Cape Town - The Kaapse Klopse are poised to turn city streets into their stomping ground at noon on Saturday in the annual Tweede Nuwe Jaar carnival.
But despite the kaleidoscope of uniforms, takkie-tapping tunes and powerful history, the parade needs to be better marketed to attract more foreign tourists, says one troupe owner.
With 74 troupes totalling 40 000 minstrels, the event has the potential to be Cape Town’s own Rio Carnival if only it was better marketed, said troupe co-owner Nazeem Davids.
“On Saturday the whole city is going to be shut down, there will be thousands of people marching through, and there are tourists who don’t even know it’s happening,” he said.
Davids said when tourists in the city encounter the minstrels by accident, they are captivated. He has even had requests from foreigners to be minstrels for a day. Two years ago, he dressed some German tourists in troupe uniforms and they marched in the carnival.
Parade day is a cash-in for city centre businesses. Davids said the street traders often benefit most, as spectators prefer to buy food and drink at stalls along the road, because that way they don’t miss any of the action.
“The impact on business is massive,” Davids said. “Stores on the Parade make a killing.”
While the carnival fails to feature on the international calendar, it does keep growing, and this is partly because of a transformation in the minstrel ranks.
Davids said: “The minstrels have changed totally. Before, it was seen as a working class activity. Now, we want people to feel like they can bring their families. There are more middle-class people, some affluent people, and women who are minstrels.”
One visitor travelled to Cape Town from Port Elizabeth just to be a minstrel for a day. George Rautenbach, 17, overcame the difficulties of Williams syndrome to land himself a Santam D6 Entertainer’s uniform and a tambourine for the annual minstrel carnival competition at Athlone Stadium on Wednesday.
The exhausted teen left the stadium at 2am, having been called up on stage and cheered by the massed minstrels.
On Thursday morning, as his family left the city for an annual family gathering in Sedgefield, George was distraught. His father, Deric Rautenbach, said: “He burst into tears and said he wants to be there for the carnival on Saturday.”
George does not know that his father has organised a plane ticket for the Kaapse Klopse’s biggest fan to be a minstrel for one more day. He will be marching with the Santam District 6 Entertainers tomorrow.
Michael Bagraim, of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the Kaapse Klopse carnival brings a huge amount of temporary employment to the entertainment industry in the city. “Every year we get the same reports – there’s a surge of between 5 000 and 10 000 jobs in the city. If you’re providing food, drink, accommodation, business has to improve because of the Kaapse Klopse.”
Bagraim said the event has the potential to attract tourists to Cape Town, but it doesn’t yet. However, foreigners love to watch the carnival if they happen to be in the city.
“Tourists don’t come especially for the carnival, but while they’re here it’s one of their highlights. It keeps them here beyond the traditional New Year period.”
More important, Bagraim said, is the influx of people from all corners of the Cape. “It brings enormous streams of people from all around the Cape into the city centre. They want to be part of the revelry.”
The Taj hotel in the city centre supplies festive season guests with a booklet about the history of the minstrels, because few know about the carnival before they come to Cape Town.
Manager Michael Pownall said: “I don’t think there would be anyone coming specifically for the carnival. I’ve never come across that in all my years. But tourists are always interested to get involved.”
Pownall says that even if the carnival was better marketed overseas, the timing would still prevent it from being tourist bait.
“If it was a different time of year, you could market it as something like the jazz festival – you could make a whole weekend out of it. At this time of year people just want to do what they enjoy for New Year and Christmas. They’ll see the carnival if they’re here.”
Mayor Patricia de Lille will open the carnival at noon.
The parade will start at Keizersgracht, proceed along Darling Street, left into Adderley Street and right into Wale Street, cross Buitengracht, turn right into Rose Street and finish at Castle and Rose streets at about 8pm.