Kingdom of eSwatini marches in step with the progressive world with first Pride

When news of the first ever Gay Pride march to take place in the conservative Kingdom of eSwatini circulated on social media in June, I found myself in awe and disbelief.

Fifty years after gaining independence, this small landlocked country I call home, and Africa’s last absolute monarch, was finally celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. I experienced fear, joy and anxiety all at the same time.

Having lived in eSwatini for some of my younger years and subsequently visiting family there a few times a year, it seemed that progress was finally on the cards.

Change in general is not easily accepted, especially in places such as the Swati kingdom where people are firmly rooted in their religious and cultural beliefs. This was why I could not fathom how members of the LGBTQ+ community would manage Pride in such a space, and worried about the wellbeing of people who would take part in the march in Mbabane.

I was even more unnerved when I came across tweets such as the one that read, “I’m sad that there are churches preaching against and forbidding their members from attending #EswatiniPride. I’m saddened by the ignorance and hypocrisy. I’m just so gotdamn (Sic) disappointed.”

This negative reaction was not a surprise having had my own experiences with churches in eSwatini as a black lesbian Swati woman. As a teenager I was told that being lesbian was demonic and on several occasions my aunt would invite different pastors to our house to pray for me in order to save me from going to hell.

In the Kingdom of eSwatini, being LGBTQ+ is seen as ungodly, unacceptable.

The march, on June 30, was a success with around 500 people in attendance, according to the Times of Swaziland. The number was significant  because eSwatini is a small country with a population of around 1.3 million. The Pride flag flew high that day with people showing their support for equality and respect for diversity.

The Pride event gave me hope as it signalled progress in terms of the LGBTQ+ community having a voice, and defending its rights and freedom.

Pride marches are about the LGBTQ+ community coming together and celebrating each other. They are about the freedom to be and to express who you are. In a small country such as Eswatini the LGBTQ+ community has been overlooked, marginalised and discriminated against.

Embracing and celebrating who one is does not equate to undermining the culture or beliefs of others or the powers that be in the country. It is about having conversations about the issues the LGBTQ+ community faces.

I can only hope that this was the first of many Pride marches that will happen in the Kingdom and that all Swati queers can have some sort of liberation now to openly be in romantic relationships.


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