Opinion | A reflection on Pride 31 years later


The first Pride March in Africa took place in Johannesburg in 1990. (Pic: David Penney/Donne Rundle Collection/GALA Queer Archive)

In the waning days of the Local Government Election campaign, we are also reaching the conclusion of what has been dubbed South Africa’s Pride Month. Pride Month has in recent years generated much-needed visibility for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer plus (LGBTIQ+) community in South Africa.

Despite the homonationalism spectacle and the commercialisation of the concept of Pride, it has become central both in advancing contemporary Queer struggles and building on the legacy of what Pride really meant.

Pride month has successfully created key allies for the LGBTIQ+ community in various private and public forums. The private sector has seen corporations such as Uber, Vodacom, Mercedes and Levi’s, amongst others, running Pride-focused campaigns while the public sector, through various government departments, councils and legislatures, has also championed the Pride discourse.

Case studies worth noting include the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development, through its LGBTIQ+ champion MEC Tasneem Motara, developing an LGBTIQ+ focused office to mainstream Queer and Pride issues under government’s programmes. In the Free State, the MEC responsible for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Mathabo Leeto, has been a great ally for the community since her appointment. Her headquarters became the first government institution in the Free State to hoist the Pride flag.

Pride has highlighted and placed a spotlight on issues of inclusive and diverse workplaces. There have also been Pride activities by labour unions with the South African Democratic Teachers Union leading the pack. Pride has also heightened the visibility of the plight of the community in mainstream spaces, notably through the media, advertising and bold statements made by some political parties and religious fraternities.

Historically, Pride Month marks the celebration of the first Pride march to take place on the African continent in 1990; a protest to seek to exist in a society that historically erased the community’s rights in pre-democratic South Africa. On this, the 31st anniversary of the first Johannesburg Pride March, we ought to reflect on some of the great advances and legislative victories achieved since the dawn of democracy.

The recognition and protection of sexual orientation in the Constitution of South Africa is an important fulfilment of a demand from the founding Pride manifesto. This constitutional protection has over the years yielded various other pro-Queer laws and government policies, including The Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act, 2003 (Act No. 49 of 2003), allowing individuals to change, under certain conditions, their sex recorded in the population registry; the Civil Union Act, which came into effect on 30 November 2006, under which same-sex marriages were recognised; and same-sex spouses enjoying the right to joint and stepchild adoption since 2002.

We should also reflect on the explosion of Pride events over the last 10 years. This has become an important franchise of the inaugural Pride, as led by struggle icon and parent of the South African gay rights movement, Simon Tseko ‘Abuti’ Nkoli, alongside other activists such as Dr Beverly Ditsie and retired constitutional court judge, Justice Edwin Cameron.

“The general lack of Queer representation in the area of politics remains concerning…”

Although Pride Month has been central in placing Queer issues in the public discourse, it has sadly not stopped members of the community from becoming victims of discrimination, secondary victimisation and hate crimes.

Since February this year, at least 20 members of the community have been murdered in alleged hate crimes across the country. However, this has not demoralised the community in its efforts to seek justice while advocating for visibility and representation using tools such as the media and through civil society, interest and advocacy groups.

Pride has in the last couple of years also found itself in mainstream media content with local productions incorporating Queer storylines that are now more accurate in representing the realities of Trans and Intersex persons, and the LGBTIQ+ community in general. Representation remains critical. We all need to see ourselves or aspects of our reality portrayed accurately in the content we consume. Through representation, we have seen tolerance and acceptance levels increase in many of our communities.

Political representation has, of course, been at the forefront of the contemporary Queer struggle. It is an important vehicle to mainstream Queer issues in the agenda of government and Parliament. Although the African National Congress has historically supported the community, it is only relatively recently that the party has been seen to hoist the Pride flag, support Pride activities and speak out about this support through its president. This stance has seen the likes of Minister of Justice and Correctional Services of South Africa, Ronald Lamola recently attending and addressing Soweto Pride.

In 2020, during the ANC’s 109th birthday celebration in Kimberly, the Women’s League launched its LGBTIQ+ desk followed by provincial desks this year. This launch and the resulting #Queer4ANC movement saw other alliance components such as the South African Student Congress and Youth League driving the Pride and Queer narrative, including the election and appointment of an openly Queer National Executive Committee member and a National Task Team respectively.

The 2021 ANC’s Local Government Election efforts are arguably the queerest ever, with Pride colours embellishing the campaign trail and images of Queer-identifying councillor candidates hanging on poles.

The Democratic Alliance has also positioned itself as a pro-Queer political party, becoming the first to develop a desk dedicated to LGBTIQ+ programmes. The DA Rainbow Network has been central in fostering queer representation. Zakhele Mbhele is amongst the handful of DA MPs who openly identify as Queer. This is important for driving political representation at the level of policy-making.

The general lack of Queer representation in the area of politics, however, remains concerning; perhaps this is why the Hate Crimes Bill is still in limbo or why the South African delegation to the United Nations shockingly abstained in a key vote UN Human Rights Council to appoint an independent watchdog on sexual orientation in 2016.

Today, Pride is the Queer community’s political statement and voice. The movement launched one of the strongest lobby and activist movements in the country and the Pride project remains a key component of efforts to strengthen intersectional politics, visibility and representation, alongside truly inclusive communities.

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