A walk through the streets of Salt River and Woodstock aroused memories of sadness and loss for a number of residents this past week.
This as members of social movement Reclaim the City embarked on their first Heritage Memory Walk around the two suburbs on Monday 24 September to “acknowledge and honour the families who have been evicted from their communities due to gentrification”.
Gentrification is the process of redeveloping deteriorated buildings in urban areas into upmarket properties occupied by affluent residents.
“People have lost their homes and communities. As we were walking around people were sharing their stories of what used to be there and here. Everything is gone now, only memories,” the movement asserts in a statement.
Reclaim the City is made up of tenants and working class people living and working in the inner city of Cape Town and surrounds who stand together in solidarity against evictions and displacement.
The movement actively takes on campaigns to advocate and fight for land to be viewed and used as land for the people, not for profit.
Along the way during the walk, the team stopped outside the homes where some of them used to live and shared memories they hold dear – of births, of childhoods, of arrivals and departures, of making homes and building families.
Emotions ran high on the streets.
Denver Arendse reiterated that the first Memory Walk sought to give members an opportunity to share experiences with one another. “Many evictees are placed here,” he said, pointing to yet another residential area.
Another member recalled how she and her family were evicted many years ago. “I was born here in 1967, I lived here with my whole family. There were a few houses here up the whole road and they started to evict us. We got a place with my cousin around the corner. We spent a few years with her until we were evicted again and we moved to Bromwell Street,” she said.
One resident spoke about how her friend was forced out of the home she had been renting for many years despite being willing to continue paying rent.
A member of the movement whose dispute with her landlord had to be resolved at the Western Cape Housing Tribunal, joined the walk.
She said: “Gentrification is only a modern word for the Group Areas Act. It has always been. We’re going to stop that now even with private landlords, we need to stop it. Public land cannot be sold to private developers and where people live should matter – it should matter to government, to private developers and to the City as well.”
The walk took place while the country celebrated Heritage Day.
“Heritage is not just the artefacts beneath the soil, or the buildings that surround us. It is also the collective memories we have as members of a community,” says Reclaim the City.
The group has a strong message for the City of Cape Town and private developers: “This is our land and we belong here!”
According to the movement, there is a need to disrupt private development because of the evidence of people being displaced.
“All the spaces where people lived and have a history have been turned into private developments. We need to show that we exist and that these are real people with real life stories around these developments and that we are saying a definite no to gentrification around the area!”
Reclaim the City says it has a responsibility to resist the removal of people or communities from the area. The movement says it has a duty to fight for the heritage of the community because their livelihood depends on this.
Neither local, provincial nor national government “has put section 26 of the Constitution into practice since 1994”, especially around the inner city, Woodstock and Salt River, the movement states.