Merry sport of minstrelsy

The Cape Town minstrels have a special place in the hearts of Capetonians. I think it is somewhere in the aorta. The doctors say it is too dangerous to operate, so there they stay.

They were once called coons, but mercifully the vast lies that are racial stereotyping are a thing of the past.
After 10 years of democracy we are free to call the Cape minstrels what they are: tone-deaf sequinned horrors of sartorial ghastliness; spangled harpies hell-bent on dragging an entire city into their annual quagmire of mindless, pointless, endless jollity. I don’t like the minstrels.

But that’s okay, because they don’t like me. That’s because I’m a white piece of shit. Or was it a piece of white shit? I forget: the day was hot, the traffic intersection was busy and the men who dubbed me thus had terribly few teeth. But certainly albino faeces was involved, after the pair of merry minstrels asked me at a traffic light to sponsor them R10 for transport and I declined.

For a moment one wondered what Scandinavian tourists would think of such an exhortation, especially having just read in their guidebook that the Cape Malays (found between Cape Cobras and Cape Wangai Orangutans) are cheeky but warm-hearted. 

However, there was no need for concern. Dental catastrophe and its mesmerising effects on human speech would have left our valued visitors certain that two men in polystyrene boaters and cardboard spats had just bestowed upon them the Peace of Weitsit.

Still, one had to wonder how much dung was flung when the minstrels’ request for R10-million from the Western Cape government was turned down. In the end they had to settle for a measly R2-million and complained bitterly to SABC’s Charl Pauw that they’d had to spend “millions to give the citizens of Cape Town a free show”. Them plastic ukuleles don’t come cheap.

But more hardships were to come. With January 2 falling on Sunday this year they were forced to take Monday off work to give the citizens of Cape Town the above-mentioned free show. You just can’t expect artists to work like this.

A burning sense of self-righteous entitlement; an entrenched belief that frivolous self-gratification qualifies as a spectacle worth watching; an aggressive assertion of partying as culture; horrible music; ugly uniforms; the smell of slightly burnt boerewors rolls hanging over the baking asphalt: has the minstrels’ parade finally become a fully-fledged South African sport?

It has always been competitive: teams are judged on apparel, musical skill, the length of their tongues and whether or not their backer is a major Cape Flats crime lord. But surely it is time for the organisers (if such a word is applicable to an event that generally unfolds like a fire in a kindergarten) to realise the fiscal possibilities of selling themselves and their grand traditions to someone like Supersport?

I for one would be fascinated to watch the single-string banjo duel for men over 65, in which competitors improvise up to three variations on a short musical phrase (“Tjakkalang tjakkalang tjakkalay”). Synchronised parasol dropping; the 10km aimless meander; endurance waiting (where the hell are those busses?); all are no less watchable than golf or swimming or a root canal performed in a Rawalpindi meat-market with a 19th century hand bore. With television money behind it, the parade could even expand to include real minstrels, people able to hold not only a genuine note, but hold it at the same instant as those around them.

Sport is culture and, eventually, as the fetish of inclusiveness takes hold, culture will be sport. It’s a small step from Olympic curling to Olympic knitting, and a smaller one to Olympic hat-tipping and gold-tooth-flashing. Will the 2040 games, held in Zumaville (formerly Benoni), see a Cape contingent go head to head with a posse of Swiss yodellers? If the minstrel organisers get organised, yes. Will I be there? I’d rather eat ground glass. Tjakkalang.

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