Cape Town Carnival crisis at 11th hour

It’s a recurring story. At the 11th hour the city authorities are at loggerheads with the associations that organise the Cape Town Carnival to welcome in the New Year.

This time around Melvyn Matthews of the Kaapse Klopse Association is threatening high court litigation against the city and Kevin Momberg of the Cape Town Minstrels’ Carnival Association said his organisation has already briefed its advocate.

A crisis meeting between the city, province and organisers of the carnival was held a week ago. And at that stage it wasn’t even certain when the minstrels would march.

The problem is that January 2—the day the carnival is normally held—falls on a Sunday.
The minstrels refuse to march on a church day and proposed Monday January 3 as an alternative.

City spokesperson Kylie Hatton said the city counter-proposed January 1, as January 3 will be the first working day of 2011 and the SAPS are against the march being held on that day.

Momberg said it’s a matter of tradition. When a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday replaces it.

Cape Town tradition
The Tweede Nuwejaar (Second New Year) carnival, although not an official holiday, is unique to the Cape and has been held since 1907, when the first formal event drew 7 000 spectators.

“It celebrates the freedom of the slaves,” said Momberg. “The attitude [of the city authority] is ‘just go back to your townships’.” He believes the city has a duty to sort out the logistics. “It is our right,” he said.

Matthews says he has been to many carnivals around the world, including in France, Singapore and London’s Notting Hill. He said—using them as examples—he has proposed legislation so that they don’t have to restart the process every year.

Asked why problems around the carnival arise each year, DA councillor Belinda Walker said the applications are “unsupported by documentation” and the city and province are “not dealing with a homogenous organisation”.

There are, she said, differences among the carnival associations about what they want. Walker said the carnival has grown substantially over the years. With upwards of 50 000 people, public safety is a major issue and SAPS approval is needed. The city is trying to help, she said.

Matthews and Momberg maintained that they started negotiations early in the year. Matthews said they had been ignored throughout the process. But it’s not just the date that is in dispute. The exact route the carnival will take and the many costs involved—such as who will bear what and how much—are also at issue.

Mayor Dan Plato told the recent council meeting that the route had been agreed on November 25. But the city and the organisers appear to be at cross-purposes again—and the carnival cannot happen without both parties agreeing.

“Not apartheid, not the [world] wars, nothing could kill off the carnival,” said Matthews.

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