The Discomfort of African Americans in South Africa

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Most African Americans who visit Cape Town around the New Year are initially shocked by what is traditionally known here as The Coon Festival--a weeklong reverie of parties and parades where mixed race or "colored" people dress up in costumes and blackface to perform minstrel shows.

The Coon Festival, more recently renamed the Minstrel Festival, has been an annual affair in Cape Town for over 150 years and may be the most public manifestation of an engagement between African Americans and black South Africans that goes back to the U.S. Civil War.

The interaction between the two groups has ebbed and flowed at critical moments in history, and recently, it has been near its nadir. But an esteemed group of South Africans and African Americans living in South Africa have joined to reclaim that history and to plot a way forward that will expand a frayed relationship.

The newly minted South African American Partnership Forum (SAAPF) held a recent day-long symposium at the University of Johannesburg to explore the history and future prospects of the relationship in the areas of education, arts and culture, business, the media and politics.

The symposium was part of a week-long series of activities called USA Week produced by Kennedy Khabo, a South African and American resident. Khabo also produces a South Africa Week in Washington, D.C., every September. The goal of both organizations is to increase the number of people-to-people contacts. There are an estimated 3,000 African Americans living in South Africa--which appears to have overtaken Ghana as African Americans' preferred point of return to the continent....

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