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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Business as usual in Sandton after US terror warning

Almost in defiance, thousands of people gathered in Sandton for the Pride march on Saturday under heavy security in the upmarket district.

Was the US government security alert about a terrorist attack “targeting large gatherings of people at an unspecified location in the greater Sandton area of Johannesburg”, authentic? As it turned out, the threat fizzled out and for many who had time to hang around Sandton City and its popular Nelson Mandela Square, it was business as usual.

During a walkabout yesterday inside and outside the mall, well-armed guards patrolled while shoppers went about with their business as if the threat had never been made.

Johannesburg Pride parade
Members of SAPS (South African Police Services) look on as people march in the streets during the Johannesburg Pride Parade on October 29, 2022 in Sandton, Johannesburg | Photo by Guillem SARTORIO / AFP

“For several years, my family has become accustomed to shopping here and thereafter going to a favourite restaurant on Nelson Mandela Square – a ritual which has never changed,” said one shopper, Sylvia Roux.

“We are a peaceful nation with no enemies. Why must we be placed in a panic mode by this alert?”

Thembisa Vanqa said he would continue going to the centre. “If this was meant to cause panic among us and affect economic growth, it has failed to persuade us.” And almost in defiance, thousands of people gathered for the Pride march on Saturday.

RELATED: Johannesburg Pride march still on despite threats of terrorist attack

The event took place under heavy security in the upmarket district of Sandton, identified by the US embassy as the potential target. South African authorities had assured organisers it was safe to proceed with the march, after a two-year break because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The US warning angered the SA government, with President Cyril Ramaphosa calling it “unfortunate” and the cause of “panic” in the country.

“We are always fighting for visibility and we are always in danger, so me hearing of the terrorist attack (warning), it didn’t even bother me,” said Arnold Mulaisho, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) activist.

“Either way, if I die my family had already rejected me anyway, so no one is going to miss me,” Mulaisho added. US State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Friday praised security efforts in SA and Nigeria, where the US issued a separate security alert, which led to the evacuation of families of US government personnel.

“We deeply appreciate efforts that they make to protect their interests and in turn our interests,” Price told reporters. South Africa has some of the most progressive laws in the world when it comes to LGBTQ rights. It was the first country in Africa to legalise gay marriage.

But in practice, stigmas still persist. Also attending the 33rd Pride march on Saturday, was medical doctor Lethuxolo Shange, who said “queer people… are killed every single day”.

“We still have a very long way [to go], the law is there but the practice and the mindset in our community hasn’t changed. “We are still working on that and hoping for a better future.”

Additional reporting by AFP

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