Tomorrow, February 11, will mark 50 years since District Six was declared an area for white people only, under apartheid’s cruel Group Areas Act.
Over 60 000 people were forced from their homes and scattered all across the Cape Flats in areas such as Lavender Hill, Athlone and Manenberg.
Lavender Hill residents Sharon and Joseph Dareis flip through an old photo album of pictures taken in District Six and reminisce about the old days.
An emotional Ms Dareis tells Southern Mail her most joyous memories were playing in the streets of Distict Six as a child, running errands for her mother and playing with friends that were like family.
“Oh it was bliss. Just thinking about it makes me happy,” said the mother of five who was born in District Six and was 15 when the Group Areas Act came into legislation.
“I was born and raised in Parkin Street, baptised at the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and attended St Marks school and when I was 15 I had to go work and it was in that time that the Group Areas Act kicked in,” she said.
“We were moved here to Lavender Hill and there was barren land everywhere. None of us liked it and we didn’t want to stay here. Everything was so far apart. You had to take a pull car to Steenberg station to go to work – whereas in District Six everything was right there, the shops, churches, mosques, bioscope and everything else,” said Ms Dareis.
She recalls Fridays being fish and chips evening from the fish shop at Castel Bridge and the one in Hanover Street. You could get everything in District Six – there was a lot of life.
“Saturday nights was my mother’s bioscope days and I always used to collect her tickets for her. We were safe. No worries about rape and murders. There were gangsters but they were friendly and only fought with each other. There was respect and discipline unlike what’s happening in communities now.
Nowadays no one has any respect for each other and there is no sense of community,” said Ms Dareis.
Mr Dareis, who lived in Francis Street, recalls living opposite a chocolate factory and receiving goodies from the men who worked at the factory.
“I loved District Six, it was the best. Then we were moved to Kewtown in Athlone and we lived there for 24 years and I moved to Lavender Hill in 1973,” said Mr Dareis.
“Kewtown and Lavender Hill is extremely different from District Six. We were different families of different religions but all of us grew up together and every adult was like your mother or father. There was a lot of respect,” he said.
“We would play ‘blikkies’ and ‘bok bok op die rug’ and the parents would sit outside on summer nights and watch us play and have a jolly good time till late at night. Those were very good times.”
Another Lavender Hill resident, Wilma du Plessis, recalls the unity in District Six. “There were no divisions, we were all one. If a family didn’t have food in their house, the neighbours would sure they had something to eat. Everyone helped each other,” said Ms Du Plessis. The shop Batties used to be the best. Everything was convenient and you could walk at any time of the night because the gangsters of those days would not hurt you, like these gangsters nowadays who shoot at everyone,” said Ms Du Plessis.
“I miss District Six so much. It was really the best place to grow up and live there,” she said.
Bonita Bennett, director of the District Six museum, she said many former residents date the start of the destruction of their life-patterns and opportunities from February 11 which has come to be a significant linear marker.
She said the museum intends to use this opportunity to make more visible and apparent its commitment to acknowledging the impact of apartheid removals on the District Six and other displaced communities across the country.
The museum has a collection of historical materials, photographs, paintings, artefacts, physical remains like street signs, books and studies as well as audio-visual recordings of District Six.
Ms Bennett said the 2016 programme will explore the legacies of a racialised geography both in our city and nationally, and will foreground the work of memory in countering such legacies.
“After the dramatic announcement on 11 February 1966 of the declaration of District Six as a white group area, a number of protest organisations and committees grew, which included the District Six Defence Committee, the District Six Association, the Friends of District Six, the Rent, Rates and Residents’ Association, and the Hands Off District Six Campaign Committee being amongst some of the better-known ones.
“In addition, the institutions in the area engaged in protest actions involving their different constituencies. This included schools such as Trafalgar and Harold Cressey; churches such as the Catholic, Methodist and Anglican churches,” she said.
Ms Bennett said the District Six Museum bears the scars and traces of this process of nation-building at a very local, but profoundly global scale.
“It has emerged from a humble, community oriented space into international prominence, celebrated in many journals, books, and reviews. It remains the most successful example of a community based project of its kind, an object lesson for local and international projects seeking to engage people in the remaking of their past and its mobilisation for democratic ends,” she said.
So far 160 families have returned to District Six since land claims processes has given the land back since 2004 and 2 000 more families want to return to District Six but the Dareis’ say it’s not top on their priority list.
“I don’t think I would want to go back because things could never be the same again. It could never be like the old District Six again because that District Six was taken and stolen away from us,” said Ms Dareis.
Members of the public are invited to join former residents of the District at the Museum’s Homecoming Centre for a programme which will include the traditional walk of remembrance to the site of Hanover Street.
Traditional walk of remembrance and ritual will start at District Six Museum Homecoming Centre, 15 Buitenkant Street on Thursday February 11, at 11am.
The second event will include a walk down Keisergracht Street with banners depicting District Six communities as well as other communities affected by forced removals on Saturday February 13. It will start at District Six Museum Homecoming Centre, 15 Buitenkant Street. For more information call 021 466 7200.