Johannesburg Pride marches for LGBTQ+ Ugandans after anti-gay law passed

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - More than 20,000 people marched through Johannesburg on Saturday to celebrate Pride, singing, dancing and making their support clear for LGBTQ+ communities across Africa who cannot be open safely and whose relationships are criminalised.

At the front of a parade that organisers estimated was 24,000-strong was Mandela Swali, a 25-year-old Ugandan gay man who was attending his first Pride, having been in South Africa just a month-and-a-half.

Swali, face coated in glitter, draped in a Ugandan flag, recounted how he had fled his country in 2021 while on bail, having been arrested when his landlady caught him having sex with his boyfriend.

"This is the space and this is the family I deserve to have right now. I feel like I'm at home," Swali said, after the 6 km march through some of Johannesburg's wealthiest neighbourhoods beneath purple flowering jacaranda trees.

Uganda introduced one of the world's harshest anti-gay laws in May, including the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality". Same-sex relations were already illegal in Uganda, as they are in more than 30 African countries.

South Africa, in contrast, made same sex marriage legal in 2006 and is still the only African country to have done so.

"Our intention today is to march for Uganda ... for LGBT communities in Africa that can't march for themselves," said Johannesburg Pride organise Kaye Ally.

Last year's Pride, the city's first since the COVID-19 pandemic, was subdued after the U.S. warned of a possible terrorist attack beforehand. That only increased the LGBTQ+ community's desire for this year's event, held 34 years after the first, said Ally.

"This year we're going full force," she said. "That hunger for Pride, as well as all the happenings in Africa, has really amplified the need for us to take to the streets and to come out in all our flamboyancy and assert our authenticity."

(Reporting by Rachel Savage and Shafiek Tassiem; editing by Giles Elgood)