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MBABANE – We did it! This was the reaction of Melusi Simelane, the Communications Officer for Lesbian Gays Bisexual Transgender and Itersex (LGBTI) group Rock of Hope, which successfully organised the first-ever Gay Pride event in Eswatini yesterday in Mbabane.

The event attracted over 300 people who included three diplomats, namely; USA Ambassador Lisa Petersen, European Union Commission Ambassador Esmeralda Hernadez Aragones, and representative from the Germany Consular’s office, to name but a few.
Simelane had all the reason to smile, given that all the pre-march fears were allayed; firstly by the tremendous support they received from the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS). Secondly, the event went on smoothly as both parties; marchers and police cooperated throughout. 

By all intents and purposes, it was a march that confronted and attempted to break the socially entrenched homophobic stereotypes, as it started at the Prince Wales Sports Ground along Gwamile Street before connecting Msakato Street and proceeded downward towards Zwide Street.

From there they took a short upward turn along Mdada Street before making a turn along Dzeliwe Street back to Msakato Street and to their starting point - Prince of Wales.

There was high anticipation among the marchers that they would be allowed to proceed towards the city centre, but the agreement with the police was to avoid those busy areas of the city for security reasons. The messages out there were about sensitising society to embrace this group of people, show them respect, and love them just as God loved them. They wanted to be accepted, accorded the freedom to live their lives to the fullest without being judged. One outstanding banner read; ‘Yes I am sinner before God, not before another sinner.’

The local LGBTI community was well represented, with the likes of Frankie Dlamini and Cherise ‘C4’ Ford bravely leading the march alongside Melusi Simelane.

message from Ugandan LGBTI group
A message from the Ugandan LGBTI group was read at the Eswatini Gay Pride. It was delivered by All Out Executive director Mart Beard as he greeted the marchers yesterday. “To have finally pulled it off is an achievement we should celebrate. The attendance was overwhelming as you can see. It is true that we would have appreciated going to the busy streets to show the people that we are not afraid of who we are, but for a start we should celebrate holding the first march,” he said.

Beard said this was the first step of what would now be an annual event. He said the reason they tolerated the restriction was to show the police that it was a peaceful march that should not be restricted. He then challenged all human rights advocacy groups to come out and speak in support of LGBTI persons.

In his rallying call, he specifically mentioned the likes of the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) to show their face in fighting this form of abuse. The consensus around the historic march that was dominated mostly by foreigners from South Africa and oversees was that LGBTI groups were part of society and should be afforded their rights like every human being.
Diplomats praise first-

ever Eswatini Pride

Ambassador Petersen did not beat about the bush in stating that the march was there to confront social stereotypes against gays and lesbians.
She quoted slain American human rights activist Martin Luther King Junior’s ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.’ “I am proud to be here and I would like to thank you all for coming up in numbers. Let us march to encourage others to come out and let them fight the injustices,” she said.

She was echoed by her EU counterpart Esmeralda Hernandez Aragones who said she was happy to be at the first ever Eswatini Pride because it spoke to freedom and human rights.
She said the EU always defended human rights and gender equality.
Meanwhile, Beard hailed the people for attending the historic march. The only blip was the absence of a representative from the Human Rights Commission which had been allocated an opportunity to address the marchers.
However, in a later interview, HRC Chairperson Sabelo Masuku said they did not shun the event as they had representatives on the ground. He said the only misunderstanding might have been that they had not been made aware that they would have to address the marchers.
“We have been involved since the preparations started and even when there were reports that the permission to march had been withdrawn we had to engage the police to find out what might have happened. We also had investigators on the ground who were there to monitor if the marchers’ rights were respected and not violated,” he said.
He said they only expected them to given the same preference as any group to hold a march by following the laid down procedures. He said the march could be a start of a conversation in the country, because there is no specific law that prevents them from coming out and be known.
It might not have been the most colourful in terms of people being crazy as the theme said ‘Go Crazy’- especially from local gays and lesbians, but the support from individuals and groups from outside the country was undoubted. There were a number of foreign journalists covering the Pride, including those from Ligwalagwala FM, a South African radio station which constantly broadcast reports on the march during the build-up to the event. The march was part of what would be an eventful day as later in the afternoon, they hosted a musical and fashion show.

Business booms for vendors
Business was booming for local handcraft vendors who were allowed to put up stalls for free. The Rock of Hope’s Melusi Simelane said allowing small businesses to sell without a charge was a way of demonstrating their love and tolerance for everyone in the society. “We didn’t get support from the big business for the event, but thanks to All Out who funded the whole event. We were then happy to allow even the big companies and some partners to set up stalls here to market their products,” he said.
Foreign media has been following the event since it was first announced. All Out’s Beard was quoted by the online News Beast on Thursday hailing Simelane for his persistence in ensuring that the Eswatini Pride was eventually launched and held. “I was so impressed by his determination, really against all the odds, to pull this off,” said Beard.
“There have not been many Prides in Africa, and this is a small country - a monarchy where homosexuality is illegal - and this young guy had this vision to pull together this moment. This will be the first time this community has been able to come together in public, to have that level of dignity and pride in themselves,” Beard was quoted by the online publication.
He went on to say that the idea of walking down the street proudly for gays and lesbians was never an easy task. What was notable about the event was that it commenced with a prayer by a Manzini-based LGBTI member who preferred to be called babe Lukhele.
The fusing of the Christian element into the whole march was well received by the members who even during the march sung a couple of gospel songs such as Noyana, EGalile, Eyethindaba ayipheleli lapha, to mention a few.
In his prayer, he said LGBTI groups were like clay that was spoilt in the potter’s hand who is God. “He then allowed us to live with our weaknesses, but we still yearn to fulfill our spiritual needs,” he said.
Bafana Mhlanga from Victorious Ministries Church International in Ermelo wore a T-shirt inscribed ‘God is love’ and said coming from a gay oriented congregation, they were in the country to support the historic march. “God wants us as we are with our weaknesses. No one can and should judge me. Only God can judge us and people should not be defined by someone else. No one should tell them that they in sin,” he said.

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