Kingdom of Eswatini’s first Pride

The fight for liberation from oppression dates back as far as the inception of modernity. Where there has been oppression, there has been resistance. Despite the ways in which history may have been manipulated to portray inequality as a product of natural selection, there is another story that surfaces to disprove such harmful fallacies.

Though the inspiration was the blistering oppression of African-American Women, the term “intersectionality” still applies as a lens to see how power operates. Professor Crenshaw expressly discusses power and oppression on her papers on intersectionality. It is her work that inspires this discussion some 20 years later.

Today, oppression still bears a great resemblance to its origin. But the conversation has become more nuanced, influenced largely by newer understandings of the intersections of the multiple oppressions and privileges that can reside in one body. Fighting for the rights of women, LGBTI+ people, disabled people and other disenfranchised groups is always deprioritised in conversations and struggles for equality. We are both marginalised and privileged in various ways at the same time. Recognition of this complexity has often been met with resistance by those who believe that struggles should be waged along a single axis in the name of unity. 

June 30, 2018 will forever remain a bittersweet day for me, and the entire LGBTI+ movement in the Kingdom of Eswatini. It is marked on the LGBTI+ Calendar as the day we faced the oppressor and said, “Love Wins”. It has been 49 years since the first stone was thrown at police in New York, Manhattan at the Stonewall Inn riots. That stone set in motion a wave of public resistance to the discrimination faced by LGBTI+ people globally. Today, that wave is still in motion.

Our existence as the LGBTI+ community has already been paid for with events like the Stonewall Inn Riots, and yet the journey has not come to an end. Our constitution dictates that we have the right to:

  1. protection of privacy of the home
  2. protection from inhuman or degrading treatment
  3. equality before the law and equal protection of the law

Simelane with other attendees of first Swati Pride

These are not just words in black and white. These are declarations that His Majesty consented to in 2005 when he signed into Act the Constitution of the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland). His guidance and leadership has indeed allowed us to use the very privileges permitted by the Constitution to host the inaugural Pride celebration.

The humanity required in attaining equality for all cannot bear fruits if we are not all committed to the project of social justice for everyone. It is dependent on the commitment of each and every one of us because we rely on humanity to carry us through. We have all showcased in our numbers that we shall not allow injustice to prevail. I am counting on the humanity of everyone who attended the country’s first Pride, and those that followed through social and mainstream media to see this work through. When we look at each other, regardless of the multiple social positions we occupy, we should see the individual first.

Many have asked why LGBTI+ people require a special event such as Pride. The riots of 1969 did not start out of a need to boast, they started out of a demand to live free from persecution and harassment for being who we are. Almost 50 years later that the LGBTI+ is still asking to be treated fairly and equally, to be recognised as valid members of society, means work remains to be done.

The goal of this event was to create opportunities for people from all walks of life to publicly connect with new and old allies. We wanted to celebrate our lives in Eswatini and our accomplishments as a community and country. We also intended to educate the public about our culture, our place in society, and our issues of concern. Through the success of this event we were able to demonstrate our diversity, our numbers, and the spirit of pride we feel within ourselves, our community and country.

Way-forward 

Security for marginalised people is often thought of in terms of protection from violence. Resources invested in protection are prone to exhaustion, if not accompanied by an addressing of the sources of violence, and what defines violence. It is the very exclusion of marginalised people from structures of decision-making and policy-development, that define, develop, innovate and formulate that leaves others comprised and perpetuates violence. A display of true diversity in decision-making structures on all levels of society presents opportunities for creating a safer and more secure future.

The LGBTI+ community continues to live under harsh conditions in Eswatini, and the success of the inaugural Pride should not dim the light on the fight for social inclusion and the need for legal reform. With the Common Law Offence of Sodomy we live under state-sanctioned fear. In our everyday existences, this translates to augmented access to basic services from government agencies, be it clinics or hospitals, police, or Home Affairs. 

Societal stigma and discrimination can too often translate into physical violence. In addition to this, there is also emotional and psychological violence, which can translate to mental illnesses. Because of blistering utterances made by senior and influential figures, Eswatini continues to be an unfriendly and threatening place for LGBTI+ persons. In an article ran by the Times of Swaziland, dated 24 June, 2018, the Police Public Relations Officer is quoted as saying, “Homosexuality would not be tolerated in the country”. The criminalisation of same-sex relationships violates privacy and disregards human dignity. It is degrading in an incomprehensible way, as it suggests we are simply a sexual act rather than whole people and active participants in our societies.

It’s time for the Kingdom of Eswatini to take a stand and treat every citizen with dignity and respect. It’s time to remove outdated laws and replace them with those that nurture and encourage everyone in society irrespective of their sexuality. We need legal reform; safety, security and well-being; access to services; access to justice; and meaningful socio-economic participation.

The issue of a secure and prosperous future for the country cannot be divorced from the issue of justice for victims of violence. More than that the experience of marginalisation changes as the differences that one person embodies transform from one form of marginalisation to another, intersectionality of oppression, and leave them vulnerable to further oppression in ways that others might not experience.

The Kingdom of Eswatini should repeal all laws that criminalise consensual, same-sex relations between adults. And should rather introduce strong anti-discrimination legislation that protects all citizens and enables them to give their best to society. A fight for equality must ensure that no one gets left behind

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