Solly hopes to return to District Six

Solly Ariefdien wearing his Trafalgar Junior School uniform outside his house in Canterbury Street.

The memories of the day he and his family lost their District Six home are still raw for Solly Ariefdien, 86.

Even now in the twilight of his life, he still honours the legacy of District Six.

He is part of the District Six Reference Group (D6RG), which seeks restitution for District Six claimants who were forcefully removed in 1966 under the Group Areas Act.

Solly has written a book, Extraordinary District Six, which he hopes to publish soon and he pens poems about the old neighbourhood.

Solly was born in Wicht Street, District Six in 1933. When he was 6, his mother, Maymuna Ariefdien, moved with him and his younger brother, Abdurahman, to a five-bedroom house in Canterbury Street.

“That was the day that we decided to walk out of our father’s life and never to see him again.”

The house, which was owned by a Welsh woman called Mrs Thomas, became a home for him and his family.

And it would later become a very full home because his four elder sisters, Fatima, Mariam, Gadija and Gaironeesa as well as another younger brother, Ismael came to live there too.

As the eldest of the boys, Solly was called “King Solomon” in the house.

Maymuna, as a single parent, struggled to find the rent each month, but she sub-let two of the rooms in the big house and found work as a buttonhole-fly maker.

Solly attended Trafalgar Junior and Trafalgar High schools. After getting a diploma in bookkeeping he worked for Victory Trading Company for 17 years.

In 1957 he married Abeder, a social worker, and the couple had three children.

He left District Six in 1960 to live with his wife and children in Lansdowne, but he still helped pay the rent on the Canterbury Street House where his siblings still lived.

In 1958, he lost his mother, and eight years’ later, in 1966, apartheid took away his old family home. His siblings, who had still been living there, were scattered across the Cape Flats.

His sister Fatima had died at the age of 18 in 1941, before the forced removals, but Mariam moved to Bo-Kaap and Gadija and Gaironeesa ended up in Heideveld, as did Ismael.

All his siblings are gone now. He is the last of Maymuna’s children.

Solly says his siblings all tried to move on with their lives after leaving District Six.

“They took it all in their stride; they lived their lives, they did not moan about it, it was something that they could not do anything about.”

His younger brother, Abdurahman, got married and moved to Woodstock. He and Solly started their own business, S & A Wholesalers, selling napkins and clothing fabric they bought from the Victory Trading Company.

In his book, Solly talks about the two loves of his life – his mother and Table Mountain watching over the people of Cape Town. He gives the mountain a voice in his book, writing, “We need to respect the people of District Six.”

He believes the government should make District Six a heritage site.

Some of Solly’s fondest memories are of his childhood friendship with Reginald West – earning money by doing grocery shopping for their neighbours and taking turns to whizz down the hard clay of steep Commercial Street in a cardboard box. He wonders where Reginald is these days.

Solly holds on to the hope that those thrown out of District Six will one day see restitution, but that hope is sorely tested, he says, by one empty promise after another.

“We have heard promises before, we interacted with various ministers of Rural Development and Land Reform who gave us assurances, and up until today restitution has not happened.”