District Six 50 years later

The Minster of Rural development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of the declaration of District Six, in Cape Town, as a white group area. By the time the bulldozers had done their work, 60 000 people had been forcibly removed from the iconic inner-city suburb and dumped in single-race ghettoes far from town. Forced removals were one of the defining characteristics of the apartheid era. No town or village was unaffected. Between 1960 and 1983, an estimated three-and-a-half million black South Africans were uprooted and discarded.

Their collective pain is defined in the ugly scar across Cape Town’s cheek called District Six. We pay tribute today to the people of District Six, for their resilience and fortitude over 50 years of struggle, and for keeping the flame of our liberation burning. Theirs was among the first land claims in the country to be prioritised by the newly installed democratic government after the passing of the Restitution of Land Rights Act in 1994.

Yet, for a number of reasons, it has proven among the most complex claims to settle:

  • Difficulties have been experienced in tracing some claimants;
  • Complex administrative processes are required in cases where the originally dispossessed persons are deceased;
  • Some claimants who originally opted for financial compensation changed their minds, or the descendants battled to agree among themselves;
  • Establishing appropriate structures for consultation and engagement with the claimants has been time consuming;
  • The role of developer has passed from the District 6 Beneficiary Trust (Phases One and Two) to the Department (Phase Three), and a new Reference Group has been nominated to represent the community; and
  • All regulatory planning approvals have required consultation with the Reference Group in terms of the participatory approach.

Claims deadline

A total of 2670 District Six restitution claims were submitted to government by the closing date of the initial lodgment process at the end of 1998. Of these claimants, 1439 opted for financial compensation (receiving R39.7m in total) and 1126 claimants opted to return to the area.

The first phase of rebuilding was completed in 2004, with 24 homes handed over to elderly residents. A second phase of 115 homes was delivered in 2012. And building of the third phase of 108 homes (tendered cost: R167.1m) is presently underway.

The third phase is the agreed product of an exhaustive 18-month period of consultation, led by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, involving all levels of government, claimant representatives and other interested parties. We have agreement; it is time to build and heal the scar on our face and in our hearts.

* A new restitution claims lodgment window opened in July 2014, closing in June 2019. By December 2015, 1300 new claims had been submitted.

Author: Intsika

Gwatyu is a former editor of Farming SA and parliamentary reporter for Landbouweekblad (the leading agricultural publication in South Africa). He has more than ten years of media experience, most of which are in the agricultural sector. He completed several local and international media courses, including a media management course from the University of Stellenbosch, 3-year National Diploma in Languages (CPUT) and a fellowship in entrepreneurship on agricultural communication at the Oklahoma State University in 2014. He continues to be involved in agricultural media and communication activities in South Africa and the continent.

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