Kaye Ally, the woman heading up the team behind this year’s Johannesburg Pride, has responded to claims that the event was controversially postponed for reasons other than security concerns.
The 24th Johannesburg Pride march and celebrations were set to take place on 28 September at the Mary Fitzgerald Square (MFS) in the Newtown district of downtown Johannesburg.
Just days before the event, Ally announced that it had been postponed to the end of October and moved to a yet to be announced venue in Sandton, citing concerns with safety and security in Newtown. She also claimed that she had been attacked by men in three incidents who, in at least two of the attacks, demanded that she call off the event. It remains unclear who these men were and what their motive was.
Ally’s claims about the location, however, were subsequently denied by representatives of city bodies. Shaun Harrison, head of EMS for the City of Johannesburg Joint Operations Committee (JOC) – which approves all events in the city so that they are safe and legal – told Mambaonline that JOC was not able to approve the event as Pride organisers “hadn’t finalised the venue permissions. We couldn’t engage with them until the venue [Mary Fitzgerald Square] gives permission”.
When Mambaonline spoke to Manqoba Mkhize, the owner of the company that manages the Newtown district, he stated that Pride organisers “met none of the milestones” in their contract with the venue.
Mkhize further responded to Ally’s assertion of safety concerns by saying that “this claim is news to us” and arguing that “the venue currently hosts an average of two public events per month making it one of the most popular public spaces in Johannesburg”.
Metro police spokesperson Superintendent Wayne Minnaar also denied that crime was an issue. “The event was cancelled because the application did not meet with Joint Operations Committee requirements, not because of crime in Newtown. There are many requirements to be met before an event is approved, and they didn’t meet all of the requirements,” he told the Rosebank Kilarney Gazette.
Ally has now in turn responded to these assertions, insisting that security was indeed the reason why the Pride committee decided to postpone and move the event. She accused the JDA (Johannesburg Development Agency) and the MFS management team of having “downplayed the security issues”. She told Mambaonline: “I firmly believe that MFS management needs to be more honest with details about crime in that area”.
Ally claims that she was first alerted to what she says is an increase in crime in the area when she spoke on the 18th of September to people who worked on staging for the recent Colour Festival held in Newtown. She says that they reported muggings, pick-pocketing and hold-ups at knifepoint that took place during the festival. Shopkeepers around the venue also confirmed this, she claims.
“I was told that people are being robbed while at the robots in daylight at gun point. Smash and grabs and muggings are part of their daily lives,” said Ally.
“At this stage, I went back to Constable Randy of the JOC cluster to verify the information. The constable confirmed the criminal activity in the area and added to the list smash and grabs and car theft. In addition, what made me more concerned about security was that these were paid events and Pride was a free event.”
Constable Randy told Mambaonline that she did not believe that there was a high rate of crime in the area and denied telling Ally this. However, she admitted that there were some incidents involving Illegal car guards during the recent Joy of Jazz held in Newtown. “We can’t say that crime is high but we had a problem with illegal car guards who do smash and grabs,” she said. Randy urged Ally “to bring the event back to Newtown”.
Ally also refuted claims that the organisers did not have funding in place to pay for the Mary Fitzgerald Square venue. She said that payment was conditional on the Pride committee being satisfied with security and safety in the area, which they ultimately were not. She added that “JOC is a process, it is never a yes or no. The objective is to work with the JOC until all the parties are satisfied that risk of a public event of this nature is reduced.”
Despite some level of anger at the last minute postponement, Ally said that “messages of support far outweigh the number of moans” she’d received in response to the event’s move to Sandton.
She also revealed that a suspect had been arrested in connection with at least one of the attacks against her. Mambaonline confirmed the arrest with a Detective Ferreira who said that a second suspect was still at large. He could not say what the motive for the attack was and whether it was related to the other two incidents. A court date is set for October 9.
Ally said that she reported the subsequent two incidents at another police station and would be giving these details to Detective Ferreira so that he could investigate links between the attacks.
Mambaonline asked her if it was not imperative that the mystery behind the incidents – reported in local and international media – is cleared up as a matter of urgency to give the LGBT community clarity on the issue. “Detective Ferreira is conducting a proper investigation, and yes I agree that we need this matter addressed. I personally would like to see these criminals behind bars,” Ally said.
She told Mambaonline that Johannesburg Pride will go ahead on 26 October in Sandton but could not yet confirm if there will be a march.
“With all events of this nature a contingency plan has to be in place. We are reworking the human rights component and will definitely still provide a strong political platform to the community. We are going through the processes and will revert back on the status of a parade in Sandton.
“We aim to put on this event to the best of our abilities. In all honesty, had the event taken place in Newtown and the community was put at risk that could have potentially put Pride to rest. We stand firm in our decision to move Pride to Sandton. After the series of incidents personally experienced I would not want anyone to go through the same,” Ally said.
Ally also commented that last Saturday’s reported attack on a group of Soweto Pride LGBT dancers at the Bree Street Taxi Rank, a short walking distance from Mary Fitzgerald Square, led her to “have no doubt we made the best decision for the community to move the event”.
“Obviously, the dream of taking Pride back to the city, back to our roots, will remain. But not until we can be assured of our safety,” she added.