55 years since apartheid death knell for District Six

Phase three of the District Six restitution which is expected to be completed in April.

It’s been 55 years since District Six was declared an all-white area, in 1966, and the community’s struggle to regain some semblance of what was lost under apartheid continues.

Due to Covid-19, it was a low-key commemoration of the 55th anniversary of the apartheid death knell for District Six that was held in Hanover Street on Thursday February 11. Members of the District Six Working Committee(D6WC) attended along with a handful of District Six claimants and some members of religious groups.

The District Six Working Committee’s director, Maxia Mahloane, left and chairwoman, Zahrah Nordien.

D6WC chairwoman Zahrah Nordien said the commemoration would always be sad as many former residents clung to memories of District Six before the forced removals. But there is also hope among the claimants that restitution is finally in reach.

“We need to move forward and that is why we are fighting for the claimants of District Six,” Ms Nordien said.

Ms Nordien said there had been good cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), and in April a third phase of development in District Six, comprising 108 units near the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, would be completed.

The April completion date was confirmed by DALRRD spokesman Vuyani Nkasayi.

But there are still many claimants for whom the restitution struggle continues. Last year, the DALRRD said it would start developing 954 units in seven phases over four years – it’s a plan that has been welcomed by various claimants and District Six organisations.

However, construction on that development, due to have started in November last year, had been stalled because of Covid-19 and lockdown, said Mr Nkasayi.

District Six claimant Eva Abrahams, 84, from Hanover Park, yearns to return home to District Six.

“One of my fondest memories,” she said, “was the good communication amongst the diverse community where everyone’s child felt safe amongst neighbours and there was a lot of joy and laughter.”

Another claimant, Sandre Dee, 62, also has fond memories of her youth in District Six. “I always felt the love in District Six and I was a cabaret performer at the Star Bioscope.”

Ms Dee, from Manenberg, said she had lost many friends over the years who had waited in vain for restitution, so going back would be a dream come true for her.

District Six claimants Sandra Dee, left, and Igshaan Lewis.

Muslim Judicial Council president Shaykh Irfaan Abrahams said the apartheid government had committed a great crime, the effects of which continued to be felt today, by shattering District Six and scattering its remnants across Cape Town.

“It was sad as many of our children who left District Six became drug addicts and were involved with drug merchants,” he said.

Anglican priest June Dolley-Major had family in District Six and she said it had been the soul of the city.

“For everyone who has fought hard for justice, you must not give up,” she said.

The spirit of unity that had once burned so bright in District Six was what South Africa needed now, she said.

The commemoration also remembered Shahied Ajam, the late D6WC chairman who fought hard for restitution and to help claimants realise their dreams of returning.

His mother, Shariefa Ajam, said she missed her son, the eldest of five children, and that he had always taken care of his family.

“He fought hard and diligently for the claimants to get restitution, and the remaining claimants must not give up,” she said. “Keep fighting to come home to District Six.”