‘Restitution has failed’

2015-11-10 06:00
About 200 people marched to the Civic Centre demanding their land in District Six back, saying they have waited long enough and they want to die on their land.  PHOTO: TIYESE JERANJI

About 200 people marched to the Civic Centre demanding their land in District Six back, saying they have waited long enough and they want to die on their land. PHOTO: TIYESE JERANJI

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“Every month I go visit the land that was taken from us by force. It tears my heart when I see what the city is doing to District Six. They are building, but they don’t want to give us our land back.”

These were the words of a teary Bahia Abrahams as she marched with 200 other people to the Civic Centre in the city centre to demand their land. The march was organised by the District Six Working Committee to address mayor Patricia de Lille so that they could make some progress in getting their land back.

Abrahams’s family had been forcefully removed from District Six. She now lives in Mitchell’s Plain.

The protesters handed over a memorandum of grievances of 16 pages. They said they wanted an answer within seven working days, because they had waited for too long.

Abrahams said she wanted to die in District Six.

“I’m not happy in Mitchell’s Plain. It’s like we are in prison. The drugs, gangsterism and crime are out of hand. Gangsters are running our lives.

“They must just take us back where we belong. I grew up in District Six and that’s where I want to die. Nothing is being done about the land, instead they keep building for their own benefit. On some areas the grass is growing again.

“It’s a shame, when we lived in District Six we were so happy but by moving us they took our happiness away. If the City doesn’t listen to us this time around we will go squat on the land. It belongs to us. Until when should we wait?” she said.

Darawiesa de Villiers, another land claimant who is living in Lentegeur, said they wanted their land back because that is where their livelihood was.

“People are getting old. For how long must we wait? They promised us that we will have the land but we are still waiting. We can’t wait any longer. Our lives are there. We have memorises there. The City must act now; we are tired of empty promises,” she said.

There are claims that initially 150 hectare of land was supposed to be given back to the people, but with the City building on it they only have 42 hectare left, which is not enough for the claimants.

Shahied Ajam, chairperson of the District Six Working Committee, says it’s practically impossible to compensate for the injustices done through the Natives Land and Group Areas acts.

“No amount of money can ever compensate for the amount of indignities inflicted upon the people on the grounds of the colour of their skin. It is equally impossible to imagine how, for 21 years into democracy in the new South Africa, a previously disenfranchised people, who were disposed of their rights and forcibly evicted from their homes in the apartheid era, have not yet been properly restituted. Moreover, it is unacceptable that people continue to suffer humiliation and personal setbacks, when they have been deprived of their basic human rights for so long,” he says.

The memorandum includes a proposal for holistic remedies and calls on the City of Cape Town to act.

“Since corruption crept into the first round with the flopped housing development scheme, a forensic audit should be conducted into how the housing allocation to residents presently occupying houses in District Six was done. We want a fast-tracking of things, because the people can’t wait any longer.

“The mayor must be brave enough to admit that urban restitution, particularly in the case of District Six, has been a failure. Local, provincial and national government should now become proactive in their efforts to restore the people’s dignity before it is too late, since many claimants are elderly and fear that justice may not be brought in their lifetime,” says Ajam.

Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, a representative of the mayor’s office, accepted the memorandum.

“We will look into and respond, but this has been communicated time and again that this is not the City’s matter but of the department of rural development and land reform. The City has done what it was supposed to do and land has been released to the national government, so everything lies with it. However, we will help them follow the right channels but the people who are marching are the very same people who are blocking opportunities for others.”

Ian Neilson, deputy mayor, says the City released 42 hectare of available, City-owned land to the department of rural development and land reform in 2000 and has budgeted for service provision. He adds that it is the department that decides which development option to pursue and drives the process to determine which applicants are the beneficiaries of the development.

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