Hundreds of angry LGBTI protestors defied police on Wednesday and marched to the ANC head office in Johannesburg, demanding that urgent action be taken against hate crimes.
Over 500 activists and members of the LGBTI community gathered on Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday at Library Gardens in the city’s CBD.
Activists said that their aim was to mark the day as an historic “day of shame” in light of the increasing rate of attacks against LGBTI people in South Africa.
According to some groups, at least ten people have been killed in the country in the last month because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Today we are supposed to do good for 67 minutes. That is why we are here. Mandela was an activist all his life. He fought for our freedom. He taught us that activism and fighting for democracy is the only way to ensure equality for all,” Jabu Pereira, Director of Iranti, told the crowd.
The mood was angry and defiant, with protestors singing, dancing and holding up placards and rainbow flags. The ANC in particular was slammed for its silence in the face of the onslaught against LGBTI people.
“The ruling party has decided to shut up about our killings,” said Virginia Setshedi, from the Forum of Empowerment of Women.
Pereira added: “Today is a day of shame for the ANC. We are ashamed of our leaders and their silence. Did the ANC forget the LGBTI people who died in the struggle? Did the ANC forget Simon Nkoli? The ANC is shaming Tata’s [Mandela’s] legacy.”
Another speaker pointed at the group of police officers watched and filming the proceedings. She criticised the South African Police Service for its inaction in the face of the hate crime epidemic.
“They are here in their numbers filming us, but where are they when we are being attacked?” she asked, adding “We demand that you play your role!”
Organisers had earlier in the week been denied permission by the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) to picket outside the ANC headquarters at Luthuli House, a short distance from the library.
However, as anger grew among protestors, organisers tried to negotiate with police to move the protest to Luthuli House. Officers again denied the request. Defiant organisers then called for those in the crowd who were willing to “break the law” and face possible arrest to march with them.
The vast majority of the protestors bravely chose to walk to the nearby ANC building, which by then had been shuttered by security personnel.
After chanting “shame ANC, shame”, dancing in front of Luthuli House and bringing traffic to a halt, a representative of the ANC finally came out to accept a memorandum.
The document, which demanded that the ANC take real and immediate action against hate crimes, was accepted by ANC Elections Manager Mandla Dhlamini. He told reporters that the party would respond, but was not sure if it would be before the 18 August deadline stipulated in the memorandum.
Activists later held a candlelight vigil at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg in memory of those killed in hate crimes.
A Mandela Day hate crime protest was also held in Cape Town. Around 200 people, led by various LGBTI organisations, sang and marched to the ANC provincial office and handed over a memorandum to a representative of the party.
“We spent a full 67 minutes outside the lobby of the ANC’s office,” Eugene Brockman told Mambaonline. “We had a nice balance between commemorating Mandela’s birthday and remembering those killed in hate crimes,” he said.
View Mambaonline’s exclusive photo gallery of the Mandela Day protest in Johannesburg.