While the Cape Town Carnival's year-long programme will culminate in a one-night spectacular on 16 March 2019 on the Green Point Fan Walk, the programme's impact reaches far beyond the event.
“I’ve developed an extensive understanding of what it means to be a leader, not just in the context of the Cape Town Carnival, but in my community and in other aspects of my life. Being part of the carnival family has influenced me to bring change in other people’s lives.” This is what Nonkoliseko Somagu, one of the Cape Town Carnival’s lead performers, has taken away from this year’s planning for the carnival, and she’s not alone.
“The spirit of the Cape Town Carnival has brought families together, and has truly and honestly restored broken relationships,” says Joeline Daniels, group leader for the Heideveld Theatre Company, a holistic performing-arts-based programme that develops skills in singing, dance and drama, and provides therapeutic intervention to local people through counselling and drama therapy.
The 55 participating performing groups come from various neighbourhoods across the peninsula, and for many, preparing for the carnival has given a sense of purpose and a newfound family. “The Cape Town Carnival has created a safe space for listening and speaking,” says Jay Douwes, CEO of the Cape Town Carnival. “It’s a respectful and collaborative environment and places great value on self-worth, esteem and belonging.”
Many of the participating groups are non-profit organisations helping to empower the youth in their area through the arts and dance. The Likhwezi Arts Project, for example, is a dancing and singing group and community-service organisation that has been helping township children since 2003. Performing at the Cape Town Carnival has become the group’s annual highlight, and they’ve put a lot of energy into making their performance a fantastic experience for the expected 54,000 spectators.
The Cape Town Carnival is a platform to give these members a form of expression. “We find that many of our participants have built lasting relationships with people they would not have met if it wasn’t for the Cape Town Carnival, and they have found another family amongst us,” says, Craig Lemboe, trustee of the Cape Town Carnival Trust.
Chinese dancing dragons and temple lions
The Chinese community of Cape Town participated in the Cape Town Carnival for the first time in 2017, bringing to South Africa the legendary colour, movement and ceremony of the Chinese dancing dragons and temple lions seen at international carnival parades in London, New York and throughout China. Group leader Gang Dong described the experience as “wonderful”, and adds, “We enjoyed the excitement of being part of the Carnival family and the celebration of diversity of communities and cultures.”
Somagu, for instance, inspired by the Carnival experience, has started a mentorship programme focused on assisting learners from selected high schools around Cape Town to get bursaries and sponsorships to further their studies, and hosts talks on various burning issues that people face daily as part of her foundation called #inspireme.