Ex-residents of District Six and their supporters braved the harsh sun as they gathered at the District Six Museum on Saturday February 11 to join the annual Walk of Remembrance.
The day marked the 51st anniversary of the day that District Six was declared a “Whites only” area under the Group Areas Act during apartheid, and all their childhood homes were bulldozed to the ground.
About 80 people, most who grew up in District Six, came together to mark the day with the hope that they will one day be able to return to the inner city homes as they await news about their land claims.
Before the walk, the director of the museum, Bonita Bennett, told the group: “Today we want to remember the struggles we all faced. Please don’t let anyone tell you that a loss of a home is not a big deal, because it is, and you have all experienced it.”
She also said that people should remember those going through similar experiences today, such as residents in Bromwell Street, Woodstock, who are also facing eviction as their homes have been sold to developers, and the plight of those fighting for affordable housing near to the city centre.
The walk was led by the St Cecilians marching band. Ms Bennett said they represented the District Six musical aspect, which was a big part of the culture.
Despite the heat, the group walked through Harrington Street and stopped at the old Vernon Terrace, singing, dancing and humming along to the sounds of the band. Most held up road signs with the names of the roads they had lived in as children.
Along the way, they enjoyed short skits which had been synonymous with District Six.
Ruth Patience, who now lives in Eersterivier, said she grew up in Aspeling Street in District Six.
“I am happy to be here. All my children were born here; my life is here. The people in District Six were so kind. Everyone shared, and everyone had. In District Six, we could live.”
Mymoena Thomas grew up in Kent Street.
She said after the forced removals, she and her family moved all over the Cape Flats. She now lives in Eastridge in Mitchell’s Plain.
“The people in District Six got along so well. We lived in harmony. When we were told we had to move, it wasn’t a good feeling. We were heartbroken.”
Johanna Anthony said she is proud to be from District Six. “I came to the march today to know what is happening in the area I came from. I used to live in McGregor Street. I have memories of my mom carrying me on her back everywhere she went, but my parents died when I was young. I remember that the building we lived in started falling apart, and then we were moved to Athlone, then to Hanover Park and then to Mitchell’s Plain. I felt alone after we moved because I knew no one in my new area. It was so sad.”
Mogamat Benjamin said he was born in District Six. He moved to Bonteheuwel with his mom, but his grandmother brought him to live with her in District Six. “We lived in McKenzie Street. After the area was declared a white area, we moved further down to Prospect Avenue. We were then moved to Lavender Hill. After my grandmother died, I moved to Surrey Estate and then to Bonteheuwel, where I am now. Today I am waiting to move back home. I lodged my claim more than 20 years ago, and I try to help people get their homes back.”
He said he was very proud to be associated with the District Six Museum, which started 22 years ago with a bunch of old photos and story-telling.
“I will always carry District Six near to my heart,” said Mr Benjamin.
The walkers continued up Keizersgracht Street to line the road and observe a few moments of silence, and then up Russel Street, which they depicted as Hanover Street for the day, to hang tags with messages of hope on the fence.
Woodstock resident Bernadette Muthien, who hung a note on the fence, said besides the fact that her family was moved from District Six, she walked in solidarity of forced removals all over the country.
“I was part of the anti-apartheid student struggle from a young age. At the time I attended Chapel Street Primary School.”
Linda Fortune said she used to live in Tyne Street, and even wrote a book about her time there, titled The House in Tyne Street: Childhood Memories of District Six.
She said she joined the walk because District Six is her history and part of her heritage.
“I am also here in memory of my brother, Roland, who died on this day 17 years ago, when the bulldozers destroyed our homes. I now live in Ottery.
“My sisters are also here, and are waiting to come back. It doesn’t matter which one of us it is, as long as we have a home to come to in District Six. I just want to wake up under the mountain again.”
The walk came to a close at the Homecoming Centre in Buitenkant Street, where guests could share stories and memories of their childhoods over some light refreshments.