The Cape Town Carnival set for Saturday, has been criticised for importing a Brazilian aesthetic and disregarding Cape Town’s own history.
The criticism of the event featuring floats, processions and costumed revellers along the fan walk, came during talks featured as part of the current Infecting the City public arts festival.
While the Cape Town Carnival claims to “bring together South Africans to celebrate our culture and heritage”, UCT Centre for African Studies PhD researcher Oddveig Nicole Sarmiento in discussion on Tuesday, said it was “an invented and imported festival from Rio (de Janeiro)”.
Sarmiento said importing a carnival implied the city was an empty space devoid of history and people.
Meanwhile, Cape Town already had a carnival whose history was over 100 years old. The Minstrels Carnival, also known as the Kaapse Klopse, which takes place on 2 January, sees thousands of minstrels make their way through the city from the Bo-Kaap in commemoration of the only day in the year that slaves in the Cape got a day off.
There is some feeling amongst those involved with the Minstrels Carnival that by holding the Cape Town Carnival, the City is trying to undermine the old carnival routes.
Kevin Momberg, CEO of the Cape Town Minstrels Carnival Association, said that the city had planned to incorporate the Minstrels Carnival into the new Cape Town Carnival and just have one in March, showing blatant disregard for the 2 January Carnival’s history.
The Minstrel Association had already taken the Provincial Government and the City to court in 2010 for trying to shift the carnival by a day to 1 January.
“They have created a carnival on top of us,” said Momberg.
When the Cape Town Carnival was established in the same year as the South African world cup, the Minstrels Association was invited to be part of it.
“We sat down and talked, we had meetings and discussions and they were excited to have us involved.”
However, when the Association asked for funding for buses and food for their minstrels, the offer of inclusion was quickly withdrawn, said Momberg.
“They have money to run the show, and we were just getting peanuts. We are tired of being used and abused.”
Fadiel Gasant, CEO of the Ashwin Willemse group of committees, which is responsible for the Oriet Cape Minstrels troupe, said he had applied for the troupe to be included in the Cape Town Carnival, but he had received no response from the Cape Town Carnival organisors.
“I’m not on board. They have excluded us and I don’t know why,” said Gasant.
Momberg also said he didn’t understand where the money from the City for the Minstrels Carnival went. Most, he said, goes towards the “infrastructure of the carnival”: towards the security and policing. Hardly any of the nearly R4million spent by the city reached the performing groups.
“The City keeps changing things left right and centre,” said Momberg. “We want to have an input with the event coordinators. We want to be able to discuss and make it better for all of us. It is our show, our people who are involved. It celebrates our heritage and culture and traditions.”
Grant Pascoe, Mayoral Committee member for Tourism, said the City was excited about the Cape Town Carnival this weekend.
“Last year there were close to 100 000 people lining the streets. We are looking forward to some great exhibitions.”
“It’s been growing, there are around 4000 participants, and it brings people together from all over the city; various communities. So there is some job creation. People spend months working on their floats and it keeps young people off the streets.”
He said it was “totally different” from the Minstrels Carnival.
“Initially we would have loved to combine the two, but they are something different,” he said.
“Kaapse Klopse is more of a traditional carnival, celebrating freedom from slavery. There are about 13 000 participants and between 50 and 60 000 people come to watch.”
“This (new) one is totally different, we are trying to base it on the Rio carnival.” – Katie de Klee