Deeply conservative Swaziland / Eswatini is to see its first-ever LGBTI pride event on Saturday (30 June 2018). The state police in the kingdom controlled by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, has granted permission for it to take place.
Homosexual acts are illegal in the tiny kingdom of 1.1 million people where most of the population live under a feudal system isolated in rural areas.
Traditionalists, led by the King who has 15 wives, are antagonistic to LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex) people and say their lifestyles are 'unSwazi'.
The pride event was officially launched on Friday (22 June 2018). US Ambassador to Swaziland Lisa Peterson told the launch the event was a call to respect the human rights of all people.
The event is organised by Rock of Hope an advocacy group for LGBTI people. Its Advocacy and Communication Officer Melusi Simelane said the event was a day of freedom of expression.
The event is at the Prince of Wales Stadium, Mbabane, starting at 9 a.m.
There is a long history of discrimination against LGBTI people in Swaziland. Pitty Dludlu told the annual Joshua Mzizi Memorial Lecture held in Ezulwini in December 2017 they faced a number of issues that included access to health care without stigma and prejudice. She said police and health care workers were the worse abusers of LGBTI people.
In a review of human rights in Swaziland in 2017 the US State Department noted, 'Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was prevalent, and LGBTI persons generally concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTI persons who were open regarding their sexual orientation and relationships faced censure and exclusion from the chiefdom-based patronage system, which could result in eviction from one's home.
'Chiefs, pastors, and government officials criticized same-sex sexual conduct as neither morally Swazi nor Christian. LGBTI advocacy organizations had trouble registering with the government.'
It added, 'On July 23 , a third-year University of Swaziland student committed suicide, reportedly because he found himself isolated after his family rejected him due to his sexual orientation.'
In May 2016 Rock of Hope reported to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Swaziland that laws, social stigma and prejudice prevented LGBTI organisations from operating freely.
The report, presented jointly with three South African-based organisations, stated, in Swaziland sexual health rights of LGBTI were not protected and there was inequality in the access to health care.
The report added, 'LGBTIs are discriminated and condemned openly by society. This is manifest in negative statements uttered by influential people in society e.g., religious, traditional and political leaders. Traditionalists and conservative Christians view LGBTIs as against Swazi tradition and religion. There have been several incidents where traditionalists and religious leaders have issued negative statements about lesbians.
'Human rights abuses and violations against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex population continue to go undocumented, unreported, unprosecuted and not addressed.'
It added, 'There is no legislation recognizing LGBTIs or protecting the right to a non-heterosexual orientation and gender identity and as a result LGBTI cannot be open about their orientation or gender identity for fear of rejection and discrimination.'
HOOP (House of Our Pride), a support group for LGBTI people, reported to the United Nation in 2011, 'It is a common scene for LGBTI to be verbally insulted by by-passers in public places. [There is] defamatory name calling and people yelling out to see a LGBTI person's reproductive part are some of the issues facing LGBTI in Swaziland.'