Thousands of people are expected to attend Johannesburg's annual Pride celebrations – the biggest on the African continent. This year's event, however, has drawn ire from critics for being aimed at white people.
South Africa's Pride season sees about a dozen parades and related festivities bring some LGBTQ rainbow spirit to the rainbow nation each spring. The big cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg tend to organize the biggest celebrations in the country, with thousands of revelers flocking to the events from near and far.
Johannesburg Pride, however, has attracted some criticism for its choice of location and some of the finer points of its program. Held in the northern Johannesburg suburb of Melrose at the mixed-use development center called Melrose Arch, the event has been accused of catering for affluent white people while ignoring the difficulties that many from the economically deprived communities, especially the black population, might face in even reaching the location.
Local LGBTQ activist Sekoatlane Phamodi referred to the developments as a "pinkwashing by white-supremacist capitalists" in an interview with the Huffington Post. People have criticized the event as being too inaccessible and expensive – despite the fact that general entrance is free.
With Johannesburg's Central Business District deemed unsafe and unsuitable to host such a mass event, Melrose Arch played host to Johannesburg Pride for the second year in a row. Other upmarket venues in northern Johannesburg such as Ilovo and Sandton have also played host to the event in recent years.
The organizers of Johannesburg Pride meanwhile defended their choice for the venue, saying that a more "mainstream" location actually made it easier for attendees to come to the event in numbers.
Rival events highlight social differences
The controversy over Johannesburg Pride broke out in part after considerations to hold Johannesburg Pride and Soweto Pride on the same day, creating rival events for the LGBTQ community in a political atmosphere that has already been fueling division among South Africans in recent months.
Despite some of the most progressive laws protecting LBGTQ people in the world, South Africa continues to fight against violent forms of homophobia
Soweto, a major township established by the apartheid regime, which now boasts a largely black population of more than a million people, has long been incorporated into the City of Johannesburg but has held its own Pride event since 2005.
In 2016, however, organizers were forced to cancel Soweto Pride just days before it was supposed to take place amid security concerns. This year, Soweto Pride took place on September 30 – almost a month before the event in Johannesburg. Nevertheless, the controversy over the two separate events highlighting LGBTQ issues continues, with Soweto Pride being seen as catering for the region's black population and Johannesburg Pride for the white minority.
Sexual minorities continue to face persecution
South Africa has some of the most inclusive LGBTQ laws in the world – at least on paper. The country's post-apartheid constitution was drawn up to allow equality for all its citizens, with special attention also paid to gay and lesbian rights. On the African continent, South Africa is the only nation that recognizes gay marriage and outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Despite this progressive stance on such human rights, South Africa continues to grapple with various forms of homophobia, especially in rural areas. The practice of "corrective rape" is one of many issues faced by the lesbian and gay community that continues to make frequent headlines in the country. Annual crime statistics published earlier in the week showed that there was an average of 109 cases of rape committed daily across the country.
The country also has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, with the vast majority of those carrying the virus coming from economically deprived backgrounds.