Pride Reborn?


Some may not care, others may be surprised, and hopefully some will be delighted that this year’s Joburg Pride celebrations appear to be on track. It’s been a tough year for the continent’s largest gathering of lesbians and gays, now marking its historic 16th anniversary.

Pride barely survived the PR catastrophe of last year’s shambolic event, which was taken over by the haughty Equality Project, with aspirations of showing us all ‘how it should be done’. And it was then nearly touch-and-go after Equality folded amid allegations of scandal and internal back-stabbing.

Enter Paul Tilly, former head of Equality’s marketing and PR efforts. He was given the mandate by the organisation’s board to run Pride independently, a mere three months before the event. He did so with no infrastructure and no funding (except for a small allowance from FEW and OUT). Since then he has engaged with the community and organised a week’s worth of events, followed by a parade, leading into a street party at the Heartlands. Tilly describes the event as a “downscaled effort”, in the hope that “Pride can recover some of its credibility, and realistically move forward to better things in the future”.

What helped make this year’s Pride possible has been the support of the City of Joburg and the Heartlands. The recently opened Heartlands entertainment development in Braamfontein, keen to be seen as the home of gay Joburg was eager to take ‘ownership’ of the event. This has ruffled feathers among those who are weary that a commercial entity like Heartlands will take too much control.

But Tillly is quick to point out that Pride’s responsibility and role ends when the march arrives at the Heartlands. And he elaborates, “Pride has no funding. We don’t exactly have an array of choices. And coupled with the fact that the Heartlands had just opened in Braamfontein, and that the City is promoting the rebirth of the inner city, it was a good fit”. While Pride has traditionally been a community event, the struggle between its activist role and harsh commercial reality has never been an easy one.

At the end of the day Tilly hopes to provide for both, with the week’s schedule of events being community based, while the Heartlands street carnival catering to those that want to ‘get down’ and party. Sponsorship remains a problem. Representatives from finance corporates ABSA and Sanlam attended initial public Pride meetings and expressed interest in getting involved, but to date not much has come of this.

Tilly explains that while Sanlam expressed serious interest in Pride, there was simply too little time for it to formulate a marketing and sponsorship strategy, and so its deferred any possible role until next year’s event.

Tilly passionately believes that Pride remains a vital aspect of gay life in South Africa. “Despite the fact that LGBTI people have just about all their rights enshrined constitutionally and in common law, we still face discrimination in the workplace and at home.”

“It’s not just about you having a good time, doing a line and getting laid…”

Week’s Events

Constitution Hill, has offered is varied spaces as the primary venues for the community events from the 16th of September, leading up to the parade, but Rosebank and Soweto also get in on the act. Events on offer include plays by the Gay and Lesbian Archives, Athol Fugard and even Ramp Divas, a book launch, pre-pride parties, the LGBTI Activism Awards, special screenings of the movie Happy Endings and workshops on everything from ‘Lesbian Gender Identities‘ to ‘Oral History’ (and no, sexual activity is not involved in this workshop). To view a complete schedule of events, click here.

The Parade

The traditional march through the streets starts at around 4pm on the 24th of September, appropriately enough at Constitution Hill, the place when our much vaunted constitutional rights have been repeatedly protected by the court. The Parade then moves downtown and through that city landmark, the Nelson Mandela Bridge, and into Newtown. It then turns back up towards Braamfontein, concluding in the Heartlands. (Click here to view a route map.)

The Heartlands will be providing a pre-parade free shuttle service from 12pm. This means that you can park in Braamfontein, be shuttled to Constitution Hill, and then march back to the Heartlands. The march is a two hour or so walk. Go on, reclaim our streets!

While out of touch Northern suburbs ‘mother grundies’ have predictably whined about the March moving back into town, they need – as our East Rand cousins would say – ‘a serious wake up call’. The Joburg CBD is rapidly becoming one of the most vibrant spots on the continent, it’s central for ALL of the city’s citizens, and is safer than most Sandton suburbs.

The Party

What makes this year’s official party different from those of the last few years is that it follows on directly after the parade, plus, it’s mostly free. The Heartlands will be blocking off the streets around the complex and, in addition to its usual venues like Cruise and Sugar Reef, will be throwing a free street party. The bash will include flea market and community stalls, themed food stalls, beer tents and outside dance and live entertainment. (Click here for a map of the street carnival.)

As the carnival moves into the night, the venue’s flagship DCM club will open (with an R80 door charge) at 9pm, offering serious dance music partying into the early hours. Resident DJ at famed London club Heaven, Alan X, will be headlining the groove-masters, which will also include Stuart Hillary, Surge and others.

It all sounds good on paper, but whatever happens or doesn’t happen, it’s important that you support Pride. And here’s why. It’s not just about you having a good time, doing a line and getting laid, it’s bigger than that. It’s about you making a statement that we all deserve to have a space to live, and express ourselves freely, no matter who we sleep with, or whether we live in Fourways or Meadowlands. And in a continent well known for its intolerance of lesbians and gays, it’s well worth your while to keep making that statement. Over and over again…

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