Comment: The small gay pride march with a lion’s roar

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.’s Nikki Sinclair reports on South Africa’s 5th gay pride celebrations in Cape Town.

Imagine how delighted my girlfriend and I were last Thursday to find out that, through sheer serendipity, we had managed to arrive in Cape Town just in time for ‘Pride’ weekend, during our brief trip to South Africa. We had spent a very interesting ten days already, visiting the rather more conservative Durban and Pretoria, and were now staying very close to the gay village in Cape Town. We couldn’t wait to take part in the festivities, and hopefully make some new friends along the way.

We were curious too. I grew up during apartheid, and although often invited had refused to visit South Africa under that regime. Ten years after the African National Council (ANC) took power; South Africa is a fascinating country still struggling with the aftermath of apartheid with its extremes of wealth and poverty as well as new problems such as the difficulties in ensuring that the improvements reach the townships. The townships are where the black community were forced to live during apartheid, and are often little more than corrugated iron hovels, sometimes covered in plastic in lieu of roofs. The poorest still live there, but are now benefiting from electricity and sanitation due to the efforts of the ANC.

I know very little of the details of South African history, but I was struck again and again during my trip there by the extreme differences, indeed it seemed often that political apartheid had merely been replaced by economic apartheid. There seems to be extreme differences in culture and belief too, ranging from the Zulu witchcraft through to unrestrained commercialism.

It had not even occurred to us that there might be Cape Town Pride, although we knew the city was the most liberal in South Africa, and possessed a thriving gay ‘scene ‘ Elsewhere in South Africa attitudes towards homosexuality seemed rather less positive than those in London, I was very struck by a book review in a local woman’s magazine about Sarah Water’s new book, which suggested that if the reader could put aside their prejudices it was a worthwhile read!

The parade itself was much smaller than that in London and Brighton, which reach a combined amount of over 400,000 people, but was also different being purely made up of floats without any marchers. The jeers of many of the onlookers were quite upsetting to hear, and were particularly aimed at the black participants by black onlookers. These, coupled with last week’s rape and lynching of a black ‘out’ lesbian in the townships, were poignant reminders of the courage it takes to be gay in South Africa.

The Parade started and finished in Cape Town’s gay village, where a street party was held under the clear blue sky and hot sun of this beautiful city. We were overlooked by the stunningly beautiful Table Mountain on one side of the city, and framed by the ocean on the other. The hospitality and generosity of the women of Cape Town mirrored the beauty of our surroundings. We were almost immediately ‘adopted’ and spent the day of the march and the next drinking, dancing, partying and talking with our new friends.

During Pride we were entertained by some very good cabaret, and the most beautiful and graceful belly dancer I have ever seen. Everything is different in Cape Town, including the portable toilets. Staggering back from them everyone was delightedly talking about their sparkling cleanliness, they came complete with a toilet attendant who was diligently mopping and cleaning up after each use, and there were no queues! An example London could do well in following!!

And everywhere beautiful women (and men too.) All sizes, ages, styles and colour celebrating our sexuality. Most lesbian couples seemed to be quite butch/femme. A heart stopping kiss between a mixed black and while lesbian couple and the winning of the Beauty ‘Queen’ competition by a beautiful black guy summed up the inspirational and positive changes in today’s’ South Africa.

Cape Town Pride reminded us all over again that the personal is always political. Just by their very being, the lesbians and gays of Cape Town are at the centre of change and challenge across cultural, religious, racial and political lines in South Africa.