Africa’s last monarchy, eSwatini – formerly known as Swaziland – will celebrate gay pride in the nation’s first LGBT event on Saturday, despite open criticism from the public and the risk of arrest.
In a country where homosexuality is prohibited, the LGBTI rights group Rock of Hope took a courageous step organizing the event in Mbabane where an estimated 2,000 supporters are expected to attend.
In an interview with the BBC, Melusi Simelane, a spokesman for Rock of Hope, said: “If not now, when? The right time will never come. It is an issue of being courageous enough. So we decided if no-one is going to do it, we would.”
United under the slogan ‘Turn hate into love,’ the event takes a stand for human rights and LGBTI pride, which has previously been denounced as “satanic,” an “abnormality” and a “sickness” by the country’s monarch, King Mswati III.
Matt Beard, the chief executive of the NGO LGBTI rights group All Out, praised the organizers for their bravery: “There have not been many Prides in Africa, and this is a small country – an absolute monarchy where homosexuality is illegal – and this young guy had this vision to pull together this moment.
“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.”
According to Simelane, however, in the lead-up to the event, pride activists have been targeted and publicly humiliated for their beliefs.
“There is persecution each and every day. We are harassed, we are violently abused, we are emotionally abused,” the Rock Hope spokesman said. “We are a small country with a very welcoming culture. Everyone is interesting to see what it is going to look like.
“We are going to look back on this day and say this was the day it all started. The Rock of Hope was founded in 2011, but this will be the day the government started paying attention to us.”
Nontobeko Dlamini, eSwatini LGBTI group House of Our Pride’s executive director, said: “It makes me happy to be alive and to see this day. We have lost the ones that started this, but we are here to see it through.”