Seven Steps Minstrels keep Tweede Nuwe Jaar spirit alive

The Seven Steps Minstrels celebrated Tweede Nuwe Jaar at the Castle of Good Hope on Saturday.

“The parade can be cancelled, but you can never cancel Tweede Nuwe Jaar.”

These were the words of Seven Steps Minstrels founder Kader Miller, who put together a team of 10 to celebrate the significant cultural day at the Castle of Good Hope on Saturday.

The annual parade down Keizergracht Street – now Hanover Street – into Darling Street, which attracts thousands to the CBD every year, was postponed and moved to Youth Day, June 16, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown regulations.

However, this didn’t stop the group, dressed in the colours of the South African flag, who danced and sang to celebrate Tweede Nuwe Jaar on the veranda in the Castle’s courtyard – at the place where slavery was abolished in the 1800s.

“We know Covid-19 forced the cancellation of this world-famous, iconic cultural event. But we want to prove that Twiere-Nuwe-Jaar is still alive and kicking.”

January 2 is a significant day in the history of the Cape. On this day, the Dutch colonialist would give the enslaved people of the Cape a day to celebrate new year according to the latter’s manner and customs.

After slavery was abolished, the newly liberated would use the day to celebrate their freedom and so gave birth to an annual minstrel parade.

Mr Miller said the parade was not just about walking down the streets in costume – it was about the liberation of the people – “and what better way to celebrate than on the very steps where slavery was abolished”.

He said the Seven Steps Minstrels were determined to keep the spirit of Tweede Nuwe Jaar alive, and approached the Castle of Good Hope’s board, who welcomed the celebration.

“We wanted our future generations to know why they were part of the minstrels and why it was so important to the people of Cape Town.”

He said this year, the small parade, which observed all Covid-19 protocols, was dedicated to the frontline workers.

“There are people in hospital, some who are part of the minstrels and some who enjoy the parades, and we wanted to put a smile on their faces the way the parade would do every year.

“There were no people at our celebration, but we did it in the spirit of Tweede Nuwe Jaar. We couldn’t wait till June 16 – this day has its own importance.”

After the celebration at the castle, the team decided that the day would not be complete without the traditional walk down Hanover Street, making the Seven Steps Minstrels the first team to parade down the newly renamed Hanover Street, which Mr Miller said, gave the day even more emotional and historical significance.

The small troupe of minstrels took to Hanover Street.

“Unfortunately, the people who fought for the name to be changed, including the late District Six Working Committee chairperson Shahied Ajam, was not here to see, but I know they would’ve supported this.

“But we were there. The Minstrel Carnival has outlived many pandemics and hindrances, and we shall survive this one. Our spirit will never be broken.”

The CEO of the Castle Control Board, Calvyn Gilfellen, said Covid-19 and the resultant restrictions has offered us a quiet learning moment at the “former bastion of armed colonial conquest and slave trading”.

“Although jovial by nature, the Cape Minstrel Carnival is a constant reminder of Cape Town’s brutal slavery past and the importance of music and dance as a celebration of freedom, inclusion, and shared heritage.

“Not without a healthy dose of controversy and contestation, the Minstrel troupes give a sense of pride and community to the group members, many of whom come from disadvantaged and impoverished backgrounds.“

He said the board felt it appropriate to honour the memory of the enslaved people, as they played a pivotal role not only in the construction of the Castle, but the development of the entire country.

“We restricted the event but, obviously, there were also visitors around. They simply loved it.

“Given the responses from people who saw the event on other platforms, we would consider a more sustained programme to promote this kind of smaller events at the Castle of Good Hope thereby transforming the negative image of the Castle into a positive, inclusive and healing one.”