Remembering dark day in District Six

MATTHEW HIRSCH

February 11, 1966 is a date etched into the memories of many people of colour across the city.

It marks the day District Six was declared a whites-only area, and heralded the start of the forced removals of the District’s residents to townships and areas on the Cape Flats.

At a service on Thursday February 11, held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that day, District Six Museum director Bonita Bennett, said the date was important for all communities around Cape Town who were forcefully removed, “whether it was Tramway Road in Sea Point, Green Point or Claremont or any other area within the city. For all of Cape Town (February 11) is a very important date.

“Fifty years is a long time, more than a generation, so the question is asked as to why it is still important. We need to think about all those people who are still waiting for restitution. There has been a lot of frustration for the claimants who have reference numbers.”

The District Six Museum, in Buitenkant Street, Cape Town, also honoured people who had not claimed, for whatever reason.

“The restitution process is about more than the houses. We are talking about dignity, culture, and all the other rights that go alongside housing,” added Ms Bennett.

Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, said it was a great honour for him to be at the ceremony.

“District Six is legendary. I was 18 when it happened and in high school. I never knew that one day I would be standing here and talking about restitution.”

He said one of the problems is that they were dealing with a different landscape.

“It means now that landspace is very small compared to the number of people who want to come back. In two generations the numbers have multiplied. We have said that we want to prioritise the old people. We have several considerations but people want to come back home. We have to balance that,” said Mr Nkwinti.

He added that there were 3 000 new claims for District Six. “We have to verify that but right now the priority is people whose references have been verified. Let’s make sure the first two floors are for old people. We can solve this problem and build the houses as quickly as possible.”

Referring to the people who “kept the struggle going”, Mr Nkwinti said: “We should never forget those people. We must honour those people so that nobody will ever forget what happened here. The stories and pictures make you understand what it must have been like to have lived here.”

Nombulelo Mkefa, a District Six Museum Trustee, said the story of what happened 50 years ago was important for all of Cape Town.

“For me the most important thing is that so many people have driven along the N2 that people no longer saw the area for what it was,” she said, referring to the empty land where District Six once stood.

She thanked the Mr Nkwinti for being at the event, saying: “We live in an era where it depends on who’s there before people attach significance to an event. Today is not only about District Six but about all forced removals and the people who were moved in Cape Town. I am a child of District Six. My father had an office here. I came here (to the museum) because for me it was the only space in the city that I could identify with. I’m hoping that the fears people have around gentrification, don’t become real.”