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The way we lived. 24. New Year’s Day.

Updated: Jun 5, 2023


So now you’ve had your snoek and chips – satisfied? Seals have performed for you in the harbour; also the colourful Minstrels, banjoes and all. The view from the other side, on the way south, shows Hout Bay, the jewel in the crown of an already beautiful seaside city.

THE WAY WE LIVED[24] New Year’s Day. [8 Min read]

New Year’s Eve parties were more common than Xmas functions. Tucked away in our segregated enclaves, the hotels and bands laid on large functions where “lang arm”[long arm] dancing was popular. One could rock, waltz, quickstep, foxtrot or samba through the night on a crowded dance floor where one had to watch one’s step. For Zonjia and myself, in our married years, this was the only way to see out the old year and to welcome in the new one. Just writing about those occasions is nostalgic ++.

<– In our later years, my glad rags were a tux and my Hei Matau, Maori jade fish-hook for safe travels, instead of a bow tie. Talk about spiffy!

Of course, I could also be the party animal, like my “Wild Thing”–> millennial outfit will testify; but it was a one-off, I swear!! Since then, the family keep me on a leash 

Cape Town had/has a reputation as a party city with a strong tradition of music of all sorts which ranged from the Eoan Opera Group to the annual Minstrel Carnival[originally the non-PC “Coon” Carnival]. Cape Town’s own style of music is over a hundred years old with roots in American Jazz with a global creole fusion of African, European, American, Indian and Asian influences. Cape Jazz is a vibrant end-product of multicultural blending. During its evolution, its slave roots generated an anti-apartheid cultural musical radicalism that contributed to the movement towards free-thinking and democracy.

The King of CT Jazz was/is Abdullah Ibrahim. Activist musician, pianist and saxophonist whose famed piece, Mannenberg, named after one of Cape Town’s townships, became an anti-apartheid anthem. His rasping voice still gives me goosebumps in the one-liner towards the end of the piece – Julle kan maar New York toe gaan, maar ons bly hier in die Mannaneberg. [You can all go to New York, but we are staying here in Mannanberg.] There’s something special about the way he relates his music to one of the poorest township ghettoes out on the Cape Flats, long regarded as the dumping ground of apartheid during its heyday.

For many, New Year was not the same without the NYE music jamboree that culminated in the Tweede Nuwejaar[January second] music festival, traditionally a free day for Cape Town’s slaves to celebrate in the late 1800s. In the early days, their songs were steeped in their daily experiences as denied citizens, also much-needed humour. The day included bands and musical troupes who originally marched through the streets of Cape Town before it became too much of a traffic hazard. In their brightly coloured outfits and painted minstrel faces[apparently a mimic of the American raccoon face], we looked forward to the groups wandering through the neighbourhood performing and strutting their stuff as they went along.

In our politicised household, the “Coon” Carnival was not encouraged as it was seen as an implement used by the State in a derogatory fashion. However, it was a a vital part of the struggle for people whose songs politicised and highlighted the travails they faced in their daily lives.

One of my class five school pals, Jakobus, a bit of a rough guy with whom I shared a desk, was in a minstrel group and he taught me a few songs in Afrikaans[remember, Afrikaans was the language of the oppressed; only later was it the oppressor’s language. See earlier blog on “Afrikaans”]. Here are a couple of liedjies[little songs] that Jakobus taught me.

Bier, bier Drink dit uit die bottel Gooi dit in die skottel Kinders julle moet nog ’n bietjie wag Bier, bier. [Beer, beer Drink it from the bottle Pour it in a jug Children you must wait a bit. Beer, beer]

My favourite was:

Hier sit ek weer in die Roeland Straat* Voor die judge en die magistraat Oe la my basie wat het ek gemaak? Toe kry ek nege maande hier in die Roeland Straat [Here I sit again in Roeland Street* Before the judge and the magistrate Oh dear my boss, what have I done? So I got nine months here in Roeland Street] * Prison

My best day of the year, eventually, was New Year’s Day. It became a day when our core dive group of five divers and families went out to Kommetjie. Yes, we cooked fresh, still live crayfish on the beach[it’s the only way to do it!]. The “Crayfish Old Aged Home” was in the sea in front of the crayfish factory over in the right-hand corner of the photo below. On a day like that, the water was too rough and murky to dive there.  

<– That’s me with my kelp curls and Natasje at Kommetjie around 1975.

I have this lovely memory of my mom in her hat as she was somewhat prone to sunburn. While we dived, Mom collected ching-chao[that’s agar-agar] which grew on the stems of the washed-up kelp that was in abundance on that beach. Even now, I can picture my Mom sitting flat on the sea sand, peeling the ching-chao off the kelp. When bleached out, still attached to the kelp, it took on the colour of hay from its original red-brown colour when fresh. Mom cooked it up with sugar and pineapple skins before straining and adding a can of ideal milk before setting in a fridge. I salivate at the thought of it. Makes me want to get some agar-agar etc for a quick seaweed jelly cook-up. On one occasion, at the Kommetjie caravan park, I dug the pineapple skins out of a dirt bin to satisfy my craving for this dessert, a family favourite. In my later years, I used a can of pineapple pieces instead. Which tasted better? Not sure now, it’s been a while.

Ultimately, we are the products of the many experiences in our lives. Apartheid distorted our lives in awful ways, but, human nature being what it is, we sought ways out of it, through it, over it, under it or around it. Some of those experiences were related to those festive days when we could put aside the garbage and try to sniff the roses, even if they were someone else’s flowers. Above all, what we did related especially to people. For those of you who shared those wonderful days and precious moments with us, Zonjia and I are eternally grateful. 

These wishes may be late, but may your 2020 be a good one. Who knows, we may even bump into some of you out there somewhere this year! Maybe on a dance floor? So keep well till then!


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