Hundreds of people packed Cape Town streets on Wednesday for one of South Africa’s most popular cultural events.
The annual Cape Town Minstrel Parade features thousands of colorfully-dressed performers from close to 40 minstrel troupes all marching, singing and dancing through the streets every January 2, also known in Cape Town as Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year).
Many parade-goers say they camped out overnight along the route to ensure they had front row seats for the spectacle. For them, the event highlights every start to their new year.
“We slept here for two nights because we want to see the best picture, we want to see everything,” said Nadia Black, whose family camped out for two days along Darling Street.
The minstrel troupes bring their own flair to Cape Town’s holiday atmosphere, giving locals and visitors a taste of one of the Cape’s many cultures.
The minstrel festival is one of Cape Town’s longest-held traditions. Its social roots date back to South Africa’s racist colonial era.
During the 1800s, Dutch colonialists started giving slaves a day off on January 2 as part of New Year celebrations. When slavery was abolished in 1834, the newly freed Africans and their descendants continued the tradition as a celebration of freedom.
In the late 1800s, white minstrel groups from the United States began visiting Cape Town and Tweede Nuwe Jaar celebrations began to take on the look of a minstrel show. Parades during the 1890s frequently featured white performers impersonating slaves while performing American Negro spirituals in blackface.
Modern-day celebrations are far less controversial.
Today’s face-painted minstrels only have one goal, outdazzling and outperforming minstrels from other troupes.
As one of the longest surviving traditions, it is quite evident that the Cape Town Minstrel Festival is an important aspect of South Africa’s history and cultural heritage.