4 July 2018

Swaziland: LGBTI Pride Gets Global Attention

International media extensively reported Swaziland's first ever LGBTI Pride on Saturday. The tone of coverage about the pride parade and its organiser Rock of Hope was overwhelmingly positive, but King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, and the traditionalists who support him came under criticism.

CNN reported, 'In Swaziland, same-sex relationships are illegal and the country maintains a colonial-era law against sodomy. The US State Department's report on global human rights practices in 2017 stated that Swazi people open about their sexual orientation "faced censure and exclusion from the chiefdom-based patronage system."

'The pride celebration was not endorsed by King Mswati III.'

It added, 'The small southern African country, recently renamed the Kingdom of eSwatini by its king, is Africa's last absolute monarchy and has a bleak record on LGBT rights. The country of 1.4 million also has the world's highest HIV/AIDS rates and suffers from severe poverty.'

The BBC reported, 'King Mswati III is widely reported to have called homosexuality "satanic", while the country's chief police communications officer, Khulani Mamba, who doubles up as a preacher, told his congregation last weekend that "this country will not tolerate the LGBTI community", according to the Swazi Times.'

The Huffington Post reported, 'Sodomy is illegal in eSwatini, which is also Africa's last absolute monarchy. King Mswati III, who has ruled the country since 1986, has reportedly described homosexuality as being "satanic."

It quoted Pride organiser Melusi Simelane who said threats and discrimination were a constant for Swaziland's LGBTI community.

It said, 'There is persecution each and every day," he told BBC last week. "We are harassed, we are violently abused, we are emotionally abused."'

The Huffington Post added, 'Matt Beard, All Out's executive director, praised activists like Simelane for their courage and their ambition to hold the pride parade despite the risks and threats they've faced.

'"The community and their allies painted the streets of this country rainbow, with a beautiful, colorful parade that was literally exploding with joy," Beard wrote of the historic event in a Medium blog post. "At certain moments... the infectious joy of this community was so intense, it was difficult to hold back the tears. We were loud, proud and dignified. Nobody came to hurl hate, abuse (or worse) at us, as had been feared. Instead, this was a moment of community and personal empowerment."'

By contrast, in the run up to the event on Saturday (30 June 2018), the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, ran three articles calling LGBTI people 'a curse' and 'evil' and likening them to child sex molesters and people who have sex with animals.

The international news agency AFP quoted Swaziland Government spokesperson Percy Simelane denying the kingdom had an anti-homosexual stance and said 'it would be unfair to view the state as homophobic.'

Buzzfeed reported, 'As far as Pride parades go, eSwatini's [Swaziland's] is less about flashy floats and flag-waving, and more about showing the public that LGBT people value family and community just as much as anyone else.'

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