Fight to return home

MATTHEW HIRSCH

Sharifa Davids can see where her mother’s house once stood in District Six from the Bo-Kaap flat she rents.

Her family, as well as many others, were evicted from District Six under the apartheid government’s Group Areas Act.

Today, Thursday February 11, marks the 50th anniversary of the area being declared whites-only, uprooting thousands of families.

“I will fight to get back to District Six until the day I die. It will always be in my heart,” said Ms Davids.

“The memory of District Six is still with me: the vibrancy, the humanity, the dignity and love that was there among the people. It didn’t matter which race or religion you were; whether you were rich or poor – everyone lived as one. Today, there is no respect for one another and no one cares.”

Ms Davids’ family was among the last to be forcefully removed in 1981. She was 25 years old at the time and had two children.

“I couldn’t leave my mom alone so I left with her because she was very sick at the time. My mother never adapted to living outside of District Six and she eventually passed on.”

The first place her family moved to after leaving District Six was Valhalla Park. It was a place with a high crime rate and no street lights.

Ms Davids said she found this hard to get used to.

“In District Six we didn’t have burglar bars or alarms, but when we had to move we had to install all these things,” she said.

A year later they were moved to Mitchell’s Plain.

“We got a place in Tafelsig where there were people from all walks of life. They had no bond or connection. They had to be neighbours and friends, but had no connection.”

She later moved to Rondebosch, where she lived for nine years.

“I always tell people that I was put there. I never moved there by choice and that’s why I have been fighting for more than 20 years (to return to District Six).”

By 1981, said Ms Davids, the surrounding houses and shops were already demolished. She remembered how her mother was threatened and bullied by government officials.

“There were no shops – nothing at all. Only the flats we were in were still standing.

“I saw people move every month and as the houses became empty, bulldozers were already pulling them down. You would come the next morning and there would be rubble where the house was standing. I saw how they did this from 1966 and how the old people cried in the streets.”

Then, with democracy came the chance to return to District Six.

Ms Davids, who is a volunteer with the District Six Working Committee, eventually got her land claimant’s reference number in 2014.

“They must restore people’s justice and dignity. We want the land that belongs to us back.”

She has been living in Bo-Kaap for a year now, renting a flat, but still hasn’t settled down.

“This may be my brother’s and sister’s place, but District Six is my home – that is my place over there,” she said, pointing out the window.

“For that place I will fight until the end. I’m disabled and doing voluntary work. I don’t earn a cent from what I do. I use my own travelling money to get to the office and back.”

She added that it was very important for young people to learn about the history of District Six. She said the event being hosted by the District Six Museum today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of District Six being declared for whites only was important as it would bring some peace to the people.

Fairuze Ahmed-Basardien is one of the lucky few who have returned to District Six.

Her mother was allocated a house in District Six almost 11 years ago.

She was young when they were forcefully removed but said the conversations her family had, kept the memory alive.

“I was six when we moved to Bo-Kaap. The memory I had of District Six was instilled through my parents and siblings. It was always a hot topic. What they talked about most was how everyone in the community was open to help and share with each other,” she said.

Her mother found out that they were going to move back and said Ms Ahmed-Basardien’s family would get the house.

“We sold our flat in two weeks. But it took a further two years before the pilot-project units were built. We had to move in with my sister.”

After moving into one of the units in 2005, she said, they were alone in the area for a further six years before the other 139 houses were built.

“It was frustrating because we had started a community forum and we had planned to introduce the area to the new people.”

She added that it was vital to preserve the story of what happened in District Six and stressed the importance of recording the oral history.

“I think it is more exciting when somebody tells a story and brings it to life. We should never forget the trauma, pain and suffering we went through by being pushed out of our houses and we should never ever let it happen again.”

Ms Ahmed-Basardien also sympathised with people who were still waiting for their claims to be finalised.

“It is very frustrating because we would like to see the community built up. You never get to the bottom of the story and there are only promises (from government).”

She said while District Six would never be the same, they could try their best to foster community spirit.

“The people here are very supportive of each other,” she added.

“I remember when my mother, who had Alzheimer’s Disease, first received the keys and opened the door, looked around and said, ‘this is what we’ve been waiting for.’ I feel blessed that we live here in this community.”

