Dreaming of a space to tell their historic tales

David Hill

“I have a dream…” The Venerable Terry Lester, Archdeacon of Constantia, makes no apology for borrowing that famous quote, and he is determined and pragmatic about how he will make his dream come true.

But he will need help “to relive and record an important part of our history”, to launch a memory project that will record and reflect what happened and to whom when the Group Areas Act bundled people of colour out of their homes in Constantia two generations ago, banishing them to the Cape Flats.

“Their stories must be told,” he asserts, “because it’s almost as if they never existed.”

Father Terry speaks from experience. The apartheid government ruthlessly pursued a policy of racial segregation which ruptured the lives of many thousands. It dictated that Constantia was for whites only and, when he was five years old, Father Terry and his family were ousted from their Strawberry Lane cottage and had to settle in Grassy Park.

Now he is taking the first step “to create a space where we can tell our stories”.

He is inviting those who were removed from Constantia – wherever they are today, be it Mitchell’s Plain, Grassy Park, Steenberg, Manenberg or Parkwood – to a gathering on Monday March 21 (Human Rights Day).

It will take place in the church hall at Christ Church Constantia, from 3pm to 5pm.

Father Terry says the intention of the meeting is to form an ad hoc committee to plan the way forward. The aim is to launch The Memory and Heritage Project for Constantia on Heritage Day, September 24.

The archdeacon envisages “bringing together the many threads of our story to create a tapestry of people’s lives” through monthly get-togethers where older members of the community can have tea and talk together. They will be encouraged to give first-hand accounts of their experiences, bringing along photographs and to list names and faces, maybe through funeral pamphlets and other memorabilia of loved ones remembered. But not just the elderly.

He foresees school groups attending and learning about forced removals and following up with research.

“We have to act now, says Father Terry. “This is such an important part of the history of Constantia which cannot be lost.”

He already has an eye on suitable local property which could be leased from the City of Cape Town to set up a home for the memory and heritage project.

Those early Constantia residents who were uprooted in the apartheid years and who would like to share in weaving Father Terry’s “tapestry” are asked to contact him at 021 794 5051 or terry@cchconst.org.za