Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Jo`burg pride Shut down!

Johannesburg, South Africa, 3 April 2013: The board of Joburg Gay Pride Festival Company (JGPFC) has voted to wind up the Section 21 (not-for-profit) company that has produced Joburg Pride over the past seven years. JGPFC was voluntarily wound up by unanimous resolution at a board meeting held on Wednesday, 13 March 2013. As such, the Joburg Gay Pride Festival Company will cease operation from 26 April 2013.

“It was a very big decision, and one that didn’t come easily,” says board member Samantha Durkin. “We have been successfully running Joburg Pride for the past seven years, growing it from a one-day event that attracted a few thousand participants into a multifaceted event over three days, including an evening programme, which has been attracting crowds of more than 20,000. It became increasingly time-demanding and operationally complicated over the past few years, especially as it’s been run by a board of volunteers who’ve contributed their skills, time, networks and contacts, with virtually all of Joburg Pride’s planning taking place after hours.”

“Looking back, we have a lot to be proud of,” says Durkin, “as we’ve supported the work of a number of worthy causes and charities over the years and have enjoyed the support of the local and international LGBTI community, as well as the support of great local and international artists, and greatly-appreciated sponsorship from a number of blue chip companies.”

Board member Fulvio De Stefanis says a number of challenges influenced the board’s decision, including the loss of the Zoo Lake Sports Club as a venue to host the event due to security risks, the loss of support by the South African Police Services (SAPS), as well as the loss of support by the two local ward councillors for the event to happen in their precinct.

“Joburg Pride been a passion project for each of our volunteer board members,” says De Stefanis.
“It’s been our way to try to help unite a very diverse LGBTI community, while building an annual event designed to have far-reaching positive impact on Johannesburg’s tourism and entertainment industries and showcasing the ground-breaking work by South Africa’s burgeoning NGO, arts and culture sectors. ”

“The interruption of last year’s Joburg Pride march by the activist group 1-in-9 was also a factor in our reasoning,” says De Stefanis. “1-in-9’s unfortunate interruption of Pride 2012 shifted the event from a low-risk event into a high-risk category, which would negatively impact on our operational structures and budgets going forward. It provided great short-term publicity for 1-in-9, but created far-reaching negative publicity for Joburg Pride. It’s ironic, as we agreed with their message – but not their medium, as it obviously negated our work over the past seven years, while providing a hint of potential operational and security risks – something we’ve always been prepared for, but never had to previously deal with on such a scale. Ultimately, all of these factors combined would impact on the time and financial limitations of the board,” says De Stefanis. “We assessed the financial and security risks against our collective personal obligation to
produce a safe and inclusive event that’s also creatively rewarding and financially viable – something that Africa’s powerhouse, Johannesburg, certainly deserves. After careful consideration we are, unfortunately, unable to guarantee meeting those obligations in the future.”

Africa’s first-ever Pride march took place in Johannesburg in 1989, with its roots firmly founded in human rights activism. The first Pride march saw around 1 000 brave activists assembling outside of the offices of the South African Institute of Race Relations in Braamfontein, before marching through Hillbrow and the Joburg city centre, many of them wearing masks or paper bags to cover their faces. Since then, Joburg Pride grew into the African continent’s oldest and biggest (and loudest and proudest) Pride march, attracting tens of thousands of supporter every year from throughout metro Joburg and Pretoria, as well as visitors from around the country, the continent and the world.

As noted in the definitive book outlining Joburg Pride’s history [Pride: Protest and Celebration, edited by Shaun de Waal and Anthony Manion; Jacana Media 2006], the first Joburg Pride took place on 13 October 1990, organised by the Gay & Lesbian Organisation of the Witwatersrand (GLOW), which was headed by the legendary Johannesburg-based human rights, anti-apartheid and AIDS activist, Simon Nkoli. In his famous pre-march address at the first Joburg Pride, Nkoli said, “This is what I say to my comrades in the struggle when they ask why I waste time fighting for ‘moffies’, this is what I say to gay men and lesbians who ask me why I spend so much time struggling against apartheid when I should be fighting for gay rights. I am black and I am gay. I cannot separate the two parts of me into secondary or primary struggles. In South Africa, I am oppressed because I am a black man and I am oppressed because I am gay. So when I fight for my freedom I must fight against both oppressions. All those who believe in a democratic South Africa must fight against all oppression, all intolerance, all injustice.” Nkoli passed away in 1998, but his work continues, his torch carried by a new generation.

Of course, like the city and country around it, Joburg Pride changed over the years – with dizzying highs and discouraging lows, occasionally changing organisers and attendant support bases, with new routes and updated themes. It was an organic product and process, carefully grown and finely balanced between the varying needs and interests of a diverse LGBTI community that’s spread out over a vast geographical area. Since 2007 Joburg Pride was organised by the Joburg Gay Pride Festival Company (JGPFC), a Section 21 (not-for-profit) company, that was run by a board of volunteers who donated their time, skills and energies in an endeavour to best address the LGBTI community’s needs, interests and requests – againsta back-drop of Pride’s sustainability and financial viability.

Since those early days, Joburg Pride has grown into powerful brand in its own right, attracting the support of big business over the years including Jacaranda 94.2, Play Energy Drink (Coca-Cola), SAB-Miller, Cell C, Lufthansa, Swiss Air and DGB. While Joburg Pride’s foundational past is acknowledged and celebrated, it’s constructing the future that’s most dreamt about and anticipated. Tomorrow will be better than today – it’s a concept that must be built upon for Joburg Pride, and for South Africa.

Concludes De Stefanis, “We trust interested parties in the LBGTI community will work together and perhaps form an organising body to take Joburg Pride’s legacy forward. We trust members of the community will keep the torch burning, building on this board’s hard work over the past seven years to grow Joburg Pride into an international event, as well building on the pioneering work done by countless individuals and teams since Pride’s inception nearly a quarter of a century ago. Looking ahead, it’s a well-known fact that South Africa’s LGBTI community is relatively powerful, extremely creative and tenaciously resourceful. Accordingly, we look forward to seeing what grows from the event we’ve built upon over the past seven years.”

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