Former residents showcase their memories

Pictured in front of their suitcases, from left, are Mogamat Benjamin, Jasmina Salie, Farahnaaz Gilfelleon, and Susan Lewis.

A packed suitcase evokes memories of going somewhere far, perhaps on a short trip, or maybe moving away permanently.

When the former residents of District Six packed their bags during apartheid’s forced removals, it represented the end of a community.

The Manenberg Library, in partnership with the District Six Museum, on Saturday launched the Suitcase Exhibition, through which some former residents have told their stories of having to leave the area.

Mogamat Benjamin, Susan Lewis, Farahnaaz Gilfelleon, and Jasmina Salie had their suitcases on display.

In these were items which reminded them of the past and their experiences of growing up in District Six.

Mr Benjamin, who now lives in Bonteheuwel, was born in 1956 and grew up in Mckenzie Street, District Six. In his suitcase were items which he inherited. They relate personal stories of people, places, and spaces that have influenced him in some way. He played netball for the Silvertree Supremes and was known for dancing in the Klopse Carnival.

“In District Six for each season we had games. In summer we had cricket and Klopse, in winter we played rugby, netball, and soccer and one would think why would we play this in winter – it was to keep us warm and fit for spring time and our outside games,” he said.

Farahnaaz Gilfelleon lived in Horstley Street and was born in 1955. Her family moved to Hanover Park in 1966 when she was 16 years old.

Susan Lewis was born in 1943 and lived in Caledon Street. Her family was also sent to live in Hanover Park where she stayed for 35 years before returning to District Six.

“Going to Hanover Park was terrible. we moved from a built-up area with schools and shops and buildings and when we moved to Hanover Park we had to stay in a flat. When we moved out, it was very traumatic, we were moved all over, to Heideveld, Bonteheuwel, Manenberg, Mitchell’s Plain. What really hurt was the breaking up of relationships and friendships,” she said.

She said that whenever she was able to get hold of a newspaper, she turned to the classified section to check who had died.

“That is how we kept contact with what was happening. The flat that we moved into in Hanover Park was full of mould, our shoes and our clothing used to be mouldy because of the damp in the cupboards. There was even mushrooms growing in one house,” said Ms Lewis.

She said moving to Hanover Park meant half of her salary went to travelling expenses. She took a bus from home to Claremont, a train to Cape Town, and a bus to the shop that she worked at in Camps Bay.

Jasmina Salie’s family was also kicked out of District Six 1966. Ms Salie is a District Six Museum storyteller and has also written a book called Family Feud.

Mr Benjamin encouraged those who are living on the Cape Flats to take responsibility for their own lives and homes and to not just blame the government.

“Fifty percent of the problem is the government and 50 % is ours. We need to look after our houses because we live here. We need to start looking after our things. This is history and glory for the children of the future,” he said.