Lewes Bonfire blackface row: Zulu dance troupe pulls out of celebrations

Zulu Tradition has pulled out of this year's Lewes Bonfire celebrations
Zulu Tradition has pulled out of this year's Lewes Bonfire celebrations

A Zulu dance troupe has pulled out of the Lewes Bonfire celebrations on Monday after a row over blackface erupted again.

Zulu Tradition had been booked to perform at the celebrations on Monday evening - one of the biggest bonfire events in the country, famous for its effigies of disliked personalities.

Zulu Tradition has pulled out of this year's Lewes Bonfire celebrations as a row over the event's use of blackface reignited.

Zulu Tradition has pulled out of this year's Lewes Bonfire celebrations as a row over the event's use of blackface reignited.

However, the troupe told the BBC yesterday that they would not be performing after a photo emerged on Facebook of a child in blackface in connection to this year's event.

Speaking to the BBC, Thanda Gumede, the leader of the dance troupe, said: "My concerns started when I saw a picture of a boy in black face again.

"I contacted [the bonfire society] to see if they were going to honour our agreement from last year when we agreed there would be no black faces, no skull and bones etc.

"While I appreciate some of the things will take time to do - some people said last year the skulls were embedded in their costumes, so I made some concessions, but it's been a year."

The row over participants wearing blackface to dress as Zulus and native Americans has divided the community. Some say it is steeped in the tradition of the event, while many others believe it portrays offensive stereotypes and is unacceptable in today's society.

Zulu Tradition threatened to not perform at last year's event due to the blackface row - but Lewes Borough Bonfire Society agreed to take on Mr Gumede's advice and try to stamp out the practice. Click here to read more.

The ‘Zulux’ black paint tin, which had formed part of the society’s tableau, was ceremonially consigned to the flames of history by being thrown on the bonfire last year.

Speaking last year, bonfire society committee member Mick Symes said Zulu Tradition, which led the procession, had 'won the hearts of every one of us'.

Regarding the blackface issue, he said: “We are more than happy to take this advice from Thanda. We are very, very happy to say we are making minor but significant alterations based on very meaningful cultural advice from Thanda.

“I am not going to guarantee there will be no ‘blackface’ around. But the guarantee I can give is we are bending over backwards to comply with this advice.”

Reacting to the news that Zulu Tradition would not be performing this year, Mr Symes told the BBC yesterday: "We shot ourselves in the foot this time.

"We had an incident where a young child had a full black face, for which we have made a full and wholesome apology.

"It's not our policy any more - black faces are banned."

What do you think about the use of blackface at the bonfire event? Comment on our Facebook page or email us at sussex.express.co.uk.