Two revellers in the parade
A well-attended and festive Joburg Pride was marred by scuffles between organisers and activists who mounted an ambush protest against LGBT hate crimes and the “depoliticised” nature of the event.
Thousands turned out on a sweltering Saturday for Africa’s largest Pride Parade, one which organisers say was among the biggest-ever to take place in Johannesburg.
The massive parade, which left Zoo Lake Sports Club shortly after 11 a.m., came to a halt on Jan Smuts Avenue in Rosebank when protestors blocked the road at a major intersection.
The group of activists, from the 1 in 9 campaign, ran out from behind the Goodman Gallery building and set up an impromptu blockade. A number of life-size dummies and activists were stretched out on the road, representing LGBT victims of hate crime, backed by banners that read “Dying For Justice” and “No Cause for Celebration”.
Pride participants were confused by the protest and some appeared to be under the impression that it was being staged by an anti-gay group. Tempers flared as marshals insisted that the activists move out of the way.
When marshals attempted to divert the parade to the other side of the road, around the protest, the activists moved to again block the parade from proceeding. This angered both participants and marshals who attempted to pull down the banners stretched across the avenue.
Scuffles erupted amid shouts of the parade being an “elitist” and “depoliticised” event. Both Joburg Pride organisers and 1 in 9 have accused the other of reacting with violence and abusive behaviour.
A participant said that it was “embarrassing and tragic that something like this happened. We’re all on the same side. We’re all fighting for the same thing.”
Carrie Shelver from 1 in 9 described the organisation as a “feminist collective of predominantly queer women”. She told Mambaonline that the action was intended to observe “one minute of silence to recognise the death and murders of particularly black LGBT people”.
“We were absolutely amazed and horrified by the response that we got. Not at any point did the Pride committee ask what we were doing. We were clearly identified as not being a homophobic protest,” said Shelver.
She explained that the group had held a similar disruption of the recent ANC Women’s League Women’s Day march to highlight the lack of response to attacks against LGBT women.
“For many years Pride was a critical political forum. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t be joyful and celebratory but surely we can also recognise the violence and that we are not yet free.
The 1 in 9 campaign brought the parade to a halt
“We wanted to stop for one minute to reflect on this and reflect what has happened to this space [Pride] and that it has just become a space for a few. Not in an accusatory fashion. Everyone of us has a role to play,” she said.
Joburg Pride Chair Tanya Harford told Mambaonline that the incident could have been avoided if 1 in 9 had approached Pride organisers.
“If they had bothered to contact the Board we would have been very open to working with them. We would have had no problem to have had a minute’s silence and we could have made a very powerful statement that would have benefited them,” she said.
Shelver admitted that the group had not approached Pride organisers beforehand. When Mambaonline asked if the ambush nature of the protest could not have come across as confrontational, confusing and aggressive, Shelver replied that “we see ourselves as part of the LGBT community and we believed that we were able to do it”.
Harford insisted that the protest was “absolutely inappropriate and illegal. They had none of the necessary permissions. They also embarrassed the entire LGBT community. The campaign wasn’t explained nor was it clear about what their purpose is.
“They shot themselves in the foot. We are all horrified and outraged by any discriminatory crimes against LGBT people, but I just feel that what they did was, in my opinion, short-sighted and blinkered.
“No one knew what they were saying or who they were. And how do you stop a parade with 20,000 people and 38 floats and expect a few people in the front to explain what’s going on,” said Harford.
Shelver commented that, “We need to look back on what happened yesterday. We are open to criticism and we would assess if we could have done it better. We are open to that.
The parade made its way back to Zoo Lake
“We need to go back to our members and see what we want to do about the Pride committee. Maybe this will lead to some kind of dialogue. A dialogue about what does it mean to have a Pride committee and what we can expect from them,” she said.
The parade eventually continued without further incidents. The colourful participants danced on floats to booming music and marched through the streets holding up posters demanding equality for LGBT people as workers, residents and shoppers came out to cheer them on.
“The vibe is amazing” said one woman, holding up a sign that proclaimed “Lesbian and proud”.
After snaking its way through Rosebank for an hour and a half, the parade returned to Zoo Lake where the event continued into the late afternoon with performances by Swedish pop star Ola, Crazy White Boy and Flash Republic.
A highlight of the day was the unexpected arrival of the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Andries Nel, at the event.
He asked surprised organisers to be allowed to speak on stage. Addressing the revellers, he admitted that much work remained to be done but he reiterated his department’s commitment to LGBT equality. “We are proud to be proud with you today,” he told the roaring crowd.
The Pride community village featured various shopping and informational stalls, including a large presence by the Department of Justice, as well as HIV screening and counselling services.