On Saturday, 28 October, the Buffalo City metro in the Eastern Cape held its first Buffalo City Pride March in East London, attracting a diversity of LGBTIQ+ people and allies from the region. Human Rights Defender and one of the organisers, Sikhander Coopoo, looks at the context of this milestone in the province and the impact of the event.
Last year, on World Aids Day, Premier Oscar Mabuyane said that “the Eastern Cape is the most homophobic province in the country”, citing that victimisation, abuse, ridicule and violence against members of the LGBTQIA+ community must end and called for citizens to join hands together with government to fight queerphobia (Daily Dispatch 2 Dec 2022).
Despite South Africa having a strong set of laws to prohibit and address discrimination, the Eastern Cape Office of the SA Human Rights Commission received 667 complaints during 2022/23, with sexual orientation complaints constituting the bulk of complaints.
In recent years, a Mdantsane school principal forced 38 teenage girls to publicly announce they were lesbian. In a deeply patriarchal and homophobic province such as ours, these learners’ lives were placed at risk of harassment, corrective rape and being killed. This year, in Gqeberha, we also saw businesses putting up signage to say “No LGBTQ allowed” with almost 700 people joining a hate speech WhatsApp group in support of banning LGBTQIA+ people.
Even with our progressive laws and institutions, we need a societal change of heart. Pride is an opportunity to create safe spaces in our cities and towns. An inclusive united citywide Pride Festival is but one way to facilitate the creation of safe spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community and in doing so address some of the ongoing challenges in Buffalo City.
Celebrate Shared Accomplishments
Pride is also an opportunity for us to unite and celebrate our shared accomplishments. For the first time since the dawn of democratic South Africa almost 30 years ago, the Eastern Cape Legislature met queer activists from across the province when it hosted its first LGBTQIA+ Dialogue in August this year.
This year also saw a breakthrough in the provision of gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender and gender-diverse people in Buffalo City. A fully comprehensive package is provided by Wits RHI Duncan Village Day Hospital, which has a doctor, social worker, psychologist and nursing staff providing support. The HIV Clinicians Society and Wits RHI are in the process of running workshops and trainings to capacitate clinicians in the Buffalo City area on the provision of gender-affirming health care, ensuring continuity of care and increased access to services.
Another historic moment was earlier in October when the University of Fort Hare had its first Queer Indaba which was widely supported by university students, parents and staff. Buffalo City Pride will be another first significant moment for the city.
At the core of Pride is activism – speaking out and advocating for meaningful change at all structural levels for the rights and protection of our LGBTQIA+ community. Last year a few businesses, local schools, organisations and academic institutions initiated pride activities that took place at different places in the city.
Coupled with this, civil society and government institutions have been tackling the social issues affecting and impacting Buffalo City’s LGBTQIA+ community. In this spirit, organisations came together to initiate and plan for an inclusive and responsible Buffalo City Pride Festival under the theme United in Pride. The purpose is to unite all organisations working with LGBTQIA+ communities in an extended Pride Festival right here in Buffalo City which then culminates in a Pride march.
The success of Buffalo City Pride must not only be seen in terms of the march on the Esplanade; but within the broader range of activities that took place throughout Festival in October, not only in Buffalo City but throughout the Eastern Cape. LGBTQIA+ organisations such as Access Chapter 2, Masivuke Community Development, OUT LGBT Well-being (OUT) and SHE work tirelessly throughout the year and across the province to protect and empower LGBTQIA+ communities. On 28 October 2023, beautiful Pride marches simultaneously took place in Gqeberha, Matatiele, Buffalo City and Johannesburg.
Businesses and Organisations Present
Even though the Buffalo City Pride march was but one activity across the province during the month, it is an important one for Buffalo City’s LGBTQIA+ community. Despite the predictions of terrible weather, which seemed to have deterred some people; the Pride march was very well-attended with an estimate of about 160 people engaging in activities built around the march, including dance, story-telling, song, face-painting, networking, information and advice and speeches. In the true spirit of Pride, the intention was that the Buffalo City Pride March be centred around social, political, cultural and health issues that affect our LGBTQIA+ community.
