Oldest District Six land claimant Aunty Shariefa Khan dies before finally getting chance to move back home
The 100-year-old passed away on Wednesday morning with her wish of returning to her once-beloved community left unfulfilled.
Shariefa Khan, a 100-year-old woman who was the oldest living land claimant from District Six’s protracted land claims process, passed away on Wednesday, 26 January.
This was confirmed via a statement by the District Six Working Committee (D6WC), which she had been part of.
“Mrs Khan passed away at 4am this morning after experiencing breathing difficulty for a number of hours, her loving family were by her bedside,” read the announcement of her death.
Khan was among thousands of land claimants, many of whom are elderly people, waiting for the restitution process to be completed in order for them to return to District Six.
The latest delay preventing her from returning to District Six was due to safety concerns and defects in the buildings that were finally built.
Khan was born on 25 April 1921 in Vryburg, North West. In 1928, her family of Indian immigrants moved to Muizenberg, Cape Town, before settling in Kensington. At the age of 17, she married Dawood Khan, an Indian migrant who lived in District Six. The couple had six children and stayed in the Bailey flats on the famous Hanover Street, near the Avalon Bioscope.
The Khans ran the Bombay Cafe, also known as Dout’s Cafe, which had regular customers in the form of musical icon and playwright Taliep Petersen and his father Mogamat Ladien Petersen, ballet legend Johaar Mosaval and the late Judge Essa Moosa.
However, in the lead up to and during the 1960s, life changed drastically for Shariefa and Dawood Khan. The couple lost their daughter in 1959 when she was killed by a drunk driver. In 1965, another daughter died of leukaemia.
On 11 February 1966, the apartheid regime declared District Six a “Whites Only” area under the Group Areas Act. Before the declaration, District Six was home to a multiracial and multireligious group of people who lived side by side on the outskirts of the inner Cape Town CBD.
The Khan family was one of 74,000 residents in the area who were forcibly removed from District Six. The family was sent to Rylands, about 20km away from their home.
Her husband Dawood passed away on 30 July 1979, while the family was staying in Rylands.
“We cannot forget the pain, anguish, dehumanisation, deprivation and degeneration which the forced removals brought upon us…Now in my old age, I still remember the pain of seeing how our homes were bulldozed and the day my husband had to put up a sign in the shop window saying it would be closing down,” said Khan when she celebrated her 100th birthday on 25 April 2021.
At the time of her birthday, the D6WC said she would no longer take media interviews about District Six, as these had become too stressful and emotional for her.
Khan was one of the thousands of people waiting for restitution during a protracted land claims process. In November 2018, the Land Claims Court ruled in favour of the committee to force the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development to come up with a programme and timelines for when people could move back into their beloved area.
In the announcement of Khan’s death, the committee said in April 2021, she had been allocated one of 108 housing units under Phase 3 of the District Six redevelopment.
“Her family spent some months making the unit more comfortable and disabled-friendly for her,” said the committee. Khan’s family, along with other elderly or disabled claimants were assisted by various organisations and supporters to assist with the move. “Mrs Khan never received final permission to move in, as the national government is still in the process of fixing safety concerns and defects in the buildings,” said the committee.
Earlier in January 2022, Daily Maverick reported that the City of Cape Town could not issue required occupancy certificates for the redevelopment due to safety concerns around balcony railings, riser heights and the balustrades of these buildings.
“Small children or babies may fall under the balcony railing. Also, there are inconsistencies with the steps. This is very important because when there is a fire and the building must be evacuated the tenants must be able to do so safely, and without misjudging a step. This is to prevent someone from falling and hurting themselves, and causing a hazard for others evacuating the building,” said City of Cape Town deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for Spatial Planning and Environment member Eddie Andrews at the time.
The city would, however, issue permission to use certificates for some of the units on the condition that all staircases and handrails be fixed or accounted for. The certificate was issued for 12 months to allow for the defects to be fixed by the contractor appointed by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.
“The D6WC would like to extend its heartfelt condolences to the Khan family and share its utter grief and disappointment with not seeing Mrs Khan’s final wish of restitution being fulfilled … the D6WC championed her cause and fought hard for her final restitution which was fraught with difficulty,” said the committee.
The Mayor of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis sent this message:
“I extend my heartfelt condolences on the passing of Aunty Shariefa Khan. May her family and loved ones find comfort in this time of grief. It is sad that she was not able to move back to District Six. I hope that the necessary safety repairs are sped up by national government so that families who were forced to leave District Six all those years ago are able to return, and find peace and closure in this chapter.”
Khan’s janazah (funeral rites according to her Muslim faith) was performed at her daughter’s home in Elsies River on Wednesday morning, the committee confirmed. DM