Oldest District Six claimant dies without restitution

District Six claimant Shariefa Khan on her 100th birtday last year.

The family of the oldest District Six claimant, Shariefa Khan, who died at the age of 100 last week, are disappointed that she will not realise her dream of returning to District Six.

Ms Khan’s family, through the District Six Working Committee (D6WC), confirmed that she had died, at around 4am on Wednesday January 26, after experiencing breathing difficulties. She would have turned 101 in April.

“Last April, she signed the papers to receive her new apartment in District Six, as part of Phase 3 of the restitution process. Her family spent some months making the unit more comfortable and disabled-friendly for her,” said D6WC spokeswoman Karen Breytenbach.

Ms Khan had not been given final permission to move in as the national government had still been busy fixing defects in the units, Ms Breytenbach said.

Ms Khan’s grandaughter, Rukshaana Omar, speaking on behalf of the family, said her grandmother had been happy to see her new home in Hanover Street. “Her wish was to live her last days there, but, unfortunately, that did not happen.”

Ms Khan and her late husband, Dawood Khan, lived in the Bailey Flats in Hanover Street, close to the Avalon Bioscope. She and her husband had the famous Bombay Café, also known as Dout’s Café, at number 238 Hanover Street.

“Mama has shared many fond memories of her days in District Six. Stories of how happy she was there and how the entire community respected and supported one another,” said Ms Omar.

Ms Khan had seven children, 20 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren. Her one daughter died after being hit by a drunk driver in 1959 and her other daughter died of leukaemia in 1965. The forced removals followed in 1966, and she and her family had to relocate to Rylands.

Ms Omar said her grandmother had been in pain and declining health. “It was heartbreaking to watch her struggle. She has lived a fruitful life, so we are content that she has departed to a better place.”

She lived with her son, Abdullah Khan, in Rylands for many years, and then, for the past two years, her daughter, Sumaya Mukkadem, of Elsies River, took care of her. Her funeral was in Elsies River on the day of her death.

Ms Breytenbach said the D6WC shared the family’s disappointment with not seeing Ms Khan’s final wish for restitution being fulfilled.

“We thank Ms Khan for fighting the good fight until the end and supporting our court case, which will bring restitution to many families like hers. The D6WC remains committed to seeking restitution for Ms Khan’s children who are also elderly.”

Families of other elderly District Six claimants have meanwhile expressed their frustration with the delays in the restitution process that has kept them from returning.

Jeff Alexander, whose mother Mavis Alexander, 83, is awaiting restitution, said he had asked the government to give straight answers on when she could move into one of the Hanover Street flats.

“We feel like her dreams of returning back won’t be realised. They are not showing any urgency to fix their problems to get the residents home,” he said.

Mr Alexander said the family had lived in Caledon Street, District Six, and had ended up in Hanover Park after the forced removals. His mother now stayed in a one-bedroom old-age home unit in Matroosfontein, with a communal bathroom and toilet.

Shooyab Hajee said his mother, Moerieda Hajee, 76, from Heideveld, became emotional when talking about District Six. “I helped her sign the papers at the Land Claims office to get her on the list to move in at Hanover Street, now it’s been nearly a year and she hasn’t received any keys yet,” he said.

Reggie Ngcobo, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, expressed the department’s condolences to the Khan family.

“Ms Khan was allocated a unit in Phase 3 of District Six last April. The department had expected that she and other claimants would have been able to move back to District Six shortly after that. However, this has been delayed due to the process of obtaining occupancy certificates.”

To date, 88 out of the 108 claimants had accepted the units allocated to them and had signed the acceptance letters and completed the settlement agreements with the Office of the Regional Land Claims Commissioner, Western Cape, he said.

“They will be informed of the occupation date and the management plan regarding the handover of keys as soon as the certificates of occupancy are issued by the City of Cape Town,” he said.

Deputy mayor Eddie Andrews said the City would issue the occupancy certificates only once all of the work complied with the approved building plans and the national building regulations.