Speaking for District Six’s past and future

The City of Cape Town will be responsible for recreating the public spaces and streets in District Six while national government is responsible for the housing.

Sixteen District Six residents and claimants will add the community’s voice to the City’s plans to restore the neighbourhood’s public spaces.

The City is working off a public realm study of what the neighbourhood looked like before apartheid’s forced removals flattened it, and the nominated representatives, or caretakers, will help with this, by attending co-design workshops.

“As caretakers we will be a bridge between the community and the town planners who will make the public spaces happen,” said Karen Breytenbach, a caretaker and District Six Working Committee spokeswoman.

The caretakers would consult with fellow residents, using WhatsApp, social media, virtual meetings, telephone calls, face to face meetings, written submissions and more, she said.

District Six claimants were frustrated with national government’s delays in bringing District Six back to life, but the process to recreate the public spaces – which the municipality is responsible for – offered light at the end of the tunnel, she said.

“We see a real opportunity for us to do something special and life-changing for the very deserving claimants of District Six.”

Hassan Khan, the CEO of the Haven Night Shelter is also one of the caretakers. “The old District Six is gone but never forgotten. Preservation of the memory will be an important part in honouring the forcefully displaced people of District Six. New recreational spaces have been set aside, and we should look at making safe spaces for children and the old,” he said.

He hopes to see memorial plaques, recording the details of those displaced, along a walking route that could take the form of a maze.

“Unfortunately, the level of District Six’s restitution is not sustainable. As a nation, we cannot afford it, and that has slowed down this process,” he said. “The mantra of ’restitution is free’ makes it difficult to get people contributing to the costs of the buildings. I am praying for a good, sustainable, fair outcome.”

Mr Khan’s family lived in Shepard Street, in District Six, and moved to Paarl as a result of the forced removals. But he now lives District Six.

Creating spaces for children and their carers is at the top of caretaker Kirsten Wilkins’s to-do list for District Six. “Spaces for children are spaces where everyone can feel safe and welcomed too. There is also a joy and hopefulness in designing streets and public space for our youth. They will be the next caretakers of this neighbourhood and are a key part of building a community going forward.”

Ms Wilkins, who is also the managing director of Open Streets Cape Town, said she would like to give claimants a creative and practical outlet for anger and resentment they might be feeling.

Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said District Six was a special part of the city that needed caring and nourishment.

“We want to have life on this piece of land again, and it is really a regretful piece of history that can never be forgotten.”

Khalied Jacobs, director of Jakupa Architects and Urban Designers, who is helping the City with the District Six public realm study said: “An incredible amount of work has already been done, and the caretakers’ knowledge will enrich this process.”

The first workshop will happen in mid-September. Another three workshops will follow in October and November and two will happen early next year.

Meetings and an exhibition are also being planned to inform the public about the project.