We, the dispossessed

 

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Why bring your bulldozers to my home? In 1966 the apartheid government declared District Six in Cape Town to be a whites only area and began the process of demolishing it and moving the ‘non- white’ residents out of there to the Cape Flats, against ongoing protests. By 1982 some 60,000 people had been moved.  In the picture, residents try to clean up after the demolition. Now, these people and their descendants are lodging claims for what they lost

THERE was a reminder of apartheid’s madness on 11 February. Five hundred former residents and families of District Six in Cape Town – proclaimed a “whites only” area in 1966 and demolished according to the Group Areas Act – gathered at the Castle of Good Hope for a memorial.

It had been a vibrant, multicultural, multiracial community in the city centre where all sorts of people lived peacefully together until being forcibly relocated to places on the Cape Flats. By 1982, more than 60 000 people had been moved.

Another reminder of this country’s tortured history took place on Saturday, when President Cyril Ramaphosa handed over title deeds to the Griqua and Khoi communities of Ebenhaeser on the West Coast. Their century-old claim was the first to be finalised by the government after their removal from farms in the 1920s. The returned land will see local communities partnering with established commercial farmers in wine, livestock and game farming on 53 farms comprising 1 566 hectares of land.

The Land Claims Court dealt with the District Six claims. A total of 2 760 land claims from former residents were lodged and verified by 31 December 1998. Of these, 1 449 people opted for financial compensation while the rest opted to return to District Six. The situation ignited political wrangles, and there were other delays. But between 2004 and 2018, 139 housing units were built within the area for claimants.

These two instances are the tip of the iceberg of what needs to happen for this country to heal. Ramaphosa has cautioned whites, in measured tones, to stop frustrating land reform. However it’s often more perception than reality, since the court has dealt successfully with more claims than most people realise. Reportedly, between 1995 and 2014, 1.8 million people who applied for compensation received money. Out of 80 000 claims, about 77 000 cases were resolved.

Radical people are pushing Ramaphosa into more radical positions regarding land ownership for political expediency. Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, and Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama have accumulated political ammunition, and pushed to enable expropriation without compensation, which would be a disaster for the country’s economy. But Malema’s appeal to young black people is obvious, through stories of grandparents and parents being thrown off their land, and left with nothing.

History cannot be undone, but the above gestures are important. The most dangerous time in a country’s life is when citizens are so confused that all they want is a strong leader to bring order. The trouble is, often the leader who arrives wants more than anything to be in charge, and becomes a dictator rather than a saviour.  Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, for example, to say nothing of Hitler. Ultimately, the land issue has to be faced with hard data, and it is up to the major political parties to convince the country of the hard data. District Six can be a touchstone.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za 

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