District Six and its cultural heritage is on the brink of renewal. Although this has been an inordinately slow and frustrating process for erstwhile residents, history books will tell a much happier story in time to come.
Following the National Party Government’s declaration of this 42h area for ‘whites-only’ under the Group Areas Act in 1967, and the subsequent eviction of 60 thousand residents at the cost of R30-million, was the naming of the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town. As a result of protests and pressure both locally and internationally, this piece of bulldozed real estate, in a prime position below the foothills of Table Mountain and overlooking Table Bay, has remained undeveloped and deserted, except for a few schools and places of worship.
However, should all plans and budgets receive final approval at the earliest opportunity this year, the area will become a hive of re-development activity. Plans for the construction of 5 000 homes at the cost of a R7-billion which will include claimants’ homes, private housing, as well as commercial space are well under way. Registered claimants will be first in line to receive approximately 1 500 homes to be completed by February 2015, with plans for additional housing to provide rental income to ensure future sustainability. Claimants are asked to contribute approximately R225 000 to participate in the newly proposed development scheme, that anticipates paying out first dividends in five years to cover contributions, with annual dividends to follow in perpetuity. The proposal states that claimants unable or unwilling to make contributions will still receive homes, but without share income from the special purpose vehicle.
Not only will this long awaited project aid the healing of deep cultural wounds, it will also serve to uplift and rejuvenate a prime Cape Town suburb, for proud residents to return to in dignified circumstances. This process, driven by a collective of local, provincial and national government as well as business and community, will result in thousands of families returning to their roots. The new design will focus on retaining what remains of the original character and heritage value of this rich historical area.
The history of District Six as a residential suburb goes back as far as the 1900’s when small dwellings were crammed in between narrow alley ways without services, that resulted in overcrowding and the area becoming a so called ‘slum’. It was much later during the 1930’s after new building restrictions were imposed, that transformation took place, and just over 1 000 houses were built. Although conditions remained poor, this central location became a multi-racial and vibrant community, that served as a cultural centre for the working class. Many children growing up in District Six were expected to contribute to the family income from a young age.
During the forced removals 30 years ago, families including young and old had no choice but to settle as far as 25km from the city in Mitchells Plain and the Cape Flats. Ironically, large numbers of the previously evicted community still return to their places of worship on weekends by organized transport from areas as far as 25km out of the city, while the mosques remain in regular use mostly on Fridays.
The delayed land restitution process was first initiated 10 years ago, and only 64 houses have been completed here, 16 years after the advent of democracy.