Communities across the City attended, from Quigney and Southernwood to Mdantsane and Qonce; with many organisations and businesses present in various capacities; including Access Chapter 2, Beyond Zero, Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality, Bumb’Ingomso, Cecelia Makinwane Hospital, Club Eden, Desmond Tutu Health Foundation, Eastern Cape Aids Council, Engage Men’s Health, Foundation for Professional Development, Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Makinwa Media Solutions, Masimanyane Women’s Rights International, Masivuke Community Development, Mercedes Benz South Africa, OUT LGBT Well-Being, Professional Association of Transgender Health, Save our Sacred Lands, Sonwa Sakuba Institute for the Performing Arts, Southern African Sexual Health Association, SHE – Empowerment Feminist Collective of Transgender Women of Africa, Treatment Action Campaign, University of Fort Hare, Walter Sisulu University and WITS RHI.
Amidst the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community, we must create safe spaces in our cities and towns. Spaces where the queer community will not be discriminated against and safe spaces that are free from violence and intimidation are much needed, especially for poor black transgender womxn who face disproportionate risks.
Walking On the Esplanade with Fellow Queers and Allies
As much as the Buffalo City pride march is for our LGBTQIA+ community, it is also of personal significance and value. As someone who experienced and survived homophobia and violence finding safe spaces in the city has been extremely rare in that I hold different identities that cannot be separated from my queerness; spaces which I still struggle to find.
Walking on the Esplanade with our LGBTQIA+ community and allies provided a feeling of affirmation, comfort, belonging, inclusion, safety and a proud moment to be celebrated and cherished. Knowing how rare safe spaces are for the LGBTQIA+ community to live authentic lives and thrive in is critically important for all of us to curate, not only in the work we do but also in our daily lives.
The tragedy of Sibusiso Mbatha a Gauteng grade 6 learner who was found hanging in his family’s bathroom after allegedly being verbally attacked and bullied by his teacher must be condemned in the strongest way. It is unacceptable that more young lives are lost to homophobia, transphobia, discrimination and bullying. With the humxn rights atrocities happening in Palestine, every one of us must show kindness, care and compassion to each other.
Buffalo City Pride Organisers
Buffalo City Pride Festival and Pride March were jointly organised by ‘Buffalo City Pride’; the partner organisations being Access Chapter 2, Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality, Bumb’Ingomso, Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Masimanyane Women’s Rights International, Masivuke Community Development, Out LGBT Well-Being, Sonwa Sakuba Institute for the Performing Arts, SHE – Empowerment Feminist Collective of Transgender Women of Africa and WITS RHI.
On the one hand, organising Pride was in response to calls from community members for a Pride march as well as seeing that organisations, businesses and institutions were holding Pride activities without necessarily being aware that others in the city doing similar. This was thus an opportunity to unite organisations whilst at the same time honouring the incredible work that individual organisations do. The Pride Unity Gathering at Orient Beach became a wonderful networking moment for organisations and communities.
There was a strong and clear call by those present that this not be the first and last Buffalo City Pride march. There was also an ask that Pride organisers in different cities and towns try not to host their respective Pride marches on the same day to allow communities to attend and support each other. As with this Pride Festival, the key to future ones is education, information and awareness. Furthermore, we need to ensure that Pride activities take place throughout the year and throughout South Africa.
It’s been a beautiful journey to get where we are, one filled with learning, growth and excitement. Buffalo City Pride sincerely thanks our amazing community for braving the cold wet weather to make our first Pride a pride to remember.
Sikhander Coopoo is a humxn rights defender and Black, queer, Muslim intersectional feminist with backgrounds in gender, pedagogy and local governance. He serves on both the Buffalo City Pride and Gender and Sexuality Alliance committees and writes in his own capacity. Buffalo City Pride photos by Dr Madeleine Müller, Sikhander Coopoo and Mark Fredericks.