Capturing moments of oral history

MOD centre pupils performed an acrobatic routine as part of the entertainment line-up.

Memories and pain are stirring in Bonteheuwel. Residents gathered at the community’s civic centre last week, Tuesday June 28, for the launch of an oral history campaign that is helping to record their stories for posterity.

The provincial government initiative wants people to tell their stories of the past. These will be available on DVD and audio files at their local libraries. The first initiative was rolled out in Hawston in 2015 and also in Gouda, Saron and Piketberg, but Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC, Anroux Marais, said it had its roots in Bonteheuwel.

“The women of Bonteheuwel wrote letters to us about their memories and where they come from. One spoke about this street with colourful houses. I thought it would be lovely to create a platform where we can tell our stories. We can all stand together, our colour doesn’t matter, our age, or political views,” said Ms Marais. “Tell your stories about the community. The talent in our community is fantastic,” she said.

The event included a play about the impact of township and gang violence on children performed by the Mass Participation, Opportunity and Access, Development and Growth (MOD) Centre.

The MOD programme, started in 2010 by the provincial Cultural Affairs and Sport Department, is a hub for sport, recreation, arts and culture activities for school children. There are 181 centres at schools around the province offering after-school activities to more than 40 000 children from poor neighbourhoods .

Residents recalled the forced removals under apartheid’s Group Areas Act. Margaret Abels was moved to Bonteheuwel in 1976.

“I was crying when I came to look at the houses. It looked like a sandcastle. The councillor said to me, ‘You will make something out of Bonteheuwel. The people here are trying to do something in the area to make it better.’ In the 1980s we started to do something with this building (civic centre),” said Ms Abels.

Henrietta Abrahams, a family friend of 20-year-old MK soldier Ashley Kriel, who was killed in 1987 by security policeman Jeffrey Benzien, said a lot more needs to be done to uplift the area.

“Bonteheuwel has a very vibrant, good history of resistance. We had people who were tackling the issue of housing in the area. In the 1960s and 70s we had general activists. We lost many lives in the 1976 uprising, but we used their deaths to organise our communities,” said Ms Abrahams.

“I met Ashely in Standard 6, he recruited me and a number of learners in Bonteheuwel and other high schools. He had this ability to draw people. We found ourselves protesting at 6am at Bonteheuwel station and again at 6pm when people came from work. He was a true and real leader. We were children locked up in jail. Our friends and families suffered. We were 13, 14, and 15, thrown into jails. People say what Soweto is to Gauteng, Bonteheuwel is to the Western Cape. A number of the activists had to leave the country or end up in jail, or be killed. They paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. If we look at our areas today, we ask was it worth it? What did our comrades die for? There is work to be done. We need to go back into our areas and fix our communities. You hear 10 to 15 shots a night. We need to bring peace and justice back into our areas,” she said.

The CDs of the residents’ memories will be available to rent at the Bonteheuwel public library. The Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport plans to roll the initiative out in all districts in the Western Cape.