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January 02, 2013

Celebrating New Year in old tradition – Cape Town style

All minstrel troupes feature little ones who traditionally walk out in front. Photo courtesy Damien du Toit

Pavements along the Minstrel parade route in the Cape Town city centre are lined with colourful gazebos, roads have been blocked off and the city services are in full force ahead of annual Tweede Nuwe Jaar celebrations.

With just two hours to go before the 2013 Minstrel parade kicks off there's a palpable air of excitement and expectation in the Mother City.

The 2013 parade will feature 70 troupes wearing brightly coloured sequinned satin suits, their faces painted, their stringed instruments tuned and brass instruments shone to perfection in preparation for their joyful march through the streets of the city centre.

The music is uniquely Cape Town's. Banjo players strum ditties that have been played for decades and the art of playing brass instruments is handed down from one generation to the next. Those who don't play instruments carry little umbrellas which bop up and down to the beat of the music.  

No troupe is complete without an acrobat or two displaying their athletic prowess, much to the delight of the crowd. Acrobats walk ahead of the troupe, following the voorloopers (leaders and little ones).

To secure the best viewing spot many people sleep over or arrive in the middle of the night to set up their gazebos on the pavement for much needed shade and comfort. For many, tradition dictates that you pack a massive amount of food, blankets, camping chairs and cold drinks to get you through the day.  

The minstrel parade is an annual celebration which harks back to the mid-19th Century. It was started by slaves – who traditionally received a day's holiday on January 2 – and has been maintained through the decades. 

Being part of the minstrels is a coloured tradition and most of the troupes are based on the Cape Flats. They practice for months in advance and save every penny they can to pay for their unique and colourful outfits.

Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year) was, until a few years ago, a public holiday in Cape Town.

Even though the holiday has been abolished, visitors and locals who are still on leave prefer to spend the day cheering on their favourite troupes. Thousands of minstrels will take to the streets today.

The parade is scheduled to start at noon at Keizersgracht, from where it will wind its way throught the city centre, ending on the corners of Castle and Rose Streets at 10pm.

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