16 Nov Soweto Pride: From strength to strength

Soweto Pride: From strength to strength

The annual Soweto Pride march was held in Meadowlands on 26 September. It was one of the biggest and, arguably, the best since the inaugural march held 11 years ago. From less than 100 people marching in 2004, it has grown in size every year, up to 6000 people this year. The growth of Soweto Pride has run parallel to the series of crises that have struck the increasingly apolitical and exclusionary Johannesburg Pride, leading to its eventual collapse following the decision made in 2013 to close down the Section 21 Company that had run the event for several years.

The role of Soweto Pride in the demise of Joburg Pride has been a contentious issue over the past few years, which has seen increasing hostility from some LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex) people towards the event, on the grounds that it somehow sows division. It is true that the creation of Soweto Pride was partly a critique of the direction Joburg Pride was taking. Many of the leading players in Soweto Pride were also involved in the 1 in 9 Campaign protest action that rocked the status quo of Joburg Pride in 2012. However, the relationship was not always one of conflict and competition. In its earliest years, Soweto Pride, usually held the week before Joburg Pride, served to kick off the week of activities that Joburg Pride concluded, and many people attended both events. But over the years, this dynamic changed significantly.

As disillusionment with Joburg Pride’s increasingly commercialised and de- politicised nature grew, so did the number of people supporting Soweto Pride— which became solidified as a space for people who recognised that the political struggle of LGBTI people in South Africa was far from over. The tipping point of this shift dates back to 2007, when two young lesbian women— Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were murdered in Meadowlands, Soweto. At that year’s Soweto Pride, speakers passionately demanded to know why Joburg Pride was not being held on the front lines of our struggle, rather than in the moneyed, green avenues of suburbia in northern Johannesburg.

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