Residents eager to return to their home

Law firm Norton Rose Fulbrights Frances Barker and Laura Macfarlane with District Six Working Committee members Shahied Ajam and Zograh Nordien briefing the media and claimants.

Distict Six claimants have welcomed a court ruling that found a government minister negligent in failing to draw up a redevelopment plan for the area, but some fear it will do little to get them home before they die.

Last Friday, Western High Court judge Yasmin Meer read a land claims court judgment that said former Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was negligent in failing to deliver a comprehensive plan for the redevelopment of District Six. And she had failed to comply with the court order
by Judge Jody Kollapen at the Western Cape High Court last November.

More than 200 claimants attended a meeting on Saturday August 3 in Salt River where District Six Working Committee (D6WC) chairman Shahied Ajam and the committee’s legal team said they were committed to seeing the claimants return home.

But Juleiga Ismail, 76, says claimants have endured a long and frustrating struggle to return to the place they were forced out of under apartheid and she doubts whether the latest court judgment is going to do much good for those who are getting on in years.

Ms Ismail was born in Osborne Street, District Six, and lived in various parts of the community before being removed in 1978. She said she left everything behind the day the bulldozers came.

“I came to Hanover Park with five children which included a small baby.”

A divorcee, she sold handbags on Greenmarket Square and drove taxis to support her family.

She now lives with her daughter in a flat in Zonnebloem.

“I have struggled all these years with my children, and I really feel at this age that I would like to settle down.”

She remembers District Six as being a very close-knit community.

“The neighbours were there for one another, whether you were Christian or Muslim, you were welcomed in one another’s houses.”

Shahieda Sonday, 64, from Hanover Park, was born in Dover Street, District Six, then moved to Williamston Street, then Russell Street and then eventually to Hanover Street with her family.

She was in Standard 8 (Grade 10) when her family was forced out of the area under the Group Areas Act.

Ms Sonday said she had fond memories of how close the community was during Ramadaan and New Year’s Day.

“If I look at the way things are today, I miss those days. Now during Eid and New Year’s Day, we never see our neighbours.”

Ms Sonday remembers waking up in District Six and smelling the sea air.

“We used to get this sea air because we use to be close to Woodstock Beach, especially when it was misty in the morning.”

Going back to District Six is not only a dream for Ms Sonday, it was also a dream for her mother, Gabieba Williams, who died five years ago at 84.

“Even if I don’t move back, my mother’s legacy will go on, because I have children that can go back there, and I strongly believe that we are going back there.”

Laura Macfarlane, a lawyer from the firm representing the claimants, said the judgment took the claimants one step closer to returning home.

“The declaratory order that Judge Thembeka Ngcukaitobi gave in the lands claim court says the minister and the department failed to comply with the court order from February. They failed to produce a plan to show the claimants when they will be going back.”

Mr Ajam said the D6WC was committed to working with the new Rural Development and Land Reform Minister, Thoko Didiza.

“She wants everybody’s voices to be heard and represented. She needs to be commended because she comes in with a wealth of experience. She knows what is required in District Six and how much money is required and where it must come from.”

The department’s spokesperson, Phuti Mabelebele, said they had noted the judgment and would respond after studying it.