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January 07, 2014

Tweede Nuwe Jaar has evolved over the years, with celebs joining minstrel teams

Every year on 2 January the streets of Cape Town come alive with the sounds of the Cape Minstrel Carnival. This tradition is carried down to the youngest member of the family to ensure that this custom is preserved by future generations. I’m going to tell you what this day means to me, as a *coloured person living in Cape Town. Growing up in the Mother City, the Cape Minstrel Carnival is part of my culture and watching the minstrels in Wale Street was something that became an annual family tradition for years.


We’d sit for hours on the pavements watching the colourful teams sing and dance through the streets. I even remember waiting patiently for my favourite team: the Atchaars. The Apache’s, also known as The Atchaars, was the only team that dressed up differently to the minstrels, boasting traditional Native American attire and carrying large eagle totem poles. Their faces were covered with ugly, terrifying masks that were meant to give the kids a fun little scare. It was the highlight of the carnival for me, as my cousins ran away into the Company’s Garden in hopes of hiding from the Atchaars. I sort of lost interest in the carnival over the years. I guess I lost interest when I became a teenager. I also lost my dad, who was part of the minstrel parade for years so going back to watch it without seeing him there every year was bittersweet.

This year, while Instagramming the event for Cape Town Tourism, I was privileged to see the carnival with new eyes – and by that I don’t only mean through Instagram. It was magical for me. I’ve always enjoyed it; actually more than usual for someone who can’t particularly dance. And in my absence from the carnival, I’ve heard stories of people complaining about not being able to get through the city streets to their homes because of the carnival. I guess I've just been bombarded with so many complaints by people who weren't fans of the colourful parade, that I forgot about all the reasons why I used to love it.


For those of you who are not aware, the Cape Minstrel Carnival is also a competition. When the teams are done marching down the streets, they get on a bus to be transported to the various stadiums where they put on a show to a panel of judges. This event rarely happens on the same day as Tweede Nuwe Jaar; more than likely it happens on the weekend following the Cape Minstrel Carnival. At the stadium the teams compete with each other for a series of titles that range from best dressed, best song performances and best choreography to name a few. I’ve never been to the shows, but I’ve heard that it’s a spectacular display and a must-see if you weren't able to find a good spot along the street on Tweede Nuwe Jaar.

People who participate in the Cape Minstrel Carnival come from all walks of life, and as the years pass I am starting to see more and more white collars drawn to the idea of getting stressed in bright sequins and dancing down the street with matching umbrellas. Being a minstrel is not a career, but it does mean something like a full-time job. Practises take place throughout the year. There is a great deal of planning that goes on behind this carnival; every detail is carefully thought out to ensure that the big day is a success and most of all, entertaining for you.

Minstrel teams used to represent the different suburban areas in Cape Town in which the teams were founded. For example, the Woodstock Starlites would comprise members who reside in the Woodstock, Observatory and Salt River areas and the D6 team would comprise members who reside in District Six, Walmer Estate, University Estate and Bo-Kaap. Today, minstrel teams host members who are from its initial founding areas but have expanded to areas beyond these and even include local celebrities such as actor Charles Tertiens, stand-up comedian Wayne Mckay and Algoa FM Radio Personality Baydu Adams.

Celebrity Minstrels pose with the public in Wale Street at the Cape Minstrel Carnival on Saturday 4 January. Photo courtesy of Rashida Hendricks

Photo tweeted by Wayne McKay, from left: Wayne McKay, Baydu Adams, Charles Tertiens and Western Province Union rugby player Nizaam Carr

I'm not saying buy into the carnival because celebrities are part of it now. I'm saying the next time you get the opportunity to go and watch the second largest street carnival in the world, free of charge, embrace it. We live in one of the most beautiful corners of the world, rich with cultural history with an amazing story to tell. Do you want to be part of that story?

*Wikipedia Definition: In Southern Africa Cape Coloureds is the name given to an ethnic group composed primarily of persons of mixed race. Although Cape Coloureds form a minority group within South Africa, they are the predominant population group in the Western Cape.

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