District Six was already a large open sore when I first came to live in Cape Town in 1974. This sad, empty piece of land, which had had its life so brutally stripped from it, was one of the first places Don took me to, to illustrate the deep wounding that apartheid was inflicting upon South African society. The landscape of destruction, devoid of families and lives, was haunting and we stayed there until sunset, paying homage as the wind came up and added its own lament.
247 Caledon Street District Six
On the final day the lorry that I hired was loaded with our furniture. My wife and children crowded into the Beetle with our belongings. I drove away from Caledon Street and then stopped the car in the middle of the road. I had to turn back. I had to look at the house one more time. Yet I could not end it there. On my way to the Reader’s Digest office, where I worked, I drove down Caledon Street past my house. Each day for six days, I stopped my car and stared at my house. On the seventh day I got out of the car, leaned against it for a moment and then walked around the house. By now the windows and window frames had been removed. The front door still carried the small round royal blue and white plate indicating that this was 247 Caledon Street. I ran at the door and ripped off our number. Then I went to the kitchen and saw that the bolt was still on the back door. I removed this too and took it with me. A week later I passed my street again and saw that the house was gone. Even the rubble had been removed. I stood on the vacant plot with desolation in my heart.
Washday District Six
It was a Saturday afternoon. Warm sunlight filtered down onto the stone-paved backyard. Mom was doing the washing at the cold-water tap near the kitchen door. She was bent over the washing plank on the large off-white porcelain basin, soaping in and rubbing the white things – sheets and pillowcases and shirts and bits of underwear…. Then Mom rinsed the washing, pulling each piece out of the clean water with two hands, dropping it back again and pulling it out again until she was sure it was properly rinsed. She hung it up on the washing lines which ran from one end of the yard to the other. She took the washing plank and quickly pushed it underneath the middle washing line to prevent it from sagging to the ground.
Playtime was over, unless we wanted to be soaked by the dripping water, because when Mom hung up her washing it was always sopping wet and it would soak everything in the yard. Mom could not twist the wet washing like the other women in the District did. She just sort of squeezed the water out, so when she hung the sheets up they were still heavy with water.
247 Caledon Street District Six is an extract from Noor’s Story – My Life in District Six by Noor Ebrahim. (The District Six Museum, ISBN 0-620-24720-7)
Washday District Six is an extract from The House in Tyne Street – Childhood Memories of District Six by Linda Fortune (Kwela Books, ISBN 0-7957-0026-1)
Both Noor Ebrahim and Linda Fortune have personal experience and extensive knowledge of the forced removal of residents from District Six under apartheid’s notorious Group Areas Act. They helped set up the District Six Museum in Cape Town and have been associated with it since its inception in 1994.
These two extracts from their respective memoirs are included in Africa! My Africa! an anthology of poems selected by Patricia Schonstein, sold to raise funds for Seed Readers.
Seed Readers is a project that will produce story books based on principles of peace, non-violence, non-racism and care of the earth. They will seed an understanding of our true role as custodians of the earth and oceans. They will inspire children to live ethically and in a sustainable manner.
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Visit the District Six Museum in Cape Town or see their website http://www.districtsix.co.za/ “District Six was named the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867. Originally established as a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants, District Six was a vibrant centre with close links to the city and the port. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the process of removals and marginalisation had begun. The first to be ‘resettled’ were black South Africans, forcibly displaced from the District in 1901. As the more prosperous moved away to the suburbs, the area became a neglected ward of Cape Town. In 1966 it was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950, and by 1982, the life of the community was over. 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers. The District Six Museum, established in December 1994, works with the memories of these experiences and with the history of forced removals more generally.”