Swaziland, officially renamed eSwatini in April, held its first pride parade this weekend — marking a joyous, historic milestone for the southern African nation’s LGBTQ community.
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.
All Out, an international LGBTQ nonprofit group, described the day’s festivities as a “HUGE” success — an encouraging outcome that organizers said had been far from assured in a country where male homosexuality is outlawed and discrimination against LGBTQ people is commonplace.
Melusi Simelane of The Rock of Hope, a Swazi LGBTQ advocacy group, had told The Daily Beast last week that “threats to the safety” of attendees had been received by organizers and police. Simelane insisted, however, that the event would proceed.
“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.”
Homosexuality is illegal in eSwatini, which is also Africa’s last absolute monarchy. King Mswati III, who has ruled the country since 1986, has reportedly described homosexuality as being “satanic.”
Simelane said threats and discrimination are a constant for eSwatini’s LGBTQ community.
“There is persecution each and every day,” he told BBC last week. “We are harassed, we are violently abused, we are emotionally abused.
On Saturday, Matt Beard, All Out’s executive director, praised activists like Simelane for their courage and their ambition to hold the pride parade despite the risks and threats they’ve faced.
“The community and their allies painted the streets of this country rainbow, with a beautiful, colorful parade that was literally exploding with joy,” Beard wrote of the historic event in a Medium blog post. “At certain moments... the infectious joy of this community was so intense, it was difficult to hold back the tears. We were loud, proud and dignified. Nobody came to hurl hate, abuse (or worse) at us, as had been feared. Instead, this was a moment of community and personal empowerment.”
Beard said the success of the Swazi parade would serve to inspire other LGBTQ communities across Africa.
“It will empower other African movements to defy those who wish to silence LGBT+ people and embolden them to come out on the streets in pride and courage,” he said.