AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

Cape Town Pride’s Race Card
T.J. Tallie | March 6th, 2014

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It’s beginning to seem that with every major pride event in South Africa comes an accompanying discussion of the country’s underlying racial fault lines.  In 2012, Johannesburg Pride infamously erupted in clashes between groups who wanted to use pride as a space to advocate for local LGBTI issues, particularly misogynist and homophobic violence directed at queer black women, and those who saw Pride as an apolitical space celebrating an ostensibly larger queer ‘unity.’  Last year, Joburg Pride moved to the well-heeled Sandton district, as local community groups organized ‘Peoples Prides,’ which included a pride celebration in Soweto and a subsequent march and rally on Constitution Hill in October.

This year has been Cape Town Pride’s turn to come under increasing scrutiny.  The Mother City’s Pride celebration was a ten day affair, lasting from 21 February until 1 March.  This year’s theme, was the ostensibly diverse and supportive, “Uniting the Cultures of Cape Town.”  However, the organization has run into considerable controversy.  Funeka Soldaat, chairman of the organization Free Gender, a black lesbian organization based in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township, announced that the organization would be boycotting Pride’s proceedings, instead hosting a dialogue and prayer session along with South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign.  Soldaat argued, in no uncertain terms, why Free Gender would not be participating in CTP.  “Cape Town Pride is run by white men and they are excluding women and the black community…The festival is seen as a place to go to drink and have fun. It has become meaningless.”  Soldaat argued that Pride, far from uniting the cultures of Cape Town, instead proposed that they be homogenized through a blanket wealthy, white, queer celebration in the most affluent parts of the City.  Free Pride argued that a single committee should plan and coordinate Pride events throughout the many diverse neighborhoods of Cape Town, from wealthy Green Point to poorer Coloured and African communities in places like Mitchell’s Plain, Gugulethu, and Khayelitsha.  Pointing to the leadership of the current Pride planning committee, Soldaat pointed out its overwhelmingly white, affluent and gay male affiliations.  Soldaat and Free Gender’s rejection of current Pride celebrations calls attention to the neoliberal logics of many contemporary Prides, which reduce the performative and political aspects of the event to a mere party that merely reinforces existing race, class, and gender hierarchies in the country.  To demand for increased representations of people in the larger Cape Town community challenges the presumed right of privileged white men to speak for women of color in the context of South African LGBTI issues.

Community journalist project GroundUp interviewed CTP director Matthew Van As in response to Soldaat’s comments on the organization.  Van As argued that CTP was not discriminatory, and those who believed the event solely for white, affluent gay men “imposed this perception on themselves.” But the very nature of having events primarily focused on the wealthy region of Green Point, and by not having representation from poorer people, people of color, and women are genuine problems.  To say that this hurts the interests of ‘unity’ proves that organizers are blinded by privilege to even see what is bound up in unity.  To lead organizations that exclude the majority of queer people from leadership or organization, that continue to invest in a commercial model of queer visibility, where one’s status is celebrated if you can afford it, is hardly unity.  It is hegemony instead of unity; the ability to dictate for all what queerness is and can be in post-apartheid South Africa.

When asked if CTP would consider making a public declaration in support of people like Zoliswa Nkonyana (whose rape and murder called attention the epidemic of misogynist and homophobic violence against queer township women) and Paul Semugoma (the queer Ugandan man who was granted asylum in South Africa after nearly being deported), Van As questioned whether Pride was the appropriate platform for such ‘emotionally charged issues.’  According to GroundUp, Van As then “suggested that CTP could not force the gay community to hear something that they may not be ready to hear.”  But then, who is the ‘gay community’ Van As is referencing?  Certainly it’s not working class black queers in townships, who bear the brunt of antigay violence in South Africa.  Such a claim echoes the cries of white pride organizer Jenny Green in 2012, who shouted, “This is my route!” at the activists who demanded that violence against black women be a major part of the pride in Johannesburg.  Who is being spoken for in the totalizing phrase ‘community’?  And in a country like South Africa, with a lengthy history of minorities speaking for the majority in the name of ‘unity,’ how can we avoid these moments of queer silencing, where a corporate model of Pride is used to homogenize and silence those without privilege and power?

Fortunately, it does seem that populist groups are threatening to rock the boat of Pride unity.  Last year’s People’s Pride march reinforced that LGBTI rights are intersectional and cannot be removed from larger histories of colonialism, capitalism, and exploitation in South Africa.  The work of Free Gender and Treatment Action Campaign may also be another productive starting point.  Both groups met on 1 March, the final day of Cape Town Pride, to hold a larger dialogue on homophobia throughout the continent.  Grassroots movements like these, then, seem to offer potential for a queer rights movement that emphasizes intersectional struggles over a unity that privileges only a few.

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T.J. Tallie

PhD student, historian, activist, friend, lover of gin and silliness.


