Opinion: Finding a platform for Johannesburg Pride

finding-a-platform-for-pride_johannesburg_prideThe venue for Johannesburg Pride 2016 will be Melrose Arch. This was the statement released to the public via the official Facebook page.

Unfortunately, the statement inspired no excitement; but rather called for thought about where Pride currently situates itself in the community and the social landscape at large.

Historically, and more so in the past five years, Pride and the venues that host it has been met with very little favour, and rightly so. As the march evolved into a parade and the fight for equality into a public affirmation of the community’s sense of identity so the slow migration from the city of Johannesburg to the lush northern suburbs exposed issues of accessibility and exclusivity within the community.

And so while the parade keeps on moving it is the architecture and urban spaces that remain to tell the many stories projected onto it. These buildings and roads have come to collect all the memories of the day’s celebrations, the little victories along the way and the future imaginings of those attending and those who watch from a distance. They record and suggest our lived narratives, tightly bound to our memories and dreams. And so, too often, we do not realise the greater impact of urban space, architectural boundaries and the urban platforms we use to act out our celebrations; the very places we choose to affirm our identity.

Architecture and public space goes beyond the physical buildings we encounter. It is a tool, too often, used as a barrier or a boundary. And too often it does so anonymously. It takes no direct ownership nor does it need to engage you politely. It assumes the role of framing time and collecting moments that play out in its corridors and past its windows. Its purpose is man-made and to serve as a stage for the acting out of daily life and so the responsibility falls on us to command its scale and invite a more human experience.

Melrose Arch is a ‘contemporary village’ visible to many but only at a distance thus making its inner workings invisible to the rest. It is an introverted, unapologetic statement about money and resources and is designed around the idea of exclusivity. That idea contradicts the very essence of Pride and what it stands for. Instead, we should search for urban platforms that are transparent, open to our expressions, that engage our dreaming and that add value to our shared memory.

This is the responsibility of those who run Pride. We should revisit the beginnings of the march; capture the essence of its success and actively engage that same spirit so that we may all thrive through the experience. Because, when it becomes a tool to alienate, or when it uses devices to do so anonymously, it automatically excludes many people, often the lesser resourced, who equally and proudly represent the community. Instead, it should look to reflect the real world, focus on contemporary issues and find creative ways to map a new way forward. Its fundamental purpose should be to return power back to the community without relying on the need for it to be a commercial commodity only.

The reality with a project of this scale is that there are many logistics involved but when the focus is on that only, we leave many behind, we forget many struggles and let many of those entering the community down. We forget that the greatest responsibility we have is to support each other, especially the younger generation, and too often we overlook the importance and relevance of Pride to many individuals, for our city, our country, our continent and our future.

 In response, Johannesburg Pride’s Kaye Allye has sent Mambaonline the following statement:

Since 2013, Johannesburg Pride has been battling to find a suitable venue to host the annual event. In a strategic move, Pride has been held at various areas in the north of Johannesburg, since the north has become the economic hub for the city.

To specifically respond to the issue raised, why Melrose Arch? In the late 1990s and early 2000s the urban village of Melrose Arch was created. This was a critical step in the development of South Africa’s post-apartheid era. Urban villages like Melrose Arch give us the opportunity to break away from the segregation that the Groups Areas [Act] created. The reason for the selection of this commercial area for 2016 Johannesburg Pride is a simple matter of inclusion.

Why should Johannesburg Pride be held in isolation on a rugby field, sports ground or city park? What pride is there in hiding ourselves from the world and only celebrating with each other? Melrose Arch is a working and living venue that offers the community and Pride goers complete social integration. The intention is to create a platform for Pride that is balanced, with a sense of positive community presence in a public space that allows for social integration, yet remaining accessible to all.

This year, Melrose Blvd, the main Road within Melrose Arch, will be closed for the Johannesburg Pride event – while the remainder of businesses continue trading; thereby providing an inclusive platform for the event.

In addition, never before has Johannesburg Pride been given such support and care as displayed by Melrose Arch Centre management. The team have provided access to branding opportunities as well as made introductions to key businesses in an appeal for support of Johannesburg Pride with the intention of assisting to build the sustainability of the event.

It’s the 27th annual Johannesburg Pride in 2016. Yes Pride has become more of a celebration in nature. We need to be trendy if we want to attract the Alpha’s or Generation Zer’s. These are the new event attendees and they grew up in a different time with different understandings, in a world ruled by technology.

There are a number of Pride events in Gauteng and Johannesburg Pride has always welcomed all of these, as the focus of each event differs. Johannesburg Pride has adopted an out and proud mantra and we will be putting the event and the Pride goers on full display in a completely integrated space. We are following in the international standards of Prides, including dance parties, drag shows, fashion shows and celebrating our existence.

There will always be that 16 or 17-year-old kid who doesn’t necessarily realise they are part of something much bigger than they ever anticipated. That alone is a reason to celebrate!

Johannesburg Pride has never created such excitement and people that have refused to attend Pride for the last 8 to 10 years are coming forward to get involved in the planning. We will gladly accept Dustin August’s time and support on the team.

Johannesburg Pride takes place on Saturday 29 October at Melrose Arch.


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