Former and current District Six residents and supporters of the District Six Museum gathered at the memorial cairn of stones at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) on Saturday February 10 for the annual walk of remembrance.
The walk of remembrance marks the event of February 11, 1966 – the day that District Six was declared a white area by the apartheid government in 1966, and thousands were removed from the area and relocated to the Cape Flats.
The museum also used the occasion to mark 30 years of its existence during South Africa’s 30th year of democracy, as well as to announce the appointment of Zeenat Patel-Kaskar as the new executive director of the museum.
District Six Museum is a living memorial for destroyed communities and a meeting place for those who identify with its history. On this day every year, the museum commemorates the destruction and recommits to the process of restitution together with the community.
At the event, District Six Museum deputy chairperson Nomvula Dlamini said it was important that this significant commemoration didn’t go unnoticed.
“This day is a reminder of our history and our past as people who have been dispossessed and lived through oppression,” she said.
“This should be a reminder that this thing that destroys livelihoods and communities and dispossesses people should never, ever, ever ever happen again.”
She said the memories of the displacements remained engraved in their memories.
Ms Patel-Kaskar, in introducing herself, said the work of District Six Museum was essential, “because if we do not right the wrongs of our past, what about our future?”
Echoing Ms Dlamini’s sentiment, she said events such as this commemoration should not even be taking place in the first place as the forced relocations should never have happened and should never happen again.
“Today, the land still stands but not as it was before with some new developments but also some returnees,” she said.
Former residents laid their stones at the cairn in Hanover Street, symbolising ex-residents’ connectedness to the land and staking their claim to its history. The annual commemoration ended with a walk to a site-specific art installation by Ayesha Price and people from District Six, near the New Apostolic Church.
Ms Price’s family was one of the families who got to remain in the area because they lived below the freeway. She said many things had changed in the area and while they all held the hope of return for the other residents but said the relocations had broken the sense of community spirit.
Speaking on the installation, she said it was a socially engaged piece of work looking at the past and the future while exploring the connection between humans and land and all other things that are part of the District Six diaspora.
“When people started coming back it was like the announcement of a new democracy but I’ve done this installation as a concerned resident because I’m watching people come back and seeing how far more divided they are because of restitution. We are entering a phase of private ownership here in District Six, where land can only belong to a few and that is causing a divide,” she said.
“I don’t know what the future holds for District Six. If we look at how the current four small pockets of the area are so lost and divided, what will happen when thousands more move in and return to the area?” she said.
Ms Patel-Kaskar, who is from Simon’s Town, worked in philanthropy, corporate social investment, and people development for most of her career, and gained experience in community-based approaches to address shortages in human development.
Her work towards this included developing and endorsing the first free tertiary institution for disadvantaged learners in the Western Cape, The Tertiary School in Business Administration (TSIBA), by driving the initiative to establish the institute and heading the funding committee to establish its seed funding.
Her contributions in the education sector sought to develop a standardised curriculum for principals to attain qualification prior to principal selection.
She has also worked in the humanitarian sector and sought aid for refugees in areas of conflict in international environments.
Ms Patel-Kaskar said she tries to stay true to the motto “communities where people thrive”.
Her concern for the marginalised, forgotten and vulnerable motivated her to join the team at the District Six Museum.
“There is much work to be done in understanding what is happening with the status of the restitution process for former residents of District Six.
“We remain committed to this process but we also remain concerned that there is some relief offered to our former residents; not only compensatory, but also a focus on the human condition – which is necessary to release some of the trauma that our former residents carry. We are keen to explore what work the museum can offer particularly when outrages of displacement and loss continue despite the collective experience of historical atrocities.
“It is time to catapult our memory into action and remind people of how we got here and move beyond the notion of memory in a passive way”.
The ex-residents, staff and supporters of the museum wrote notes and memories, tied it to stones, and ritually laid it out on the cairn.