Last Saturday, the LGBT community of The Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) held their first ever pride march and celebration event. Officially renamed eSwatini in April, Africa’s last absolute monarchy held its first pride parade marking a joyous, historic milestone for the southern African nation’s LGBTQ community.
The march, which was organized by the LGBT organisation Rock of Hope, commenced at the Prince of Wales Stadium in the country’s capital city, Mbabane, where reputable names such as socialite Franky Dlamini, rapper C4, US Ambassador in Swaziland Lisa Peterson, among others, participated in the event.
Homosexuality is outlawed in eSwatini, ruled by King Mswati III who in the past is reported to have described homosexuality as “satanic.” The country remains subtly hostile to the LGBTIQ community whose couples cannot marry or adopt children.
However, the march turned out to be a success. even though some Swazis, including the human rights group SWAGAA (Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse), weren’t so happy with the march. A full-page letter on last week’s Sunday Observer accused those organising the march of promoting “paedophilia and bestiality”, calling on the organisers to “cancel this gay Pride until Emaswati have decided that they will choose this unnatural behaviour”.
But for Melusi Simelane, communications officer for LGBTI rights group Rock of Hope, which organised the event in the capital, it was a case of: “If not now, when?”
“The right time will never come,” he told the BBC. “It is an issue of being courageous enough. So we decided if no-one is going to do it, we would.”
So on 30 June, Mr Simelane, joined by other LGBTI people and supporters in the capital Mbabane, marched on united by the slogan “Turn Hate Into Love”.
“I was so impressed by his determination, really against all the odds, to pull this off,” said Matt Beard, chief executive of All Out, a “global movement for love and equality” which helped support the event. “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 wrote on Medium that “the community and their allies painted the streets of this country rainbow, with a beautiful, colourful parade that was literally exploding with joy.
“At certain moments,” he said, “the infectious joy of this community was so intense, it was difficult to hold back the tears. We were loud, proud and dignified.”
Photos and video posted on social media showed hundreds of people waving rainbow flags and signs emblazoned with the words “Turn Hate Into Love,” the event’s official slogan, on the streets of the Swazi capital of Mbabane on Saturday.
“This is the first event of its kind, our first opportunity to show our faces to the world and to our country,” Simelane, described as the “driving force” behind the pride parade, told the outlet. “I am not scared.”
It is estimated 500 people gathered to walk in Mbabane, the country’s largest city, and wave the rainbow flag proudly. The small southern African country has a bleak record on LGBT rights. The country of 1.4 million also has the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rates and suffers from severe poverty.