‘We demand erotic justice for all. Womandla!’

2013-10-05 16:07

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Last year’s activist drama at Joburg Pride saw the event split into two – one down town and one in the affluent north. Charl Blignaut reports from People’s Pride in Hillbrow.

Only 500-or-so people turned up for the first-ever Johannesburg People’s Pride March for Freedom and Justice in Hillbrow earlier today, but they were enough to stop traffic and loudly reclaim part of the route that the original Johannesburg Pride had mapped 24 years ago.

The march also marked a return to human rights activism – especially against hate crime murders – of a Pride that had begun as a political march.

The official 24th Joburg Pride will be held on October 26 in Sandton. It will no doubt be a well-sponsored celebration. Today’s People’s Pride was the opposite – a community-organised, no-budget affair.

“The first Pride started with, like, 80 people and grew to 800 in Hillbrow when all the people came out from Skyline to join in,” said activist and film maker Bev Ditsie while marching today. She and Simon Nkoli organised the inaugural Pride in 1990. Skyline was a famous gay and lesbian bar in Hillbrow and the march had been designed to pass sites of historical importance to its community.

People’s Pride returned to parts of that route today. At Simon Nkoli Corner in Hillbrow, Ditsie spoke into the megaphone, tearful, celebrating the return of the event that was moved to Rosebank in 2000.

In between the leggy Miss Pride 2013 and an activist dressed as a blindfolded and raped Lady Justice, handwritten banners and posters were in proliferation, addressing more than just LGBTI rights, but broader rights too.

It was a message reinforced by organiser Kwezilomso Mbandazayo, speaking to the crowd after a drumming session kicked off proceedings at Constitutional Hill.

She spoke of last year’s activist intervention by the anti-rape 1 in 9 Campaign that saw Joburg Pride rupture after they lay down to stop the parade and were then physically manhandled by members of the organising committee.

Ending violence against lesbians is not all People’s Pride is marching for, said Mbandazayo, touching on the violence of poverty, inequality, education, public health service, xenophobia and government’s clampdown on protests. The march also advocated for sex workers, HIV-positive people and the disabled. “We demand erotic justice for all!” she called. “Womandla!”

Spoken word artist Lebo Mashile delivered a poem about the sanctity of the human body and the march was off.

“Limpopo to the back, DA to the back,” called one of the organisers, stopping the march as it was just getting under way. “We are People’s Pride, we support no one political party or group.”

“I have goosebumps. I just want to start crying,” said Ditsie heading down the hill towards Joubert Park. “This feels just like the first march.”

The marchers were stopped again towards the end and asked to sit down for a minute’s silence. They then proceeded – soundlessly – past the Civic Theatre, where a lone drummer saluted those who have died from hate crimes, their names and images held aloft on banners lining the street.

Joburg Pride, the oldest in Africa, was thrown into crisis when its board resigned after the controversy over the 1 in 9 activists last year.

The official 24th annual LGBTIAQ Johannesburg Pride Parade was to be held in Newtown, also in the city centre, last month, but will now be held at the end of this month in upmarket Sandton.

It has the theme Back to our Roots. Organiser Kaye Ally cited safety concerns as the reason for the move to Sandton, this week finding herself in a spat with city officials and the police, who deny the Newtown Cultural Precinct is unsafe.

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