The group behind the controversial protest at Joburg Pride last year has denied that its actions led to the shock dissolution of the Joburg Pride company, announced this week in a press release.
Around 20 members of the One in Nine Campaign staged an impromptu protest in the middle of the Pride parade on 6 October 2012.
The protesters ran in front of the thousands of marchers, bringing the procession to a halt in the middle of a busy intersection. They held up banners reading “Dying for Justice” and “No Cause for Celebration” and carried life-sized mannequins that were laid on the ground.
The resulting chaos led to scuffles between the One in Nine members and Joburg Pride organisers and participants.
Among its reasons for dissolving the Joburg Gay Pride Festival Company (JGPFC), the board said that the One in Nine Campaign’s protest “shifted the event from a low-risk event into a high-risk category, which would negatively impact on our operational structures and budgets going forward”.
In a statement issued on Thursday, One in Nine defended its actions last year. It said that its members were dressed in t-shirts with messages such as “Lesbian,” “Dyke,” “Stabane,” and “Sex worker” on the front and “Solidarity with women who speak out” on the back.
“We were in full view of the parade, the marshals, as well as the police. Two of our members handed out leaflets explaining the direct action, a few held the banners, and the rest of us lay down on the road along with the mannequins in front of the banner that read “Dying for Justice,” said One in Nine.
“One of our members was calling out on a loudhailer such slogans as ‘Down with homophobia!’ and ‘Down with the killing of black lesbians!’
“At no point did a member of the Pride organising committee engage with us on our reasons for demanding one minute of silence or for attempting to halt the parade. We were also not approached by the police at any point during the action.
“We dispute the assertion that our action or any of our members posed a security threat to the parade, particularly in light of the fact that the organisers had the means to instantly communicate with their marshals and could have stopped the parade at any point,” insisted the group.
While One in Nine claimed that its members were clearly identifiable as part of the LGBT community, a number of Pride participants told Mambaonline that they were confused by the protest. Some assumed, in the noisy and chaotic throng of thousands of people, that it was being staged by an anti-gay group.
Joburg Pride at the time argued that the unplanned halting of a parade of thousands of people in the middle of one of the city’s busiest roads was a safety risk that could have led to serious injuries.
The JGPFC has stated that the loss of support of local ward councillors and the SAPS to hold the event in the area as well as problems with security at the Zoo Lake venue were among other reasons for its shutting down of the company.
“It was a business decision in that it placed too much financial risk for the directors, as well as commitment time wise in planning a completely new event with new routes, venues, planning etc,” said Joburg Pride on Facebook, adding “The directors do not work on Pride full time and spent many evenings and weekends working on it”.
However, ward councillor Tim Truluck and neighbouring ward councillor Amanda Forsythe denied that they had withdrawn support for the event.
“I often thought the city council should have supported it more,” Truluck told the Rosebank Killarney Gazette.
“Joburg Pride had outgrown the venue. The organisation of the event by [Joburg Pride Chair] Tanya Harford and her team was good, but what was going on outside the designated venue caused problems in the area,” he admitted.
Forsythe described the Joburg Pride press statement as “badly worded”.
She went on to say: “The organisers of Joburg Pride have always enjoyed the full support and advice of Parkview police, the local Community Policing Forum, Truluck and myself. One reason the event found a home here for so many years was this support. We are an open, accepting community where people of all races, religions and sexual orientations mix without fear of violence or prejudice. Zoo Lake epitomises that.”
Forsythe added: “Johannesburg needs a Pride event, especially in the context of the discrimination and stigma still attached to homosexuality in many of our communities.”
The JGPFC has also been criticised for closing the company without any consultation with the community and without any effort to ‘hand-over’ the event to other possible organisers.
The 1 in 9 Campaign distrupts the 2012 Joburg Pride parade.
Speaking on eNews on Friday morning, JGPFC director Fulvio De Stefanis said that this week’s announcement would still give other organisers enough time to plan an event to be held in the usual October slot this year.
He added that this had been the same position the JGPFC had been in when it was first launched around seven years ago.
The One in Nine Campaign and the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) announced that they will host a public meeting on Saturday, 13 April to discuss strategies “for rejecting the commercialisation and de-politicisation of Joburg Pride in recent years, by boycotting the translation of pride into a ‘Gay Parade’ and imagining ways forward for reclaiming our pride”.
The feminist queer groups said that “we remain committed to our vision of pride as a space for both celebration and defiance, for confronting racist, capitalist, and patriarchal power, and as a space that is reflective of our daily struggles and desires”.
Meanwhile, a Facebook group “JHB PRIDE – let’s get organised,” headed by Monique Walker, has announced that another public meeting will be held this coming Sunday, April 7, at Melon restaurant, in Melville at 3pm.
Walker told Mambaonline that she was looking forward to seeing a democratic entity behind Joburg Pride. “If people had been elected to the board in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” she said. “There should be none of this behind closed doors nonsense,” she added.
Kwezilomso Mbandazayo from One in Nine confirmed that the organisation will attend this meeting.