Soweto Pride was marked by hundreds of party-goers celebrating their identity during a weekend-long festival, but far fewer took to the streets to march for equality.
On Saturday, the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) hosted the 13th annual Soweto Pride at the GOG Gardens venue in Protea Glen, under the theme of “Creating Communities We Desire.”
For the first time, the Pride was a three-day celebration starting on Friday with a pre-Pride party and ending on the Sunday with a picnic and pool party. Participants could camp at the venue for the weekend and enjoy the amenities and take part in all the activities.
The protest march itself, which traditionally has been at the heart of Soweto Pride, was held on Saturday. It honours LGBTIQ lives lost, especially black lesbians in South Africa’s townships. It is also a form of ‘reclaiming the streets’ where lesbian women often do not feel safe.
The march started shortly before noon under a blazing spring sun and proceeded through the streets of the township. Dozens of participants sang and chanted for equality, with rainbow colours spread across the crowd.
The procession then observed a powerful moment of silence for the victims of hate crimes. Marchers sat on the ground and held up photos of those who were murdered because of their sexuality or gender expression.
“Let us mourn the people that have died,” said the march leader to the crowd. “Let us honour the people who have died for us to be able to occupy these streets. Let them resonate within us. For tomorrow it might be you…”
Over the past few years, the Soweto Pride march has become an increasingly smaller affair in favour of the post-march festivities, and this Saturday was no different.
After the participants returned to the venue, they were treated to a variety of entertainment. The crowd began to swell after lunchtime, arriving in their numbers with cooler-boxes and picnic paraphernalia.
FEW’s Siphokazi Nombande said that while numbers were up overall from last year, the amount of people who took part in march itself was disappointing. “For us, Soweto Pride is about the march, it is about the political statement. We use the march as the advocacy tool, so I don”t know what we need to do as an organisation for us to get more people to the march. Most people just seem interested in the fun side.”
She added that the organisers are discussing holding the march later in the day in future, which could possibly improve participation.
For Palesa Makhetha, 24, Pride remains an important event. “We live in a country where corrective rape in a thing. How is that even allowed to happen? Trans people are still being denied their rights. I think people choose to stay ignorant about these things.”
The 2018 Soweto Pride celebrations were a success, and many were able to freely express their identity with their friends and family – and that in itself is an important aspect of Pride. However, it’s increasingly clear that the more overtly activist aspect of Prides around South Africa – usually expressed through marches – appears to be on the decline.
For most LGBTIQ South Africans it seems, celebration – not protest – is becoming the most significant way for them to express their Pride.