Suitcases filled with memories

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

When Farahnaaz Gilfelleon and her family were forcibly removed from their District Six home in 1970 under the Group Areas Act, she thought the bigger house in Hanover Park that awaited them meant life would be better.

Little did she know she would be staying in one of the most gang-ridden areas of the Cape Flats.

Growing up with her parents, aunt and uncle, and six siblings in a house with an outside bathroom and had no sink, Ms Gilfelleon said she felt “okay” about moving to Hanover Park when her mother told her she had received a letter saying they had to move.

The new house had an inside bathroom and a sink in the kitchen which she thought meant life would be better for her and her family.

The 63-year-old attended Holy Cross Primary School in Searle Street, Woodstock and loved reading and dancing. She only completed Grade 7 and then went to work at a factory close by.

“At the age of four I could read books because my sister taught us how to read,” she said.

Her mother, however, was very apprehensive about moving as she had been born in their Horstley Street house in District Six.

“When we moved in they were still building the area up, it wasn’t like it is now. Since the 1990s the place changed. Back then, the gangsters didn’t bother with anyone, they only fought with each other – now it’s different,” she said.

“We used to go watch movies and walk home late at night, but you can’t even walk around here anymore. I was happy to move here in the beginning but now the area is filled with crime and gangsterism, it is a different feeling. We have adapted to living here,” she said.

Ms Gilfelleon is part of the District Six Museum Suitcase exhibition which will take place at the Hanover Park library on Saturday April 21.

In the suitcases which will be on display, are items which remind them of the past and their experiences of growing up in District Six.

In her suitcase is a bed and lamp and two reading books signifying her love for reading; five stones , because she loved playing five stones as a child, an ashtray; two mugs; photographs of her family; a doily,\; and a ballet outfit, from when she belonged to the Eaon Group Theatre Company.

Jasmina Salie, whose suitcase is also part of the exhibition, lived in Caledon Street with her two siblings, cousins, and parents.

She attended St Marks Primary School and later Trafalgar High School. Her family was forcibly removed in 1966, and they were sent to Hanover Park.

“The forced removal had a horrific impact on our lives. In District Six everything was in close proximity. Everyone practically knew one another. If one didn’t have, another would give and share. We were moved from our very existence. Dreams and hopes were shattered. In Hanover Park – no man’s land – we had to start all over again. Familiarise ourselves with a foreign environment, place and people. A new and difficult beginning. We just had to adapt.”

Ms Salie said the move incurred extra expenses for her parents. “My dad had to go in search of transport. He was reluctant to move and often said, ‘What did we do to be punished like this?’ We had to rise earlier than before, walked through dense bushes to get to Lansdowne, miles away. This to travel to school and work. My papa worked at Duncan Docks, and my mama was a sample ironer. She worked at Dermar Fashions. It was traumatic walking through District Six on my way to school, noticing the bulldozers and front loaders razing not just homes, but a vibrant community’s dream and hopes. One day you notice the neighbours home is demolished, then your friends’, families’ and sadly then your home. Today I can only point to where I used to live, but my home is gone. A home with happy memories,” she said.

One of her fondest memories, she said, was attending St Marks, a Christian school, and she was Muslim.

“The same applied to the Christian children. They attended mosque and Muslim school as it was called then. The Muslim children attended Sunday school too. When the athaan echoed, Christian children and their families would go inside. This was the respect then. No one complained about the sound of the church bells or the athaan,” she said.

She said that when it was Christmas, her mom would prepare the same lunch she made when it was Eid.

“But only this time there was a special treat – the Christmas pudding filled with tiekies (a half cent coin). My father would meanwhile decorate the Christmas tree. The gramophone echoed with music of joy to your ears. He would gently then take each one of us in turn, place us on his two feet and waltz around – an absolute joy.

“After Christmas lunch we would gather around the Christmas tree with a side plate in hand discreetly rummaging through the Christmas pudding and warm custard. As one could buy many things with that tiekie, we would jump for joy when we found that tiekie,” she said.

She said that many people who were moved out of the area longed to move back to District Six.

“Are we ever going to have the honour and joy of returning home? Most of us are of age and yearn to return. We were forcibly removed 52 years ago. Almost a lifetime of struggle and perseverance. My mum died at the age of 89 last year July with the desire to return home too. Her dreams were not realised,” she said.

In Ms Salie’s suitcase is a Christmas tree, a cap and waistcoat in remembrance of her father; a doily, as her mother was fond of crocheting; a book, because she is an author and always loved writing; a pair of jeans and a peace sign; an enamel bowl, which was an heirloom handed down from generation to generation, a porcelain jug and bowl, in which she bathed her first-born and a glass bowl which reminds her of her aunt, who was classified as white and had to leave the family home.

The Suitcase exhibition will take place at the Hanover Park library on the corner of Surran Road and Hanover Park Avenue, from 10am to noon on Saturday April 21. For more information, call 021 400 3417/21/18