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Zulu dancer insists blacking up at Lewes bonfire celebration is NOT racist or offensive

<em>A petition has called for the practice of ‘blacking up’ to be banned (Grab)</em>
A petition has called for the practice of ‘blacking up’ to be banned (Grab)

A Zulu dancer has insisted that people “blacking up” for a Bonfire Night celebration is not a racist act.

Thandanani Gumede, 32, a Zulu from Durban, South Africa, spoke up in defence of white members of the Borough Bonfire Society dressing up as Zulu warriors for the parade in Lewes, East Sussex.

The practice, at one of England’s oldest bonfire parades, has come under pressure from campaign group Bonfire Against Racism, who want the “racist act” stopped.

<em>People dress up in various costumes for the celebrations in Lewes (Rex)</em>
People dress up in various costumes for the celebrations in Lewes (Rex)

However, Mr Gumede, who is set to perform with his Yorkshire-based dance troop Zulu Tradition at the parade, denied that the face-painting was offensive.

He told The Guardian: “I would be offended by people showing up in a Ku Klux Klan uniform.

“So far, based on the information I have, I haven’t [seen] anything racist.

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“I was flattered to see there were people trying to look like me as opposed to saying it is wrong to look like me.”

He added: “If someone blacked up and dressed like Tarzan [that would be racist], but it looks like they have taken the time to reproduce the costumes carefully.”

Bonfire Against Racism have so far collected more than 1,000 signatures for the petition demanding the practice be ended.

<em>The Lewes bonfire night celebrations are one of the oldest in the country (Rex)</em>
The Lewes bonfire night celebrations are one of the oldest in the country (Rex)

The petition, on the site 38 Degrees, says: “The decision of a small fraction of the membership of Borough Bonfire Society to engage in the offensive practice of blacking up runs counter to the overall spirit of the event.

“This public display of caricatured, negative stereotypes of black Africans within our community is racist and serves only to increase tension and division within our diverse community.”

Jason Winter, 47, chairman of Borough Bonfire Society, insisted his members were not racist and dismissed the allegations of racism as “ignorant and arrogant”.