Celebrations for District Six

2019-02-19 06:00

Monday 11 February marked the 53rd anniversary of the declaration of District Six as a “white” area.

In the current era, in a democratic South Africa, one would assume that the injustices of the past have been forgotten and that those who were done wrong have healed from the pain they felt.

This is not the case for Selwyn Williams, whose family was one of the families that were forcefully relocated to the Cape Flats.

“I am sadly aware that it is an unrealistic dream to try and recreate the undisputed neighbourliness of District Six we once knew and lost as thoughts of reuniting a traumatised community dispersed over a vast area of the Cape Flats is wishful thinking, also considering the ages of the original inhabitants of District Six,” Williams said.

“We are now in many instances dealing with the second or third generation of descendants of these families, many that vaguely remember or choose to forget District Six, and have made a decision to go on with their lives in their new adopted environments they now call home.”

Williams has noted down the struggles of his and other families who were removed from their original homes in 1966.

He said the Group Areas Act of 1950, which separated residential areas according to people’s race, was designed so to manipulate and control non-whites.

Williams said District Six was robbed off its old identity in 1970 when it was renamed Zonnebloem.

“Hanover Street was also renamed to Keizergracht Street. All this was done in an attempt to erase District Six from the map of Cape Town and to obliterate the regime’s crime against humanity from the memory of future generations.”

His family also had to experience the impact of “racial engineering” by being relocated to “a strange and soulless ghetto” and had no choice in choosing where they would like to live.

“We were given no opportunity to choose where we wanted to start a new life. We were, with broken hearts, moved to a place miles away from our source of income, which caused suffering that would reverberate throughout our family and community for years to come.”

With the birth of a new democratic South Africa in 1994, hope was restored to many South Africans.

Former president Nelson Mandela was inaugurated and the Restitution of Land Rights Act, 1994 was instituted by the Department of Land Affairs, which left the Western Cape Regional Land Claims Commission to validate and provide redress to land property owners and rental tenants who had been disinherited of their property and homes after June 1913.

“This encouraged District Six claimants to come forward and claim financial compensation or redevelopment. The initial registration deadline was set for four years.”

Fast forward to 2019, 53 years since District Six was declared a whites-only area and 25 years since the Restitution of Land Rights Act was instituted, and Williams’s family has still not received what is due to them.

“My father passed away in May 2000. He spent four years pursuing his property claim. He passed away without compensation, restitution or indication of where he stood in regard to his claim.

“I have since been appointed and validated as the property/landowner claimant.”

Cape Town mayor, Dan Plato, spoke at the commemoration of the anniversary on 11 February and said the day was important for a number of reasons.

“It is important for the following reasons: for reflecting on our past, both the wrongs and injustices, as well as for acknowledging the good and the positive developments that have taken place over the years,” Plato said.

Mandela was released from the Victor Verster prison on the same day in 1990.

Plato said the anniversary of District Six’s declaration was a painful reminder for many people.

“In the years before that day, District Six was a happy place. It was a warm place where neighbours knew we should focus on, the time before the wrongs of apartheid ripped families, friends and entire communities apart.”

He said he was deeply saddened that some of the original residents of District Six had died while waiting to return to their homes.

He offered space at the City Hall for people to come together and work on a solution to return to their homes.

“If there is another venue that you would rather use, please engage with my office. I want to make sure you have a space where you can work, lay out your plans and plot the way forward,” Plato said.

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