Knysna prepares to be painted pink in biggest gay pride festival in Africa

VISITORS to the Garden Route can expect to be tickled pink as one of the biggest gay pride festivals in Africa gets into full swing in Knysna this weekend.

The Globeflight Pink Loerie Mardi Gras and Arts Festival has become a favourite on the Garden Route events calendar since the town was first "painted pink" 14 years ago.

This year's theme is "Funky Town".

The festival not only aims to create awareness about gay and lesbian issues, but is also a welcome economic boost for Knysna.

The picturesque holiday town relies heavily on tourism for survival and May is considered a quiet month on the visitor front.

Last year, the festival attracted between 25000 and 30000 visitors over the five- day event and raised more than R20000 for local charities.

"The Pink Loerie festival definitely has a clear objective of not only encouraging tourism to the town of Knysna, but to also contribute to the various local charities," festival spokesman Cobus Benade said.

"In addition to the Knysna Animal Welfare Society, a charity very near and dear to me, we also have a charity dinner. A portion of the funds generated go to the mayor's charity initiatives. We have also worked extensively with the Loerie Hof Retirement Home over the years," he said.

Knysna mayor Georlene Wolmarans said the festival had consistently added a welcome economic injection during a time that would "otherwise be dire".

"We would like to thank the organisers for their hard work and dedication. Knysna is a town of festivals and events and all of them are valuable to us," she said.

Wolmarans last year showed her support for the event by taking the lead in the popular festival parade – in which stilettos, feathers, over-the-top makeup and as much glitz as the participants can conjure up take centre stage in the town's main street as hundreds of divas in drag show off their spectacular outfits to curious onlookers.

The parade will take place tomorrow and departs from the Pledge Square at 3pm.

Although there is no shortage of flamboyance with colourful performances and parties every day, local businesses also add to the flair by decorating their shops with pink feathers, ribbons and balloons in support of the festival.

Organisers promised a bumper programme for the festival, which started with a flea market and meet-and-greet yesterday, and runs until Sunday.

It includes a special appearance by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage, from New Zealand.

Other highlights include performances by Boylesque – a tongue-in-cheek variety show which pays tribute to the 1930s and '40s American-style burlesque comedy and striptease performances. The show, however, has a distinct South African flavour and includes among other performances comedy, singing, ballet and drag. - Yolande Stander