The 34th Johannesburg Pride, a vibrant celebration of LGBTQ+ pride and equality, drew a massive crowd of approximately 24,000 participants at Wanderers Stadium on Saturday. This year’s event carried a profound message of solidarity as it dedicated the march to LGBTQ+ individuals living in Uganda, who grapple with the world’s most severe anti-gay laws under Uganda’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
In May, Uganda’s government signed the archaic legislation into law, intensifying the already harsh punishments for LGBTQ+ individuals in the country, where same-sex sexual activity is criminalized. The new law imposes life imprisonment for same-sex sexual activity and even the death penalty for what is termed “aggravated homosexuality.” Shockingly, this includes individuals who engage in sexual activity with people who are disabled, HIV positive, mentally challenged, or over the age of 75, among other categories. Additionally, anyone found to “promote” or “normalise” homosexuality faces up to 20 years in prison.
Johannesburg Pride organizer Kaye Ally emphasized the relevance of Pride in the face of such challenges, stating, “We are very far away from creating an inclusive society where children, the youth, and adults are totally accepted for their authentic selves.” She added that the sentiment that being gay is “un-African” has reached its peak, making it crucial to march in solidarity, especially for LGBTQ+ Ugandans.
Leading the parade was Mandela Swali, a 25-year-old gay man from Uganda who had recently sought refuge in South Africa after being arrested for engaging in consensual sex with his boyfriend. Adorned with glitter and the Ugandan flag, Swali expressed his gratitude, saying, “This is the space and this is the family I deserve to have right now. I feel like I’m at home.”
As Johannesburg Pride brought together thousands in a colorful display of unity and love, it stood as a powerful symbol of support for LGBTQ+ individuals not just in South Africa but across Africa, particularly those facing the harsh realities of Uganda’s repressive Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In the face of adversity, the message was clear: Pride persists as a beacon of hope and change on the continent.