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Yaseen Burt
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Echoes of District Six are calling for its rebirth.

17 December 2013, 14:41

Looking over the city from the 5th floor of the Buitengracht Street building where I work, I get a pretty good view of the all the newly constructed buildings and must admit that it’s become a habit of mine to follow the construction of new buildings in and around the city. It just seems such a sign of progress and achievement when the scaffolding has been dismantled and the towering crane has been deconstructed. I am sure the people who labour months, sometimes years to see the result of their collective efforts must feel a much greater sense of achievement than what I do.

But sadly, there remains a large, seemingly forgotten stretch of land that remains untouched among the newly sprouted buildings and housing developments in the city. It’s quite a shame that this historical piece of property has been allowed to fall by the wayside, denying it its rebirth and new role in this city of ours. I can think of so many stories told to me by family members about their days in District Six and those stories always seem to remind them of a magical time for the then young inhabitants. Even if I’ve never seen its streets, it’s as if I played in them too as a child when I think of those stories. District Six seems to remind people of a time before their neighborhoods became ghettos, before the ugly gang violence, child murders and tik. I can’t help but wonder if the rebuilding of District Six holds a certain promise for the city too, as if she was a mother waiting to be reunited with her long-lost child.

Looking beyond the sentimental value of rebuilding District Six, one can only wonder how the opportunity to add a viable, profitable and marketable tourist attraction to the city  be missed by the City of Cape Town and the entities it needs to engage in order to break ground there. Filling this stretch of land with houses and apartment blocks that can house thousands not only creates job opportunities, but will also serve to alleviate our overburdened highways. A neighborhood with a lively market at its centre offering all kinds of tourist attractions to visitors, one in which visitors might get an enjoyable insight into the culture of the areas surrounding the city can easily be imagined. But yet the wrangling continues and blame is shifted from one committee to the next. This kind of thing has become all too familiar in our daily political affairs while the real issues fall victim to neglect. The urgency of the matter can also not be overstated as after receiving their symbolic keys to their promised homes a few years ago, many of the former inhabitants of the old District Six have since passed away while waiting to return to their once beloved neighborhood. It’s a crying shame that politics has been allowed to rear in this matter.

We cannot afford to let more years pass us by before breaking ground in District Six. So much time has passed since the illegal and shameful eviction of its inhabitants and how much more time will have to pass?  This piece of land is a gleaming reminder of something this city still needs reconcile with. Our leaders have the ability to take it and transform it into something new and truly beautiful. This way, new memories can be made there. Who knows, my children might get the chance to create their childhood memories there.

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