‘Claremont was a close-knit community before the removals’

Shireen Sanders, 59, and her family were forcefully removed from Claremont in 1973, and the painful memories of that time are still clear.

“I don’t remember the date that we received the notice to move, but I remember the chaos, outrage, sadness, despair, fear all around,” she says.

A dark mood consumed the community and her father, Rashaad Sanders, was crying, she recalls.

Shireen was a teenager when apartheid’s Group Areas Act forced her, her five siblings and her parents to move into a three-bedroom flat in Lavender Hill.

“The floors were raw concrete with no flooring, and we only had cold water, and the plumbing was not in the wall but against the walls.”

They were forced to make a home there, she says, but the family’s connection to Claremont remained, and Shireen continued to attend Livingstone High there, although her mother had to take a job as domestic worker to cover the extra transport costs.

Claremont was a close-knit community before the removals, says Shireen, and many of her relatives and her family’s friends lived within walking distance.

In Lavender Hill, her father would take the family camping during the six-week school holidays because he feared they wouldn’t be safe in the neighbourhood during the festive season.

“The area was overrun with gangsters and drugs even then,” she says.

The Claremont displacement, she says, scattered her family all over the Cape Flats.

Shireen became a teacher in 1980 and moved out of Lavender Hill in 1983 after the death of her father.

She lived in Lansdowne for a while but moved back to Retreat to stay with her mother, Shariefa, before moving to Ireland, where she has lived, in County Longford, for the past 11 years.

Shireen says she has made a life for herself in Ireland with her life partner and she doesn’t think she will return to South Africa to settle down. She still has close contact with her sisters who live in various locations.

Her sister, Julie Abrahams, 64, stays in Johannesburg, Shahieda Phillips, 57, stays in Wellington and Gawa Reay, 55, lives in Nottinghamshire, England.

Her mom Shariefa is 84 and still lives in Retreat

Shireen still makes annual visits to South Africa to connect with her relatives who stay on the Cape Flats.

In 2017, she formed the Former Claremont Residents Reunion (FCRR) group to reconnect with family and friends of the old Claremont and reminisce about the past.

“We needed a space where we can socialise and have fun as a
community, not just seeing each other at funerals or janaazahs,” she says.