2016 marks 50 years since the forced evictions of District Six residents in the Cape Town City Bowl suburb. In part three of a series of podcasts, 702/CapeTalk’s Koketso Sachane reflects on District Six and the Consequences of Land Lost with guests Bonita Bennett, director of the District Six Museum, and residents Joe Schaffers and Victoreen Gilbert.
We begin by looking at the importance of the 50th Anniversary of the decision to remove residents from District Six to the Museum, if we use this as an example of forced removals during the Apartheid regime.
We try to live with the notion that the past can be left in the past, but do we understand the impact that this decision made on generations that followed.
Are we actually re-traumatizing people by reminding them of what they went through. The significance for us, is that the past really does matter it is still with us- we are living with it.— Bonita Bennett, Director of the District Six Museum
There are many people still alive today who lived the humiliation of these removals, and still live with the scars of those memories; today we understand the impact of this trauma. Part of walking the journey of our past, part of this requires us to listen and take into account people's lived experiences and seeking to understand these experiences. In focusing on District Six as an example is really about understanding what people have actually lived.
Victorine Gilbert grew up with her sisters and parents in District Six- she remembers:
Growing up in District Six as a child, I remember that you could enjoy being a child. We had the park, the community's children would all meet there and play happily there...today you can't leave children alone in a park.— Victorine Gilber, former resident of District Six
District Six is not an imagined space, we need to continue to keep these stories of experiences alive to acknowledge what there was and what was left. What was the most fundamental difference between what you lived and where you moved to? When you look at District Six now it is flat, it tells no stories of it's past and you would not think about the community that existed before.
Where you lived before you were within walking distance to your place of work, the schools, your churches, your recreational areas and the shops. Suddenly uprooted, you're thrown that far away from the city but your salaries don't increase, but your financial burdens increased, and then the areas where you are thrown there are no shops and you have to then travel to walk through different areas to get to the shops...it became dangerous because you didn't know the area.— Joe Schaffers, former resident and story teller at the District Six Museum
He goes on to explain the knock on effect that this spatial change had on the community; recreational facilities were located away from the township and if you could not leave with your own transport you did not leave. This led to the formation of gangs, children dropped out of school.
There exists a strong yearning for people to go back, even though it does not exist as it used to; people talk of hoping to die in the area, or wishing that their children may be able to.
It takes at least 30 to 40 years to start building up a community where people start getting to know each other...if you go back you will have to start virtually from scratch, again.— Joe Schaffers, former resident and story teller at the District Six Museum
What would returning to District Six represent for a person? In coming home, you remove yourself from another community you have built- and so a cycle begins of removing yourself and recreating the community you left behind. Victorine remembers:
Looking back over the years, I find myself in tears. We lived in a place called District Six, where children played in the street. Dodge ball, "blikkies", high and low-there was always some where to go; Bio-scope, or a dance, or a church, your friends were there for support. All this happened in the shadow of Table Mountain -yes, in the shadow of Table Mountain. We are the shadows of Table Mountain— Poem by Victorine Gilber, former resident of District Six
Is there an understanding about that shadow, and being that shadow, from the youth?
You see how far away that township is...how many of these kids have ever been just to the slopes of Table Mountain, they wouldn't know what experience that is. We should reverse the other way round; to have field trips for those people who are living in the leafier areas to bring them out to the areas we were placed, so that they can start looking at the damages that were done.— Joe Schaffers, former resident and story teller at the District Six Museum
In closing, Koketsoa reads poem by Tatamkhulu Afrika "Nothing's Changed". One would have thought he had written this poem today; nothing has changed.
Bonita closes with her dream for what the Museum does and for the South African future:
You belong as a citizen of this country. Apartheid, besides the physical movement, it's really damaged the imagination of people as well, and the creativity. There is an alternative way of being.— Bonita Bennett, Director of the District Six Museum