Saturday’s Johannesburg Pride march in Sandton (pic: Joffree Hyman)

Saturday’s Johannesburg Pride march in Sandton (pic: Joffree Hyman)

Despite a lower turnout compared to previous years and numerous controversies, Saturday’s Johannesburg Pride went ahead in Sandton without incident.

A few hundred people took part in the morning parade, which was a relatively low key affair. A number of participants held up placards with messages such as “I’m gay, get over it” and others held rainbow flags and umbrellas. A large gay flag of South Africa was featured in the procession as were the finalists in the Mr. Gay South Africa competition.

Pride organiser Kaye Ally acknowledged that the parade “was flat and not as exciting as it should be” but said that the authorities only approved a small march and that vehicles were not allowed. She promised that next year’s event would include floats and would be “what it should be”.

Ally argued, however, that the parade still had an impact. “We shut down the Sandton CBD. It created awareness. Every ten minutes on the radio they were saying that the traffic disruption was due to Johannesburg Pride.”

She also expressed her satisfaction that the transgender community supported the event for the first time in years. “The parade was led by our very own committee member Simone Heradien who represents the trans community”.

Some have expressed disappointment about the location of the march, arguing that Sandton has little political or cultural significance for the LGBTI community – especially for those facing the bulk of homophobic discrimination and violence in the city.

One participant in the parade succinctly communicated his displeasure with the location with a placard proclaiming “Fuck Sandton”.

Ally commented that she believes that moving Pride to Africa’s business hub actually “furthered LGBTI awareness. It put our community in the spotlight. The move was frowned upon but the interest shown by the media and the community was overwhelming. It put us in an influential position.”

Many more people joined the participants at the Sandton Sports Club after the march. The festive proceedings featured performances by artists including singer Tamara Dey. According to Ally, clicker counts by security at the gate confirmed that more than 8,500 people had taken part in the event by the end of the day.

The lower number of participants this year, compared to around 20,000 in 2012, has been blamed on divisions within the LGBTI community and that a number of Pride events were held within the space of a month in the province.

Ally admitted that her event’s last minute postponement and venue move last month “didn’t help” but said that she was happy with the turnout. “Historically, when Pride goes through change it goes through a dip in numbers. Many are kicking themselves for not attending. It was extremely diverse – the most representative Johannesburg Pride I’ve seen.

“We only expected 5,000 people and the day was completely incident free. And that was more important than having many more people,” she said.

As for 2014, Ally said that her team will have 12 months to improve the event, compared to the four and half months they had this year. While a venue hasn’t been decided on, Ally confirmed that Johannesburg Pride will continue to take place at the end of October so that “it gives people time to attend all the other Prides and we can end off the Pride season with Johannesburg Pride.

“It was a great beginning for us and something we can build on. Now the real work starts,” she added.

Pride in Johannesburg – the oldest and historically largest in Africa – was shaken by controversy this year. After the previous organising company shut its doors in April, two new groups emerged to plan Pride celebrations in the city.

The one, People’s Pride, was driven by a socialist manifesto and a stronger activist focus. It held its event on 5 October at Constitution Hill and included an emotional march through Hillbrow and Braamfontein to “reclaim” those streets for the LGBT community.

Ally’s event, which aimed to continue the legacy of previous Pride celebrations, was set to take place near the city centre at the end of September but was controversially postponed and moved to Sandton due to claimed safety concerns with the location. Ally also reported that she was attacked over the event, incidents that remain unsolved.

In addition to the annual Soweto and Ekurhuleni Prides, for the first time, this month also saw Pride events being held in the neighbouring city of Pretoria and in the Vaal area.

Did you attend Johannesburg Pride? What was your Pride experience like? Tell us below in the comments section.

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