On Saturday, 17 January 2015, we attended a Cape Town Minstrel Carnival. This is an annual event dating back to slavery days.
Local slaves – the ancestors of many of today’s Cape Minstrels – had only one day a year when they would dare to relax and let loose: 2 January, when their masters were sleeping off the debauchery of New Year’s parties the day before.
Hence, this date took on great significance as an opportunity for revelry and wild self-expression, and was always marked with vibrant song and dance out in the streets.
When the Confiderate warship Alabama called at the Cape to take on fresh supplies in 1862, the slaves in the ship gave an impromptu performance and recently locally freed slaves responded with great enthusiasm. This was immortalized into the psyche of society. The Minstrel Carnival started.
Progressive human beings always drink and contribute to the development of cultural civilisation of humanity.
The Minstrel traditions embodies the heritage and culture of the people of the Western Cape and indeed part and parcel of South African heritage. It represent the lived identities of the people from the slave era by echoing the sorrows and emotions of a people who lived in bondage, but were freed in their culture.
Our forebears have weathered the turbulent seas of colonialism, slavery, and apartheid and were never defeated by the many blows to their existence. The pride in their culture was never eroded.
They expressed themselves and their future aspirations through their culture in spite of the best efforts of their oppressors to dehumanise them.
Though, the carnival is certainly not all about the here and now. While it’s a developing current custom that grips club participants in modern times, the Kaapse Klopse is, in fact, steeped in rich history – one that’s unfortunately been quite poorly documented. This has to be corrected for posterity.
In 1996, Cape Town Minstrel Carnival Association was formed for the purposes of organising such events and managing and keeping memory and traditions of the past generations alive.
In the current climate where drugs, alcohol, violence against women and Children, the elderly and violence so wide in our communities, we draw on this heritage to inspire us to create a better quality of life for our people in the province and the country.
We must usher in a new era for the minstrels. They engage thousands of young people seamstresses, musicians and discipline members of troupe into teamwork. They are instruments in rebuilding pride in our communities and cultivating the social capital that has been lost over the years.
Beyond the activities of today, we need to engage our young people in year round activities that will create a more promising future for our communities.
The Minstrel legacy has through generations given hope and restored sense of belonging amongst the people. It is time to recall that rich heritage and use it to heal the soul of our people.
It is time to free our own minds and those of future generations by reclaiming our dignity and changing a culture of violence, neglect, depression and cultivate values that can provide a sound moral compass to our children.
Let this event first initiated during times of colonial oppression and forged during the liberation struggle continue to grow from strength to strength and flourish.
Let it grow as the foremost national event heralding inn the new year and the promise it holds. Let every step on the streets of Cape Town be an articulation of your freedom and willingness to possess the city as your own even as this march comes out of the history of dispossession.
The Minstrels have a significant role to play in the Construction of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.
>> Nathi Mthethwa is a member of the ANC NEC, Head of Political Education and Minister of Arts and Culture.