us to have a space to be ourselves with no fear or favor. People like; Simon Nkoli, Beverly Ditsie, Phumi Mthethwa and many others put their lives on the line in the early 90s fighting for LGBTIAQ+ rights to be recognized. Whilst they were battling with racial discrimination because of Apartheid, they realized that their struggles were intersectional; race, class and sexuality were some of those intersections they had to fight for. As years went on, so did the meaning of Pride, what used to be a space of creating awareness, educating, engaging and support for one another became something I am not even sure what to name.
Two weeks before Soweto Pride I attended #EkurhuleniPride and I must say, I am a bit worried about the future of LGBTIAQ+ Pride in South Africa. Instead of being supportive of each other, it is as if we are in competition with one another. Also, the lack of marketing of these events is one of the things that worries me as most of us have access to social media but I never saw anything about these events until an invitation to a Queer book event was sent to me on WhatsApp three days before it happened. The event was taking place at night no transport was provided for those with no cars, so I questioned who was this event for exactly? The question of class and access in LGBTIAQ+ events and spaces need to be seriously addressed and fast.
The class and access issue also came up with some of the people I interviewed briefly while doing the #SelfieWithLindiwe both at Ekurhuleni and in Soweto. People expressed their concerns about not being able to afford LGBTIAQ+ events due to lack of funds for transportation, entrance fee, food etc. Most of them stated that they do not attend Pride and other LGBTIAQ+ events at times because they normally take place far away from the people. So, how much more for events that take place at night? Our safety as LGBTIAQ+ bodies in South Africa is cheap and we are often sites for violence because of our sexual orientation. We need to rethink our strategies, planning, the marketing, the interactions and most importantly remember what is the whole point of LGBTIAQ+ Pride to begin with. This goes without saying about Johannesburg Pride taking place 26 October 2019; a very commercialized LGBTIAQ+ space that does not address the issue of awareness creation, if it was, who are we making aware of our struggles in Sandton when we are raped and murdered in the townships?
This year I felt that attending Soweto Pride march was not going to be beneficial for me as I had no idea what the theme was for this year, where it was or for who. Watching the videos of the march it is clear that we need to do better as the LGBTIAQ+ community. I got to the venue in the afternoon to capture the remnants of the event and it felt more of a party than Pride. What disappointed me the most was when I arrived and met one of the founders of Soweto Pride, who at first point of seeing me and a colleague with camera and recording equipment felt entitled to be interviewed by us. She was very rude and when she was called to the stage to give a speech about the history of Pride; the person decided to speak about her disappointment of not being allowed to bring a quart of beer or cooler bag with alcohol. Surprisingly, she was not the only one who was worried about the alcohol; one of the organizer’s also felt that it was not fair for the City of Johannesburg to refuse liquor license for them to sell the alcohol at this event. This made me question if alcohol was the only reason we were there, I do acknowledge the hard work that was put in to organize a great line up of performances who were LGBTIAQ+ identifying. I also love the amazing work of Annalyzer and Tkay Kaula who were Master of Ceremony, they did a great job entertaining the crowd.
In 2016, Soweto Pride was cancelled after we were classified a high risk because of our behavior when consumed with alcohol. Yet, here we are four years later, alcohol acceptance and use taking center stage. I saw a lot of underage alcohol consumption, very little control of who comes in and out of the venue. The security worked hard to ensure safety of the people which I could say was a positive site for me even though people were rude to them when they turned away their alcohol. I also loved the stalls on site, very educational but, I wonder how many people knew about them and went to learn something. The stalls were located on the other side of the venue with no clear signs of what is happening there as the entrance led people straight to the stage.
I had lovely interviews with people at the stalls about the work they are doing for LGBTIAQ+ people. Iranti,Engage Men’s clinic, Queer Women in Business + Allies, Wits RHIand Access Chapter 2were seen sharing information with some of the people who visited the stalls. I was happy to see them on site; their narrative and presence was clear; we are for LGBTIAQ+ and we are here to serve. They were friendly and ready to engage the public; I just wish that more people were exposed to them I know how much we need these organizations as Queer bodies. It is hard being us without the support and I hope the upcoming LGBTIAQ+ events can have a better strategy to address these issues or in the next few years there will no Pride just parties.