Hundreds of protestors attended eSwatini’s first gay pride march on Saturday, calling for equality and rights in a country where homosexuality is outlawed by the absolute monarchy.
“We are thrilled to see this happening today,” US Ambassador to eSwatini, formerly known as Swaziland, Lisa Peterson told AFP.
About 500 people turned up for the historic march in Mbabane, the country’s largest city, draped in the rainbow flag, international symbol of the LGBTIQ community, and wearing T-shirts printed with the message “God is love”.
“Just to refer you to the words spoken by Martin Luther King Jr that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Some are afraid to come into the open because they are afraid of these acts of injustice. We are here to make justice for all.” Peterson added.
Male homosexuality is outlawed in Africa’s last absolute monarchy, ruled by King Mswati III who has reportedly described homosexuality as “satanic.”
The landlocked country, which is one of the most aid dependent on the continent, has anti sodomy laws with the government having questioned in the past whether LGBTIQ people even existed in the country.
But government official Percy Simelane denied that the state had an anti-gay stance saying if any changes needed to be made to the constitution, organisations could “lobby parliamentarians to initiate that law, but not the executive,”
“It would be unfair to view the state as homophobic.” Simelane told AFP.
“If they ask why are we not legalising it, we tell them it is not the mandate of government but it must be the people of eSwatini to do that, not government.”
The country remains subtly hostile to the LGBTIQ community whose couples cannot marry or adopt children.
Human rights Lawyer Lomcebo Dlamini pointed out that the core issue is that the constitution does not speak to the rights of consenting adults but focuses on lambasting same sex intercourse.
“Our statutes criminalise sodomy, but again it is silent when there is consensual sex, because sodomy is a crime just as rape is.”