A documentary by District Six film-maker Weaam Williams explores the legacy of the apartheid forced removals that tore apart the community she now calls home.
District Six Rising from the Dust is one of 18 documentaries at this year’s Cape Town International Film Market and Festival(CTIFMF), which is at the V&A Waterfront until Friday October 19.
The documentary represents a five-year journey for Ms Williams.
Apart from telling the story of the residents who were removed from District Six under the Group Areas Act from 1966, she also tells the story of returning to District Six.
“Returning to the land has not been as pleasant as one can imagine,” she says. “There are acres of fields all around us; there are vagrants on the field who are involved in criminal activity like prostitution and drugs; our neighbourhood watch has found weapons money and drugs on these people.
“You go to the shop and see people using heroin in the street – this is the daily life of District Six.”
Ms Williams’s connection to District Six goes way back to her grandfather, Saeed Hartley, who owned properties there. They housed relatives as well as a tailor shop.
When Mr Hartley returned from his pilgrimage in Mecca in the late 1960s, his properties had been demolished by the apartheid state.
Ms Williams’s grandfather and her mother, Nazley Hartley-Williams, would eventually move to Fairways.
So for Ms Williams, making the documentary wasn’t just about telling a story about an interesting piece of South African history; it was about piecing together her family’s painful past and grappling with the consequences.
“Loss is just not material things or wealth, it’s actual legacy, it’s property being passed down to generations, it’s business, artisans, skills and the fabric of community that was demolished by the state,” she says.
Ms Williams has been living in District Six since 2013, on land restituted to her late grandfa-
He never had a chance to return to District Six. He died in 2005.
Ms Williams, with help from her husband, Nafia Kocks, delved into the history of District Six and wove together a tapestry of photographs by Cloete Breytenbach and Benny Gool; paintings by Sandra McGregor and music by David Kramer and the late Taliep Petersen to help tell the story.
The story of District Six, says Ms Williams, is far from over for the many families still struggling to have their restitution claims settled.
“Government is dragging their feet when it comes to returning the land to the people, I feel like their motives are unclear. In national and provincial government, nobody has shown a commitment to return the people to the land, the restitution process has been slow and arduous.”
District Six Rising from the Dust won the 2018 Award of Excellence at the Scandinavian International Film festival in August. It will have its South African premiere during the CTIFMF at the V&A Waterfront Nu Metro, on Thursday October 18 at 6.30pm.