This weekend’s Heritage Day edition of Soweto Pride was both a vibrant celebration of queer identity and a platform to demand a safer and more inclusive society for LGBTIQ+ South Africans.
Hundreds gathered at Dorothy Nyembe Park on Saturday morning for the 18th annual Pride march through the streets of Soweto. Under a blazing sun, the marchers sang and chanted protest songs and affirmations of queer pride as onlookers watched on from their homes and traffic was brought to a halt.
John Jeffery, the Deputy Minister of Justice, and ambassadors and representatives from several countries were among those who took part in the march.
The loud and colourful procession was an apt reflection of the event’s 2022 theme, sisasekhona (we are still here). One of the aims of Soweto Pride is to visibly take back the streets and this was certainly achieved, even if only for a few hours.
The marchers, many of whom held up placards with the names and faces of victims of hate crimes, paused at the Dobsonville Police Station to highlight the continued challenges faced by LGBTIQ+ people when seeking justice.
Organisers called for a representative from the police station to address the crowd but even with the intervention of the deputy minister, no official was willing to come out to acknowledge the marchers. Sitting on the street, the crowd nevertheless marked a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives to queerphobic hate.
As the parade wound its way back to the park, the marchers stopped once again, this time to recognise members of Parents, Families and Friends of South African Queers (PFSAQ).
Several parents held up signs affirming their love and support for their LGBTIQ+ children and collectively read out a pledge “to keep encouraging other parents and families to accept every queer being because acceptance is the catalyst of love and safety”.
The day’s formal programme at the park kicked off after the march with speeches from activists and politicians. Mpho Phalatse, the Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg, was among those who addressed the crowd, promising to make the city safer and more inclusive for LGBTIQ+ people. “We are here, and we are still queer,” exclaimed the mayor from the stage.
Phalatse also led a candle-lighting ceremony and a moment of silence to remember those the LGBTIQ+ community has lost, most recently bullied teenager Tiro Moalusi and actor, producer and TV presenter, Lumko Johnson. The mayor then went on to visit some of the community stalls dotted around the park.
Also taking to the stage, Deputy Minister Jeffery was challenged by the organisers – the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) – to ensure that government does more to tackle LGBTIQ+ human rights violations.
“There’s not much more that can be done to reform the law,” he answered. “The problem in our society for people of different sexual orientations and gender identities is generally the attitude of people in society.”
Jeffery said the government was working to address the issue of making identity documents inclusive of LGBTIQ+ people and urged anyone who is discriminated against by a public servant to report that person to an LGBTIQ+ organisation.
“We can only deal with that and correct that if those people who are causing that problem can be identified,” he continued. Jeffery added that he expects the long-awaited Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill to be passed by the National Assembly before the end of the year.
Revellers continued to stream into the venue throughout the afternoon, as the event turned its focus to entertainment and music with a diverse selection of performers, drag artists and DJs.
“Soweto Pride is a great way for the community to really show up and represent the LGBTIQ community with plenty of visibility,” said one Pride participant, Sive Mjindi. “It’s a very fun family-orientated environment. And I would definitely love to go to the next one if it’s anything like this.”