City of Cape Town gave Minstrel Carnival biggest cash injection and logistics support in history

Cape Town – The City of Cape Town (COCT) commends the sentiments expressed in the opinion piece by Fatima Shabodien, and published on IOL on 17 January 2020, about the value and cultural importance of the Minstrels’ Carnival in Cape Town. It is only a pity that we once again have to correct the misinformation regarding the City’s support for the event.

The DA-run City of Cape Town has spent more than R22 million on Minstrels, Cape Malay Choirs and Christmas Bands over the last five years. This shows the biggest financial and logistics support for the event since its inception. 

Over the same period the City has also provided support in the form of City services including safety and security, cleansing, disaster risk management at a cost to the City. In addition, the cost for the use of City facilities has been waived in support of these organisations. 

It is therefore factually incorrect to publish that the ANC last spent the most money on the event in 2004. 

The minstrels events of the last few years has been the best supported ever by government with a budget five times bigger than the ANC was willing to pinch off. The last two or three years has seen the largest spectator numbers and This year we saw the first substantial corporate sponsorship ever, signaling that the festival had finally come into its own and was approaching financial independence and good health. 

The truth is that under the ANC the minstrels suffered much. In 2004 the media reported that the ANC had failed to muster any meaningful financial support. Ebrahim Rasool had promised a measly R500 000 which the minstrels pointed out was not nearly enough and the City Council was then pressurised to add some more budget, but these contributions combined amounted to a slap in the face of the minstrels festival.

In 2005, Rasool threatened the minstrels and told them he would “not be held at gunpoint” over funding, setting an ultimatum about whether they would participate or be locked out completely. This certainly does not demonstrate a “warm relationship” between the minstrels and the ANC or the ANC having any respect for the traditions as Shabodien now fantasises is the case. 

At the time the ANC said that the minstrels event had been held since 1907 without financial support from government. Rasool also said that minstrels troupes that were affiliated to gangsters would receive no funding. The bravado was false as the ANC then proceeded to fund the CTMCA despite the serious drug and firearm criminal offences of the leadership. When the DA subsequently obtained legal opinion on the POCA convictions and denied them funding, the ANC were the first to howl with outrage. Rasool also said that the ANC would in subsequent years move the meagre funding “to other groups, especially African groups”.

The remainder of her letter is equally littered with misinformation.

The City must emphasise that it had numerous engagements over the years to try to unite the various minstrel boards. It is unfortunate that some of the boards (such as the CTMCA) would rather choose to take us to court (and lose to us six years in a row), instead of work with us to support their event. 

There are some minstrel boards that move beyond political rhetoric and choose to put their communities first and prioritise this over anything else. Minstrel groups such as the KKKA works tirelessly with the City to ensure that they comply with regulations in order to pull off a spectacular showcase. 

The City supports all its events’ organisers in their vision to host events that are sensitive to cultural and religious needs. The Minstrel Carnival is treated no different, and any decisions to host the event on specific dates are supported by the City. 

The City did not dictate the date and the decision by the KKKA to host the Cape Town Street Parade carnival on 4 January 2020 was made in good faith to observe and respect the Islamic holy days (Thursday and Friday 2-3 January 2020). The City did not dictate the event day but rather supported the KKKA’s decision to host their event on 4 January 2020. 

The facts are that far from having a hostile or disrespectful attitude towards the minstrels, the City of Cape Town and the DA have worked hard to deliver on their vision of an annual minstrel festival that allows for the event to be stable, well-funded, sustainably funded, for jobs to be created for all those who participate to have employment all year round and for reduced cost of uniforms and instruments for the participants.  Aside from increased government funding, this can be achieved only through corporate sponsorship, which the minstrels achieved this year for the first time since 2000. 

This is why the City signed the first multi-year agreement with the minstrels that ensure that the event could plan ahead, be secure in their annual funding and build on that as they did this year with improvements such as the spectator stands that allowed many more people to fully enjoy the event rather than only the front row of gazebos.

The City has a vision for the festival that honours its traditions and history, but also hopes and works for more opportunities for participants, economic development of the City and the elevation of the minstrels’ carnival to international status. 

* Alderman JP Smith is the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security and Events.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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