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The Cape Minstrel Carnival – South African New Year Festival

The descendants of the Khoisan people in the Western Cape of South Africa have had a tumultuous history. Many other ethnic groups were brought to South Africa through colonialism mixed with the indigenous Khoi and San people to become what is now known as the Cape Coloured people.

While the term, Coloured, may seem offensive to readers from the USA, and Britain, in South Africa it is not a pejorative term. It is the official name of a recognized ethnic and cultural group.

One of South Africa's most colorful, lively, and beloved festivals developed in the Cape Coloured community. The 'Kaapse Klopse' or, Cape Minstrel Carnival is held every year on 2 January.

Second New Year – Origin in Slavery

 Cape Town procession on the anniversary of slave emancipation

During the colonial devastation of Africa in the 19th century, the Dutch ruled over the Cape Colony. They, like all conquerors up until then, enslaved the people they defeated and carried them all over the world.

Up until the abolishment of slavery in the Cape on 1 December 1834, the slaves weren't allowed to celebrate New Year's Day. The Dutch celebrated 1 January as the biggest festival of the year, so their slaves had to work through the day.

Because of this, the population of slaves were given 2 January off to celebrate the New Year for themselves. This celebration became a uniting force in the unique culture that developed in the Cape.

Original Klopse

Minstrel in classic minstrel style struts his stuff at the Green Point Stadium in 2001

After the fall of slavery in the Cape, the celebration of Second New Year stuck. Soon the newly freed people started holding a carnival with marching bands, and parades.

These parades consisted of bands and dancers wearing suits emblazoned with the emblems of local sports clubs. They also painted their faces black with large white circles around their eyes. So, essentially blackface, which they got from a troupe of minstrels from the USA who performed many shows in the Cape during the late 19th Century.

1907 saw the first official carnival held at the Green Point Cricket Club. Later the carnival was moved to the Green Point Track, but it only lasted 3 years before being discontinued.

The “Grand Carnival on Green Point Track” was reinstated in 1920, and in 1921 the Green Point Cricket Club held its own rival carnival. Thus, the tradition of competitive parades, that characterizes the festival, began.

Apartheid Era – Further Colonial Abuse

During the Apartheid Era in which the white descendants of the original colonists oppressed and abused literally every other ethnicity, the Cape Coloured people were evicted from their homes.

1950 saw the introduction of the Group Areas Act, which gave the Apartheid government the legal framework for their abuses. The Group Areas Act gave government the right to separate people on a racial basis.

District Six, in the Western Cape, had long been the heart of Cape Coloured culture. The Apartheid government thought the area was too nice, so they declared it a 'white' area.

Cape Coloured people were forced to move to other areas on the Cape Peninsula. They took their culture and traditions with them, spreading the Kaapse Klopse and Second New Year.

The Grand Carnival was moved around from stadium to stadium until it returned to its original route in 1989. Apartheid couldn't quell the beloved tradition. The South African people abolished Apartheid in the early 90s.

Unfortunately Apartheid is not a strictly South African phenomenon. The cancer that is racial segregation still lingers around the world today.

Modern Kaapse Klopse

Today the tradition of the Kaapse Klopse carries on, stronger than ever. The festival has garnered global renown and is one of the gems of multiculturalism that makes South Africa beautiful.

Public events like the annual parade are only a small part of the modern celebration. Every Saturday, until mid-February, the troupes gather at the Athlone Stadium to compete for several awards.

Minstrel clubs vie for the top spots in categories like, best dressed team, best drum major, best chorus, the best minstrel song, and Champion of Champions. Over 40 clubs compete, proudly dressed in their club color scheme.

Some modern minstrels paint their faces white, in opposition to the original black borne by the American minstrels. Others simply go for a bright colorful face paint scheme.



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