Pride or Privilege

This past Saturday (October 29) the biggest Pride parade in Africa, Jhb Pride was held amid outrage from the Queer population. Words like “Elitist” and “Privilege” were thrown around for the Pride that has taken place in the City of Gold since 1990, when Simon Nkoli (may his soul RIP) delivered this speech:

I’m fighting for the abolition of apartheid. And I fight for the right of freedom of sexual orientation. These are inextricably linked with each other. I cannot be free as a black man if I am not free as a gay man.

— Simon Nkoli (First pride parade, Johannesburg, 13 October 1990)

Johannesburg Pride was held at Zoo Lake from 2006 to 2012 and after the controversial 1 in 9 protest, moved to Sandton Sports Club (2013), Mushroom Farm Park (2014) and the Wanderers Rugby Field last year.

The Pride’s Kaye Alley defended the choice of venue on challenges faced with having it in bigger venues, such as infrastructure and security, saying “It’s unaffordable for a non-profit organisation like Pride. Melrose Arch has modern amnesties and facilities.” HA! Amnesties and facilities that cater for who exactly? She went on to further say, “For me, the safety of Pride comes first. I’d rather take the backlash from a small minority…” HA HA! Kelley fails to realise that the minority is actually the majority, but it’s easy to confuse the two in a country with a rich history of catering more to the minority.

It is no secret that pride has been marred by controversy throughout the 2000s, when Carrie Shelver (the driving force behind the 1 in 9 protest that disrupted Jhb Pride 2012) and her organising committee left Pride with huge financial losses; to the shocking 2013 announcement of the Jhb Pride board closing the company that was running the event.

“Moving to Melrose Arch is a big change but we are catering to different generations, including the millennials and we have to entice them and make it relevant” said Alley. The different generation she speaks of (besides the obviously white privileged) is the emerging black queer upper middle class. It’s here and it is beautiful to witness. The emerging black queer upper middle class is defying all odds and forcefully carving their way into society, they make people look up and they are making a mark for the queer community and that should be commended. They make even the most homophobic of people look up and pay attention because they came to slay, and slay they do. I am the very first to commend them and say A luta continua. This post is not about them at all, in fact I for one am glad they went out to represent and add colour to the Pride event.

But, Pride has diverted from many of its founding core issues, but this post is also not about that, neither is it about the politics of Pride, this post is about the Jhb Pride that took place in Melrose Arch, a mere 9km away from the township of Alexandra in which queer bodies are anything but safe. This Post is about the free entrance Jhb Pride that catered for a minority. We all want to have access to exclusive spaces in an event, so the fact that there was a VIP did not bother me at all. (Even though it did not need a VIP section as the whole event was VIP.) I am bothered by the fact that Melrose is filled with restaurants and amnesties that majority of queer people cannot afford. Imagine the group of queer people from Alex who in the middle of making themselves lunchboxes, before braving the 9km walk, sat and thought “I won’t fit in, let me just rather let it go.” Imagine the ones who braved it with their lunchboxes and Oros in squeeze bottles feeling out of place because restaurants are places of eating (this is Melrose after all) and not the pavements.

Segregation in a community that needs to be one is very troubling, maybe that is why we have so many issues unresolved, because we have many opposing voices within this community. If anything, Pride shouldn’t be about inclusivity, it should be an inclusive space where no one feels out of place, but a venue like this makes many (the majority) feel out of place.

Where is the Pride in that?

Sivuyile Mtshemla