“Sacrificing one year of the minstrel parade so we can live to see many more in the years to come”

The annual Cape Minstrel Carnival is synonymous with year-end festivities in Cape Town. The pandemic has forced a postponement to 2022. A few troupes are not accepting this, and going ahead with “mini” parades as seen here. We chat to Benito Holmes, a stalwart in the minstrel community about the cancellation, and why adhering to Covid regulations is important. 

Read more: A snapshot of the Cape Minstrel Carnival history

What is your background with the Minstrel Carnival? 

I started with the champions Pennsylvanians, we won 14 years consecutively. I am also a founding member. I learnt everything about the Klopse with the Pennsylvanians. From there I went to District Six of Bo-Kaap, who eventually beat Pennsylvanians. I have more of a consulting capacity in the Klopse; I advise and give guidance on Klops activities. 

The parade has been postponed, how do you feel about this? 

When it comes to Klopse and festive season it is about finally being able to relax. Klopse is about socialising, seeing family, making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. That competition time at the stadium you get to see everyone. It is a cultural tradition, but the enjoyment is fun and keeps us busy- especially for the older people. Having it all taken away has been difficult. It is painful, and it is something that people have done for many years. People have their spots they go to each year to watch the Klopse. It is our enjoyment that has been taken away. 

We have seen some troupes doing mini-parades, how do you feel about that?

As much as our joy has been taken away this year, postponing was something that needed to happen. My argument has been steadfast about this. Some of the troupes are not adhering to Covid protocols. I understand wanting that enjoyment and socialising. But, at what cost? That elderly aunt and uncle also jolling with are at high risk. They are being put at risk, and everyone around you. It is not worth it. Our lives are more important than any fun at this point. In order for us to have a culture and this parade in the next few years, we need to adhere. 

Mitchells Plain has one of the highest levels of infection rates in the Western Cape. For a troupe of +- 800 people and multiplied that by three; to parade there results in thousands gathering. It is not ignorance, it is arrogance. Everyone is aware of the virus, we know the consequences. So with that knowledge going out and blatantly parading is arrogant. This is a result of weak leadership too. The leaders of these troupes have to take a stand, and be responsible. They need to ensure the safety of their troupes wherever they can. I have been adamant about this, and speaking to these leaders directly. It has made me some enemies because of being this vocal about adhering. I have seen some images of ICU’s in the Eastern Cape, and it has shaken me. Maybe people should be seeing these images, to be aware. People only start taking note when someone close to them contracts the virus. It shouldn’t be this way. The irony is so many people in the Klopse and Nagtroepe have died as a result of Covid. Many have also contracted Covid. These are people with big troupes, there is no excuse for these mini-parades. Somehow the Minstrel Boards need to draw more clearer lines about strict adherence. Suspension looms for all troupes who defy these rules. Many troupes have also cancelled their parades and events; not everyone is being defiant. People are going the extra mile. It is a minority of people putting the majority at risk. 

Any parting thoughts? 

We can shout from the rooftops, but it is up to individuals to make the decision to adhere. This is all about our future. The parade is a social event that involves being in close proximity to people. Virtual choral competitions work well for this. Not for road marches. This is a small sacrifice to make for our future enjoyment and celebrations.