BY ALISON HERMANUS
Fellow South Africans, the country’s pride month is here and queer bodies all around the country are celebrating.
The month of October is a special time for queer individuals who live in South Africa, as it is South African Pride Month. Pride Month is a time for queer voices to be heard and for queer individuals to express themselves unapologetically.
As there are many queer individuals on Stellenbosch University (SU) campus, both students and members of the public feel that it is important to have some historical context on what this month actually means.
“I didn’t even know the historical context and I wish that I knew,” says Karla Fourie, a second-year BA (Humanities student). “I think…[there should be something from] the university’s side…like an article about what this month actually means and [why] it is very important.”
The first South African pride parade took place on 13 October 1990 in Johannesburg, and was also the first pride parade in Africa as a whole. This is the reason for South African Pride Month taking place in October as opposed to June, which is the date of the World Pride Month commemorating the first pride parade in the world, which was held in New York on 28 June 1970.
South Africa is the first and only country in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage, and its constitution was the first in the world to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as stated by the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Additionally, South Africa has an approved and accepted national pride flag which is a combination of the South African flag and the rainbow pride flag.
Although this month is filled with celebration, it may also be seen as a time to reflect on the sacrifices made to get to where the country is today. “It’s super important. It’s a month where we get to celebrate the entire queer community and ourselves as individuals, and express ourselves. You know, the way we should be able to express ourselves every day. So it just gives us that opportunity to do that throughout the whole month of October,” says Kirsten Gonsalves, the founder and co-owner of Alaska Lane, a South African pride apparel brand.
Gonsalves and her girlfriend, Moniza Heymans, started their brand to create a safe space for the queer community in South Africa. Gonsalves commented on behalf of their brand about the individuals who paved the way for the current pride celebrations, saying, “For us, it’s also just [about] remembering all the people who fought so hard for our equality.”
SU students can also join SU’s own queer society on campus. QueerUs is a society at SU that strives to be a safe space for queer individuals on campus. It is a society with respect and without oppression, where voices are heard and protected. According to their webpage, their aim is to educate students and the public, advocate for the liberation of queer bodies, and oppose any form of discrimination against queerness.
To find out more about what South African Pride Month means to queer people on campus, Die Matie turned to Abongile Quthu, a second-year BA (International Studies) student who will be the vice chairperson of QueerUs next year. “Pride month, to me, means restoring the dignity of queer people, showing humanity to queer people, [and] respecting and having human decency as allies,” says Quthu who later adds, “This is not a heterosexual world, but a world for all.”
Quthu also commented on queer people paying respects to those who came before them, saying, “This month is about celebrating queer people. It’s about embracing who we are, and it’s about standing tall and paying respect to all queer people who came before us and to the queer people who have passed away due to hate crimes.”
The month of October is about living with pride and being who you are, as well as fostering a sense of community and standing together during adversities. That is why QueerUs is planning an event for SU students on campus this month, which is something to look forward to.
South Africa has made great legislative strides toward the acceptance of the queer community, but there is still a long way to go. Whilst the country is moving in the right direction, there is still room for improvement, since there is a lack of education about the queer community that leads to issues like discrimination.
“I think [it would be helpful] to mobilise our education system and [to understand] that we need to include a queer education within the system of our country. There [are] so many young people that are queer within the country and we need to prioritise the importance of educating young people about queerness,” Quthu adds when asked about where they see room for improvement.
South African Pride Month may be an exciting but also challenging time. Some words of advice Quthu wants to leave their fellow members of the queer community this month are: “Be yourself in all various spaces we may exist in. Whether you feel pressured or discriminated against, you will never know how many lives you are helping by just being yourself. Become a voice for the voiceless.”
“It is important that they should not care what other people think about them. Put your own happiness first and do not live your life for others. That won’t make them happy,” says Gonsalves on behalf of herself and her brand.
“Don’t be afraid to be yourself and, even if you think no one’s going to like you for who you are, I promise you there is someone,” finishes Fourie as a final piece of advice for the community. Die Matie wishes SU students a safe and happy South African Pride Month.