District 6 and The Group Areas Act

District 6 50 Years Later

District 6 a seemingly so called “Coloured Story”; for most modern South African’s, images of the Cape Minstrels and the famous Jo Barber series spring to mind when you hear the words District 6. It’s quite remarkable how quickly its story has faded into the history books, having taken place only some 20 years prior to our first democratic election in 1994. I too only recently began to really appreciate the gravity of the situation even though I’ve known about it my entire life. This was truly one of the darkest days in the South African Apartheid .

What Happened at District 6

On 11 February 1966 under the Group Areas Act, the Apartheid government announced the District 6, in the greater Cape Town area would be declared a “Whites Only Area”, this in part was due to the fact that only White citizens where aloud to reside in developed residential areas.  At the time these areas where heavily populated by non-white racially, economically and culturally diverse communities. In 1968 the government then began to issue eviction notices to the inhabitants of the area, and by the early 80s some 70,000 non-whites had been moved to more undesirable locations now referred to as the Cape Flats.  That, for me at least was the sum of the District 6 story, but on inspection I’ve come to appreciate how deep the wounds of this event truly run. Having known 1 or 2 district 6 survivors, I was completely surprise to for the first time hear them speak about the actual events that took place as appose to the restitution process still in debate today. The deeply rooted trauma of having your home bulldozed down before your eyes, with your family of 5 hopelessly watching from the side walk, becomes abundantly clear when hearing their stories. This is exponentially compounded by the fact that these people were already systematically oppressed; deemed as lesser or inferior human beings based purely on the color of their skin. Other issues of economical wealth also come up as properties in the region are now worth millions, of which many people and organizations are now unduly benefiting from.

The Cultural Assault

As if this in itself was not bad enough; we find that there is a further underlying cultural assault that seems to have taken place on the people of District 6. Many of us incorrectly assume that it was predominantly the Coloured’s who were affected by the forced removal. Accounts from the inhabitants, however tell a different story. It is said that District 6 had an incredibly diverse population, in which non-white street sweepers and educated lawyers all lived together. There were people of all sorts of ethnic groups living in the area, even families of mixed races including marriage between white and non-white individuals. District 6 had appeared to be an unintended social experiment showing that inclusion was in fact possible, contradicting the very fundamentals of Apartheid which literally translates to separation. It has been suggested that this was why the Apartheid  government went through such extreme lengths in the relocation of its residents. Not only did they seek to move non-whites to inferior areas, but they forced further separation in the communities into separate race groups sending the Coloureds to Hanover Park/Mitchelles Plain, Blacks to the out skirts now known as Khayelitsha , Guguleta and Nyanga and the Indians to Rylands. Many mixed race families where indiscriminately separated. Furthermore if you fell victim to this, you had to obtain special Passes that allowed visiting your spouse in a particular ethnic zone. This was one of the most severe abuses of this act!


What Now?

The sad fact is that there seems to be no restitution in sight for those who suffered. Only a hand full of the 70,000 residents has actually registered claims with the land reclamation department.  The vast majority of those who suffered seem indefinitely bound to far reaching social deficits induced by the Group Areas Act, as these regions are heavily plagued with poverty, drugs and violence.  Those who have managed to register claims seem to be caught in decades of political red tape, with some seeking financial restitution and other seeking restitution in the form of development. In 1968 to 1994, a ruthless narrow minded government was able to develop much of the outskirts into the thriving metropolitan areas; It baffles me that some 20 years later a supposedly more mature, more democratic and inclusive government is unable to apply the same vigor in rectifying the human rights abuses of the past. Evidently it is possible to redevelop an area to this extent, and in my opinion it would be far more sustainable if government took active measures toward developing the presently disadvantaged areas to become more socially healthy, but then again, that would mean that Government would actually need to have the interest of The People at heart.


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