Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Distrik Ses, the sixth municipal district, was a busy, relatively cosmopolitan neighborhood of inner Cape Town, roughly bounded by the docks, the city, and the slopes of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak. Generations of former slaves, “coloured” migrants, Malay and other Southeast Asian and indeed non-Asian Muslims, a fair number of Xhosa, a smattering of Afrikaners and other whites lived there in relative degrees of harmony, a fairly representative cross-section of the whole of South African society. In February 1966, under the notorious Group Areas Act (No. 41 of 1950), District 6 was declared whites-only, and forced removals were announced. Commencing two years later, and proceeding in well thought-out stages, by 1982 upwards of 60,000 people were removed to the desolate Cape flats, some fifteen miles away, and the entire locality bulldozed. Only places of worship were spared. Richmond, Arundel, Frere, Clifton, Ashley, Hanover, Tennant, Godfrey, Sidney, Ayre, Cannon, Clyde, Caledon, Queen, Phillip, Gray, Combrinck, and Pedersen Streets are no more. It is as if the whole of Carlton or Darlinghurst or Fortitude Valley had simply been obliterated. Today you may still make out quite clearly what was done, because there is a sizeable portion of absolutely vacant hillside right there in the middle of Cape Town, but a little ad hoc museum nearer the centre of the city has been salvaging the collective memory of those who once lived in District 6. A large map on the floor is gradually accumulating the marks and surprisingly detailed notes of hundreds of former residents. It is an immensely moving monument, because you may walk across it, gradually absorbing the many human dimensions of each and every pulverized street corner. Which alleys were one-way? Where did Mrs. Adams live, or Mr. and Mrs. Wessels, or Mrs. De la Cruz, or Dollie and Joe Buckingham, or E. Mosoet, or L. J. Williams, or Y. Abrahams, or Sarah Louw (Anderson), the Carrs, the Schroeders, or “Walker,” or “Patsy Harry (nee van Schoor, now living in Australia, born 11/11/54)”? Where were the fish and chip shop, the Cheltenham Hotel, or Globe Soft Furnishings, or the Sheik Jossai Primary School, or the Moravian Chapel? Exactly how many steps led up to the steep corner of Hanover Square? (Seven.) What was A. J. Parker’s five-digit telephone number at 48 Stone Street? Perhaps there is no better spot than this in which to begin to grasp the hopeless desolation of Apartheid.