What is Pride if not to advance the queer cause?


Johannesburg Pride commenced with a rocky start to its Pride Month promotion. Young LGBTIQ artists have taken to social media to demand accountability for the event’s choice of headline acts for the annual official Pride event taking place later this month.

This week, Pride organisers announced that music duo Locnville as well as deejay and producer Sketchy Bongo would be leading the line-up. This sparked outrage on social media platforms and a young queer caucus is unapologetically calling out the organisers.

Film maker and activist Beverley Palesa Ditsie. Picture: Palesa Dlamini/City Press

I clearly recall singing along to Locnville’s Sun In My Pocket as a young 16-year-old, very much into pop music and unaware of my queer identity. To say the two acts have any relevance at a Pride festival is simply an injustice to all the pathways of a queer liberation, which were paved by film maker and LGBTIQ activist Bev Ditsie and the iconic revolutionary Simon Nkoli, who both pioneered the first South Africa Pride on October 13 1990 in Johannesburg. I’m sure they are very underwhelmed by the organisers’ decision.

Simon Nkoli was an anti-apartheid, gay rights and Aids activist

According to the organisers, it makes perfect sense for two cisgender heterosexual male acts to perform to an LGBTIQ community and movement celebration.

A space for upliftment, empowerment and remembrance of the activists who paved the way forward for queer South Africans surely should be focusing on highlighting queer music artists.

Voices demanding accountability have been met with defensiveness, as has been the case for many years.

After almost 30 years of the Johannesburg Pride we are discussing headline acts that have been chosen to perform at a once-a-year event, while we are experiencing the horror of gender-based violence and the daily fight for the liberation of black queer persons in this country. No one has the mental and emotional capacity for that right now, yet here we are.

I spoke to Johannesburg Pride’s Kaye Ally and Nolene du Preez to find out whether the two acts have been activists for the LGBTIQ movement, and was met with no response. My question was purely an entry-level attempt to determine what brought these artists to a space that simply has nothing to do with them.

Johannesburg Pride says it was turned down by the queer musicians it approached but Fela Gucci, from the earth-shaking and world-touring duo Faka, and previous Pride performer Mr Allofit said they had not been asked to perform.

So it’s either I’m unaware of who the loud and proud queer South African music artists are or the organisers are playing an unnecessarily sick joke on us.

Transgender model and prominent Johannesburg queer voice Elle exposed the organisers’ resistance to bettering the event. This led them to block her on social media – just for taking the organisers to task for their lazy decision to book artists who were, according to their statement, selected because they were either artists or artist managers who approached them or it was part of a sponsorship for the event.

Furthermore, the expectation that queer artists will perform for free and that the artists themselves must approach Pride doesn’t make sense. At a time when collisions of experience and understanding continuously occur, I would think that elders in the community who are part of the organising committee would consider the views and criticisms of the younger voices, but alas.

Calls for an alternative Pride have been made, but what do we do when spaces for the queer community in South Africa are so limited?

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