By A B Gondwe
With one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, a welcoming and open attitude among most of its citizens, a large number of supportive and informative organisations and services, vibrant cities and nightlife, a large number of festivals and parades, fine art and theatre offerings, and the sheer beauty of its diverse natural and holiday options, it is little wonder that South Africa is favoured as one of the world’s top destinations among members of the LGBT community worldwide.
South Africa’s constitution was one of the very first to recognise same-sex marriages and is still one of the few in the world that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. After the 1994 transition to full democracy for the country, when attitudes became generally more relaxed, active and openly lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) communities have sprung up in all the major cities as well as in quite a surprising number of smaller country towns. But the main LGBT focal areas continue to be Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Pretoria, with Cape Town by far topping the list.
A top destination
In fact, Cape Town has regularly been voted as one of the top LGBT cities in the world, and is ranked as the top gay-friendly and openly gay city in Africa. Singer/composer Elton John is just one among the world’s gay celebrities who love to come here on holiday.
In March this year the Spartacus World Gay Travel Index, which looks at almost 200 countries around the world and ranks them on the basis of 14 criteria, such as marriage equality, adoption rights, anti-discrimination laws and criminalisation of homosexuality, ranked South Africa at number 27 and as the top African destination. This was way ahead of countries like Argentina (ranked 34), the USA (39), Greece (45), Brazil (55) and Thailand (67).
Other factors considered by the Index include religious influence, travel restrictions for HIV positive people, the banning of gay events, homophobia among locals, and violent crime. This year, for the first time, the index also took into account factors affecting transgender individuals in different countries. The aim of the index is to provide LGBT travellers with information as to how welcome and safe they would be in the countries they plan to visit. The top two countries, tied at number one, were Sweden and Canada.
And the New York Times and SCRUFF, a gay dating app, recently voted Cape Town as the 5th most ‘surprisingly gay-friendly destination in the world’. For those who have long been familiar with the Cape, it’s not all that surprising though!
While LGBT visitors to South Africa will experience the absence of prejudice almost everywhere, there may however still be pockets of negativity among individuals mainly in smaller towns and rural areas. As with any kind of change anywhere in the world, there will always be some bigots who resist it.
Hospitality & events
There are literally hundreds of B&Bs, guesthouses and lodges in South Africa run by and for members of the LGBT community, again with many located in Cape Town, the surrounding Winelands and coastal areas, and in smaller, alternative lifestyle communities on the Western Cape platteland countryside. There are also many, however, in Johannesburg, along the Garden Route and in other parts of the country. Theatre, the visual arts, music events, and the hospitality and restaurant industry all welcome and embrace LGBT tourists.
The country also hosts a relatively large number of Gay Pride style and other LGBT festivals and parades each year. Among them are Cape Town Pride in February, Durban Pride in June/July, Durban Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in August/September, eKurhuleni Pride, Johannesburg Pride in October, Pretoria LGBTI Pride in October, Mr & Miss Pretoria Gay Pride, Khumbulani Pride in Cape Town’s Gugulethu township in May, Limpopo Pride in Polokwane, Mother City Queer project in Cape Town in December, Mr Gay South Africa in Gauteng in November, Nelson Mandela Bay Pride in Port Elizabeth, Pink Loeri Mardi Gras in Knysna in May, and the Soweto Pride in September.
Similar events have also been held in other smaller cities such as Bloemfontein, Pietermaritzburg, Nelspruit, Mahikeng, and Klerksdorp.
In previous years the LGBT tourism sector was considered to be a relatively small, insulated niche market. But in recent years it has grown globally into a major sector of the overall tourism market, with LGBT travellers in 2016 spending around US$211-billion globally. This represented a growth rate of around 27% since 2011, when spending totalled around US$165-billion.
And yet the market in South Africa, while it has grown substantially in recent years, still remains untapped in many respects. Commenting in an article on Tourismupdate.co.za the CEO of major tour bus company Springbok Atlas, Glenn McKeag, said: “I do think this market is still very untouched when it comes to discovering Africa and the South African experience.”
Many leaders in the local tourism industry believe LGBT tourism is well-positioned as a key growth market for South Africa.
Active gay communities
Cape Town, widely known as the Mother City, has also earned itself the nickname of the ‘pink city’ for its vibrant and diverse LGBT community, night life and many events. Areas with active gay communities or ‘villages’, as well as tourism accommodation and other offerings, are De Waterkant, Green Point and other areas adjacent to the V&A Waterfront, Sea Point, Clifton, Camps Bay and Hout Bay among others, but not limited to these areas.
In Johannesburg LGBT visitors will find thriving and active gay communities in areas such as Melville, Melrose Arch, and parts of Sandton and Midrand. Morningside in Durban is another gay-friendly suburb with an active gay community.
Writing on expatica.com, Howie Holben, who owns and runs Spirit Journeys, a spiritual gay travel tours organization, says:
“South Africa was a gay travel destination long before it became the first country in the world with a constitution outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation and the fifth country to legalize same-sex marriage. With the fall of apartheid and these two historic gay rights events, the allure of South Africa has increased substantially among both straight and gay travellers. From the glorious beaches of the Western Cape to the fast-paced excitement of Gauteng, South Africa is the gay-friendliest country on the continent.”
Attractions for LGBT tourists coming to South Africa are plentiful. Apart from many accommodation establishments that cater specifically for this community, the arts and theatre, good restaurants and nightlife and the country’s natural, cultural and historic tourism offerings, and the many LGBT parades and festivals, there are plenty more that draws members of the LGBT community to our shores.
In most cities there are men-only gay bars or gay and lesbian bars and clubs such as Café Manhattan, Crew Bar, Amsterdam Action Bar, and Versatile Bar in Cape Town; The Factory, Risque, Cosmos, Tomb Stone, Moloko, and Babylon (Centurion and Johannesburg) in Johannesburg; The Lounge and Club Altitude in Durban; and Camp David in Pretoria. There are numerous LGBT-serving magazines, as well as websites and blogs on the internet providing information for LGBT visitors regarding social meeting places, clubs and bars, hotels and guest houses, events and other places of interest or frequented by LGBT people. There are many gyms in cities in South Africa where members of this community regularly go for workouts. Cape Town’s Sandy Bay and Clifton 3rd Beach are favourite beaches.
Dining options for LGBT visitors are plenty and varied, ranging from the Bellgables Country Restaurant, Amuse Café, and Beefcake Joburg in Johannesburg, to the gay-owned Lola’s vegetarian café in Cape Town and many, many more. Add to all of this other attractions like the Garden Route, the Eastern Cape Wild Coast, KwaZulu-Natal’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route, the Modjadjiskloof area (also known by its former name Duiwelskloof) in Limpopo, the Kruger National Park and other game reserves, and you have a world winner. Hospitality is welcoming, and the options and choices certainly are many.
For More Information
Durban Lesbian & Gay Community & Health Centre – www.gaycentre.org.za
GayCapeTown4u – www.gaycapetown4u.com
GAP Leisure – www.gapleisure.com
Gay & Lesbian Network – www.gaylesbian.org.za
Pink South Africa – www.pinksa.co.za
Gay Pages – www.gaypagessa.co.za
Mamba Girl – www.mambagirl.com
GaySA Radio – www.gaysaradio.co.za
Club Altitude – http://www.clubaltitude.co.za/
Cruising Gays – http://www.cruisinggays.com
Gay Cities – https://johannesburg.gaycities.com
Mamba Online – http://www.mambaonline.com/