Her sister, Fowzia Ahmed, said her family had lived in De Villiers Street in District Six for 25 years.

Her parents and six siblings were forced to move to the Bo-Kaap when she was 23.

“When my mother was told she had to move to Hannover Park, she refused.

“She said she didn’t want to let her children become gangsters. There were gangsters in District Six at the time but they never interfered with the people living there. My mother was as strong women who took risks.”

She said one day her father’s friend came around and asked why they were still living there. He said he had a house in the Bo-Kaap that he wanted to sell. At that point, said Ms Ahmed – who still lives in Bo-Kaap – all the houses around them had already been demolished.

“It was sad because a lot of our friends had moved out of town already. That broke our friendships, our neighbourhood and broke up happy times.

“The heritage of the area should be about the people. It is important that the history doesn’t die.”

By 1981, said Ms Davids, the surrounding houses and shops were already demolished. She remembered how her mother was threatened and bullied by government officials.

“There were no shops – nothing at all. Only the flats we were in were still standing.

“I saw people move every month and as the houses became empty, bulldozers were already pulling them down. You would come the next morning and there would be rubble where the house was standing. I saw how they did this from 1966 and how the old people cried in the streets.”

Then, with democracy came the chance to return to District Six.

Ms Davids, who is a volunteer with the District Six Working Committee, eventually got her land claimant’s reference number in 2014.

“They must restore people’s justice and dignity. We want the land that belongs to us back.”

She has been living in Bo-Kaap for a year now, renting a flat, but still hasn’t settled down.

“This may be my brother’s and sister’s place, but District Six is my home – that is my place over there,” she said, pointing out the window.

“For that place I will fight until the end. I’m disabled and doing voluntary work. I don’t earn a cent from what I do. I use my own travelling money to get to the office and back.”

She added that it was very important for young people to learn about the history of District Six. She said the event being hosted by the District Six Museum today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of District Six being declared for whites only was important as it would bring some peace to the people.

Fairuze Ahmed-Basardien is one of the lucky few who have returned to District Six.

Her mother was allocated a house in District Six almost 11 years ago.

She was young when they were forcefully removed but said the conversations her family had, kept the memory alive.

“I was six when we moved to Bo-Kaap. The memory I had of District Six was instilled through my parents and siblings. It was always a hot topic. What they talked about most was how everyone in the community was open to help and share with each other,” she said.

Her mother found out that they were going to move back and said Ms Ahmed-Basardien’s family would get the house.

“We sold our flat in two weeks. But it took a further two years before the pilot-project units were built. We had to move in with my sister.”

After moving into one of the units in 2005, she said, they were alone in the area for a further six years before the other 139 houses were built.

“It was frustrating because we had started a community forum and we had planned to introduce the area to the new people.”

She added that it was vital to preserve the story of what happened in District Six and stressed the importance of recording the oral history.

“I think it is more exciting when somebody tells a story and brings it to life. We should never forget the trauma, pain and suffering we went through by being pushed out of our houses and we should never ever let it happen again.”

Ms Ahmed-Basardien also sympathised with people who were still waiting for their claims to be finalised.

“It is very frustrating because we would like to see the community built up. You never get to the bottom of the story and there are only promises (from government).”

She said while District Six would never be the same, they could try their best to foster community spirit.

“The people here are very supportive of each other,” she added.

“I remember when my mother, who had Alzheimer’s Disease, first received the keys and opened the door, looked around and said, ‘this is what we’ve been waiting for.’ I feel blessed that we live here in this community.”

Her sister, Fowzia Ahmed, said her family had lived in De Villiers Street in District Six for 25 years.

Her parents and six siblings were forced to move to the Bo-Kaap when she was 23.

“When my mother was told she had to move to Hannover Park, she refused.

“She said she didn’t want to let her children become gangsters. There were gangsters in District Six at the time but they never interfered with the people living there. My mother was as strong women who took risks.”

She said one day her father’s friend came around and asked why they were still living there. He said he had a house in the Bo-Kaap that he wanted to sell. At that point, said Ms Ahmed – who still lives in Bo-Kaap – all the houses around them had already been demolished.

“It was sad because a lot of our friends had moved out of town already. That broke our friendships, our neighbourhood and broke up happy times.

“The heritage of the area should be about the people. It is important that the history doesn’t die.”