Stung by city politics, Kaapse Klopse minstrels take the road less travelled
Every year on January 2, the Kaapse Klopse minstrel festival takes over the streets of Cape Town to commemorate the day that slaves in the Cape were allowed by Dutch settlers to mark the new year. Also known as Tweede Nuwe Jaar, the internationally renowned celebration sees troupes of Cape Minstrels marching through the city centre in a joyous parade, cheered on by thousands of supporters, well-wishers, tourists and revellers. But following a falling out with the city’s leadership, a number of minstrel troupes broke away this year and took to roads less travelled.
In the city centre the minstrel troupes, or klopse as they are often called, completed their traditional march from District Six to the Bo-Kaap, but there were a number of troupes missing – including the District Six troupe itself. Along with the Hanover Park Pennsylvanians, newcomers the All Stars, and other members of the Cape Town Minstrels Carnival Association (CTMCA) – the District Six minstrels marched instead from the railway station in Athlone, on the Cape Flats, to the stadium there, signalling the starkest divide yet in the minstrel community.
Earlier on Monday morning, the District Six team sat around a house in Athlone where they waited for their faces to be painted for the breakaway parade. The decision to boycott the traditional march through the city centre may have been political, but the pang of missing out on that shared history was felt by some on a more personal level.
Ismaeel Dean (26), said this would most likely be his last year as a dancer for his troupe, the District Six Minstrels.
“It’s very sad to miss Tweede Nuwe Jaar [in town],” he said. “And think about a pensioner or a little boy who pays for his [minstrel] gear, and now he can’t even dance in town.”
“I normally hand out lollipops during Tweede Nuwe Jaar, and unfortunately we are not going to participate in town so I didn’t buy lollipops this year, but I always try to just put a smile on people’s faces,” Dean (below) said.
The mud-slinging on top
The CTMCA have been responsible for running annual klopse events throughout the festive season for the past 19 years. This year, however, the city of Cape Town declined the CTMCA’s request to march through the city centre and instead gave permission to the rival Kaapse Klopse Karnival Assosiasie (KKKA) to run the event.
The city also gave the KKKA a R4-million tender, but declined to fund the CTMCA. The CTMCA challenged the city’s decision in court, but the court ruled that the city had followed due process and dismissed the CTMCA’s case.
The CTMCA’s reputation has been marred in recent years by allegations linking it to drug trafficking and gang activity. JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety, told News24 that the association was denied funding from the city partly because of allegations that CTMCA chairperson Richard Stemmet was active in drug and criminal activity. Stemmet’s assets have reportedly been seized by police. Stemmet, however, told News24 that the city was wrong in its decision.
“We are a nonprofit organisation and our members are the poorest of the poor in the metro, from areas like Hanover Park, Manenberg, Mitchells Plain and Lavender Hill. This is the biggest minstrel organisation,” Stemmet said.
Last week, Kevin Momberg, the chief executive of the CTMCA, said that the 36 troupes the association represents would withdraw from the city parade. Momberg made the announcement the same day the city said it was granting the permit to the KKKA.
“We are tired of the city messing with our minstrel business and not giving us a chance to do what we need to do to get things done. We would like to let our troupes and supporters know that we will be at the Athlone Stadium on Monday,” Momberg said.
A dance of the DA and ANC
Some have said that the recent spat has been the result of party politics entering into the carnival. Members of the KKKA are said to be supporters of the Democratic Alliance (DA), whereas the CTMCA are said to back the ANC. But, as yet, such rumours are not backed by solid proof, and one member of the CTMCA dismissed them altogether.
“I voted DA all these years. It’s not about DA or ANC, it doesn’t work like that,” said Waleed Hendricks (40). “This is a sport, and people must be even.”
The fight between the city and managers of the CTMCA has meant hundreds of minstrels missed out on the march in the city centre. For those who have been with the klopse for many years, the changes have been disconcerting.
Adil Adams (43), a klopse member and make-up artist, told the Mail & Guardian that “today’s [klopse] is all about making money”.
“It’s a business now,” said Adams. “Where money is involved, there’s always politics.”
For some of the younger members, however, the politics aren’t important, it’s just about being able to parade through the streets and entertain people.
“I’m excited,” said Shuaib Adams (18), who has been a minstrel since he was six, and is a dancer for the All Stars. “I’m not really worried about the politics, because I will be having fun.”
“I don’t always believe the stories about violence and drugs,” he said. “But everywhere we go, that stuff follows.”
Despite the absence of many minstrels in both the Cape Town city centre and at Athlone Stadium, both parades went ahead, and supporters cheered from the sidelines.
“I still like to put a smile on a little boy’s face or even an elderly person’s face,” said Dean, as he prepared to set out on the parade he believes may well be his last. “They maybe have a whole year of stress at work or family problems, but when they see us, for that time they feel better.”