Two days before South Africa celebrated Human Rights Day on Wednesday, 40 claimants in Cape Town received 2,185 hectares of vacant land that was forcibly taken from families under the 1960s Group Areas Act in apartheid South Africa. The Act broke up families and tore many communities apart. Daily Maverick spoke to claimants who became emotional as they participated in a handing over of land ceremony in Rondebosch East. By HLUMELA DYANTYI.
Photo: Rondebosch East land claimants take part in a handing over of land ceremony with Mayor Patricia de Lille at Rondebosch East Primary School in Cape Town on 19 March 2018.
Sharifa Nell was 15 years old when the Group Areas Act split her family apart and saw them lose their home in Plumstead.
That her dad was Indian and her mom coloured meant that they were moved and had to live in different areas. Their relationship did not survive and they eventually divorced.
“My parents were such hard workers. My mom was a professional dressmaker and my dad was a foreman. He even took private jobs on weekends to make more money for us. Apartheid broke up our family,” Nell said.
When the family was moved, they were advised by the City as to how much they could sell their home for and the attorney who assisted them in their case stole their money and fled the country.
“It is sad they (her parents} did not even receive a cent for their home,” Nell said.
Nell was moved to Durban to live with her uncle but found it extremely difficult to adapt to an Indian household even though her uncle treated her well. Nell was halfway through Standard 8 (Grade 10), and that is where her education stopped. At that time, it was still prevalent in some Indian communities for boys to go to school and girls not. She believes that apartheid thus stripped her of an education.
“My family was broken, I lost out on an education and my dreams never materialised. Sometimes I go past the house in Plumstead and I just want to go knock on the door and say ‘hey that’s my house’ but you know, that’s wrong. We must look at it as an asset now. It’s no longer our house, they pay the bond now,” Nell said.
Nell may not be going back to her family’s Plumstead home but she is one of 4o claimants who had land returned to them in a ceremony on Monday 19 March at Rondebosch East Primary School.
The event forms part of what the City has said was its commitment to restitution. The City aims to honour the rights of those who had their land stolen from them by the apartheid government during the 1960s.
Although claims had been made for the Rondebosch East land, in 2008 the City transferred the land to the Department of Land Affairs.
Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille, who addressed the claimants at the handing over ceremony, said that it was an indictment that the City planned to profit from land that was never theirs, by selling it to the Department of Land Affairs instead of transferring it to the claimants.
When De Lille stepped into office as mayor in 2011, she undertook to prioritise land restitution.
Over the past six years, land has also been given by the City to claimants in Constantia, Claremont and Bishopscourt.
Due to the Group Areas Act, people were scattered all around Cape Town and still remain fragmented today, as evident from the claimant list of people who now reside in Gugulethu, Rylands, Kuils River and many other areas in and around Cape Town.
Another claimant who received land in Rondebosch East, Yolisa Sibeko, lives in Parow. She was not born yet when her grandparents’ land was forcibly taken from them and they were moved to Gugulethu. Sibeko’s grandmother was a domestic worker and her grandfather was a watchman/security guard.
“I started noticing in my teenage years that my grandmother kept curtain pelmets which had their old home address written on them. That is when I started questioning what had happened in the past,” she said.
Sibeko’s grandparents and parents did not like talking about apartheid and they all described the day their home was taken as traumatic because many community members were shot for fighting back.
Sibeko was sad that her grandparents were not alive to witness this day.
Speaking in Xhosa, she said: “But I know that my grandparents will be smiling from their graves.” (Ndiyavuya ndide ndawufumana umhlaba kodwa ngekumnandi kakhulu ukuba utamkhulu nomakhulu wam bebesaphila, hayi kodwa inoba bancumile kulo mangcwaba abo ngoku.)
Photo: Soelaylah Hassan was 12 years old when her family was forcibly moved to Retreat.
Soelaylah Hassan, 62, is another claimant who described the uncertainty that she often felt as a young girl during the 1960s in apartheid South Africa.
“One never knew when or where their family would be moved,” she said.
Hassan was 12 years old when her family was forcibly moved from Claremont to Retreat. She did not understand everything because she was too young but she knew that they had to move because the area had been declared white.
“My father had a plot here (Rondebosch East) and before he could build, the area was declared white. We lived in Claremont and we were also moved from there because the area was declared white. My dad and his siblings worked so hard for what they had and they were just dispossessed because the colour of our skin was not good enough.”
Hassan said she felt extremely emotional and excited that she was finally getting her family’s land back, but she was sad that her father and his siblings were not alive to witness the moment.
Hassan and her family were loaded onto a truck with their furniture and moved to a gang-infested area in Retreat. It was challenging, especially because she was a teenager. She dealt with the pressures of the time by overeating.
Hassan says that she would have to travel to school by train every day from Retreat to Newlands. Sometimes it would rain and she would get to school soaking wet. The teachers would take off the school children’s shoes and put newspapers under their feet so that they could feel some level of warmth, but she said it did not help much.
Hassan was exposed to gangs and crime daily and she says she would often have nightmares from all the trauma. She said it breaks her heart that the community members in Claremont were broken up, because they had been a very close-knit community.
“It was a beautiful community, everyone’s child was everyone’s child. Any parent could reprimand a child. No one would go hungry, we cared about each other, really it was an amazing community and then all of a sudden you come to a community where you are so scared you can’t even leave the house because of the gangsters, it was, it was .. I can’t even explain it really,” she said.
Kenneth Abrahams, chairperson of the Crawford Community Property Association, addressed the crowd at the ceremony. Abrahams has played a huge role in the Rondebosch East land claim. He said it was important that people first understood the impact of dispossession before they understood restitution.
“Apartheid unjustly took away homes, it damaged identities and it had emotional and psychological effects on people,” Abrahams said.
“Even though the physical damage and humiliation that many were subjected to during apartheid cannot be taken away, restitution restores stolen land and human values,” he added.
Abrahams told the claimants not to allow themselves to be victims and to emerge from the dark times.
Sharifa Nell has ceded the land in Rondebosch East to her son because she already has a house in Crawford which her deceased husband had built for her. Nell emphasised the importance of thinking logically when it comes to restitution. She said she does not support the idea of forcibly taking the land back.
“It is a crime and God says that he will restore what is lost to his people, people must not take it back by force. We don’t want to end up in jail and we don’t want to go the Zimbabwean way,” she said.
The development process for the land will now begin and claimants have been told that they may only use the land for commercial purposes after 10 years.
The Crawford Community Property Association is still in talks with the City about what the next step will be but most claimants have said they will go with whatever the association decides.
De Lille reminisced about a time when her grandmother lived in District Six, a community that was infused with a variety of cultures, religions and races. De Lille said her grandmother was moved to an upstairs room on the Cape Flats and she died at the age of 103 without having received her land back. DM
Main Photo: Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille and land claimant Rebecca Hlokwana at a land handing over ceremony at Rondebosch East Primary School in Cape Town on 19 March 2018. All Photos: Hlumela Dyantyi
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