5 thoughts on “Cape Town Pride’s Race Card

  1. The Cape Town Unitarian Church had a small delegation in the pride parade referred to in this article. We were marching in support of the gay and lesbian people all over the world who are under attack by homophobic individuals and organizations. The parade was supposed to take place in central Cape Town, but the route was changed the day before the event by the city traffic department because of conflict with a South African defense military exercise.

    Does anyone know what happened at the dialog that took place after the march?

  2. Great idea, complain that there aren’t enough representatives from your community, then don’t go represent your community. Everyone was entitled to have a float, why can’t there be one for black lesbians? Surely the best way to bring one’s plight to the attention of the ignorant is to demonstrate it? That’s one of the cornerstones of democracy.

  3. Before continuing to try to express my opinion, let me first state, that this is my personal view, and I do not officially represent Cape Town, nor speak on behalf of any of the volunteer committee members of Cape Town Pride. I am one of the volunteer organizers who help stage Pride each year, and have done so since 2012.

    My involvement came from a call by a friend of mine, activist/performer/artist Odidi Mfenyana, who forwarded a request to help “save” Cape Town Pride, which was floundering from a lack of volunteers, money and leadership. I’m a gay male, of Indian descent, from Durban (where we didn’t even have such a movement) who had come out to his family at 18 years old, and at 29 felt very strongly about that Pride was relevant, and was interested in seeing how I could help. I wandered into a volunteer meeting in January 2012, and have subsequently been involved ever since. I felt immediately included, that my contribution and opinion was valued, and that I had the power to make suggestions and be heard. The last three Prides have always been much the same: if anyone who felt strongly about Pride wanted to get involved, you could, and that involvement could be as little and as much as you wanted to give of yourself.

    When I read reports like these, I am both amused and irked. Amused since I am apparently boxed into this category of “white males” who run Pride, and then irked that people who ought to be intelligent enough to do their research and know better, still run with an ill-informed opinion, for reasons I can only imagine to try and be relevant from the virtue that their stance seems to be a controversial one, as any discussion in South Africa which relies on doing audits about race representation, discrimination and marginalization often do.

    One quick counterargument to the fact that a “corporate” model of Pride is a negative thing is that this depends on what ones notion is of “corporate” and how does the writer or anyone who feels similarly imagine how an event which reaches out to thousands of people not have to think about its financial sustainability? To further build on that, it is noteworthy that every single one of the members of the volunteer organizing committee, like myself, all have full time occupations which do not directly benefit from Pride, nor are we paid for the time we take away from our jobs, studies, and loved ones to do this once a year. I have very personal, altruistic reasons for coming back each year for what can be a very thankless and exhausting process.

    The notion that it is exclusionary, elitist or racist is ludicrous. This year, of all the volunteers who actually pulled off the main event of the Pride march and post-march celebration, white males were in the minority. Any notion of racism and segregation is just crying wolf.

    As far as the focus on Green Point for Pride, one of the aspects which are ignored is that historically, this has been a hub of the LGBTI community. It is also an area easily accessible using different types of transport, and the amount of gay businesses that are concentrated here who support Pride, have positioned Green Point as the only viable hub for Pride these 3 years I have been privy to its planning and staging. Cape Town remains the CBD of the region, and is where the Parliament of our country’s legislative capital sits. This particular year, an application was put through in August 2013 to stage the Pride march through Cape Town’s CBD, however, the City of Cape Town only informed 3 days before the event that this route was not possible due to a South African National Defense Force request, and the only backup route was that through Green Point.

    This year one of the things I did was being responsible for the organizing the floats for the parade, and I was personally struck by the diversity and the cohesiveness and social consciousness which emanated from the entire march. I am always left struck by the idea that those who have the most objections to how elitist/exclusionary/racist Pride is has obviously purposefully chosen not to participate. I also on an individual level organized a walking float of “Marching for those who can’t” in an effort to help individuals to ruminate on people who aren’t afforded the right to express themselves individually without fear of persecution, and to express their support of those who are having their human rights violated based upon who they love, whilst we are in the midst of celebrating our freedom experienced in South Africa as members or friends of the LGBTI community.

    It seems there will always be these sorts of arguments which are fuelled by inflamed individuals who somehow make themselves newsworthy by merit of being able to be libelous, lazy and loud about their points of view. The only way I can think of actually convincing anyone otherwise, is to come to attend the next Cape Town Pride, and better yet, get involved, and make help display your own pride.

  4. an interesting selection / cherry-picking of facts… the galleries of pics seem to tell a strangely different story… maybe what we have here is a failure to communicate … maybe it takes two (sides) to tango … and no one is perfect? maybe we should move away from an “either/or” scenario and towards a “both/and” one? that said i only ever attend the parade and therefore my opinions are limited to that experience …
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=558465924252054&set=pcb.558469180918395&type=1&theater

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