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Political row over Cape minstrels

150105. Cape Town. A women is seen walking past a "no parking" road sign in burg street. The road signs and the public toilets were placed at strategic points around the CBD for the anual Cape Minstrel Carnival, but it was postponed due to logistical problems. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

150105. Cape Town. A women is seen walking past a "no parking" road sign in burg street. The road signs and the public toilets were placed at strategic points around the CBD for the anual Cape Minstrel Carnival, but it was postponed due to logistical problems. Picture Henk Kruger/Cape Argus

Published Jan 6, 2015


Cape Town - They have spent a year preparing for the annual Cape Minstrel march but now troupes are caught in the middle of a political row involving the ANC, the EFF and the DA.

And Peter Marais, former Western Cape premier and mayor of Cape Town, has accused the city of trying to “wipe out the history of the Cape slaves” by barring the Tweede Nuwe Jaar celebrations.

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The future of this year’s Tweede Nuwejaar celebrations, which draws more than 60 000 spectators into the CBD, is uncertain after the event was postponed for the second time this weekend. It was due to have taken place first on January 2, then January 3, then on Monday.

Now the ANC has accused the DA of deliberately delaying the event until Saturday to undermine the party’s 103rd birthday celebrations taking place at Cape Town Stadium.

This prompted mayor Patricia de Lille to say: “The ANC are liars. Neither the City of Cape Town nor the DA have cancelled the annual minstrel parade which was set to take place on January 5. As we have stated before, the city was only informed via media reports yesterday (Sunday) that the organiser of the minstrel parade, the Cape Cultural and Carnival Committee, cancelled their own event. They are on record cancelling their own event after they failed to execute their responsibilities, such as procuring services needed for the event and paying service providers.”

And the EFF said the delay was a ploy by the ANC to bolster the number of supporters at their bash at the Cape Town stadium.

However, some troupes are now rethinking their involvement in the annual celebration. “I just feel we need to apologise to the broader community,” said Karriem Johnstone, a member of the Fabulous Woodstock Starlites, a 600-strong troupe. “This is bad publicity, and this is gross and unfair to the broader public.”

But with the organisation of the event in the hands of the Cape Cultural and Events Committee, an amalgamation of the Malay choirs, Christmas bands and minstrel troupes that in previous years had been divided in their efforts to secure funding for the annual year-end festivities, Johnstone said on Monday’s postponement was out of his hands. “We were ready, they weren’t.”

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The committee said the event was called off because they could not secure the 80-plus buses needed to transport the troupes into the city on a weekday. Golden Arrow, which was running its normal bus service, could not provide the extra coaches.

A spokesman for the bus company said the city and the organisers had been made aware of this last month when the decision was made to push the event up from January 3.

Johnstone said the last-minute postponement had shattered what little faith he had left in the committee.

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He said if the event did not take place this weekend, his troupe would withdraw. And the Woodstock Starlites are not alone.

The Cape Minstrel Board attacked the committee and the ANC on its Facebook page, branding the cancellation as a “political stunt”.

“After getting R6.1 million from the City of Cape Town and Local Government, Cape Town Minstrel Carnival Association still say that is not enough. If they got R1 billion, that would still not have been enough as well. They are using the lack of buses as an excuse, but they know it’s a lie.”

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The committee’s chief executive Kevin Momberg said they would sit down with De Lille to agree on a date when they could host the event.

It was unlikely to take place this Saturday because of the clash with the ANC’s birthday celebrations, he added, which meant it would only take place later this month.

Momberg blamed the city for not making good on their promise to assist them after they agreed to move the event to January 5.

But De Lille wrote in a statement: “We have done all we can to support the annual minstrel parade events and have kept to our end of the agreement.”

She said the decision to cancel the parade on Sunday - at the last minute - caused major inconvenience to many people, including supporters who had already gathered along the route where the minstrels were set to march on Monday.

“The city has kept to our end of the agreement and fulfilled our responsibilities, but the committee has failed hopelessly in their responsibilities.”

She said the city’s permit office had received a request to change the date of the event, but that this was subject to legal requirements.

In a statement released on Monday, the ANC accused the DA of meddling with the event in order to derail the party’s anniversary. “(They want to) divert public transport to make it difficult to bring ANC supporters to the stadium via central transport exchange in the CBD,” said the party’s leader in the Western Cape, Marius Fransman.

The EFF in a statement responded that while the DA was trying to wrestle control of the event from the committee’s hands, it was in the ANC’s favour to have the event “conveniently” fall on the same day as their birthday celebrations to bolster numbers at their anniversary.

Meanwhile, Marais has accused the city of trying to bar the Tweede Nuwe Jaar fun.

Marais said so much history associated with slavery in the Cape was associated with January 2.

“It’s the day the slaves could be free and have a day off from their duties to celebrate their alternate New Year.

“It is because of the slaves that we celebrate January 2. In the Cape it is like the coloured people’s liberation day. How can this important tradition just be dropped like that. The City of Cape Town is wiping out our history.”

Marais accused the city of infringing coloured people’s human rights.

“No passing of the buck will diminish the great unhappiness and anger expressed at the cancellation of Tweede Nuwejaar celebrations. A dangerous precedent has been set which could backfire come 2016.”

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