It has been 53 years since District Six was declared an area for white people only under apartheid’s Group Areas Act.
Former residents, their families and those who are helping claimants with the restitution process commemorated the date at the Castle of Good Hope on Monday, February 11.
The District Six Working Committee (D6WC) chairperson Shahied Ajam said they would like to reignite the spirit of the past.
“We will never be able to bring back the old District Six and we don’t intend to; we will bring back that flavour, bring back economic empowerment, social development, all of these will happen in a place called District Six,” said Mr Ajam.
The day also marked the 29th anniversary of when Nelson Mandela was released from the Victor Verster Prison and made his first public appearance and speech at the balcony of City Hall in Darling Street.
Among those in attendance on Monday were employees of legal firm Norton Rose Fulbright, which is helping the claimants, members of the SA First Forum, the Human Rights Commission, the provincial Department of Social Development and mayor Dan Plato.
Mr Plato said he just wants the claimants to get their houses built and for them to return to their “precious” land.
“It will never be possible to return those stolen decades, what we can work towards is that you and future generations can once again enjoy the space and sense of community that was once enjoyed,” said Mr Plato.
Mr Plato said he would like to see national, provincial and local government as well as community organisations and representative bodies working together to resolve this issue.
He offered office space in the City Hall to the D6WC and other entities so they could come together and work towards a solution to return the properties back to the residents.
Mr Ajam said the D6WC is prepared to work closely with the mayor’s office to help with the restitution process.
“It’s a wonderful gesture from the mayor. I think he meant it because when I was in his office last Friday, he said that he would like to call an indaba and wants us to use the City Hall so that we can get this thing done as quickly as possible,” said Mr Ajam.
Social Development MEC, Albert Fritz, said he is a former resident of District Six himself.
“We must force government to get this resolved so that our pain can get better,” said Mr Fritz.
He said he works in Mitchell’s Plain, Manenberg and Hanover Park and he sees how the children get affected by gangsterism because that strong network of District Six has been taken away.
There was a feeling of mixed emotions by claimants who attended the commemoration.
Gava Wilkinson, 61, who lives with her family in Zonnebloem, says she is fed up with waiting so long for restitution.
“From 1996 I lodged my papers. In 1998 I needed to fill it in again and we are still waiting, it is a very long time to wait,” said Ms Wilkinson.
However, Yusuf Khan, 78, from Mitchell’s Plain, said he was optimistic about the progress made in the restitution process.
Nicki van’t Riet, director of Norton Rose Fulbright, said the redevelopment of District Six is the only way to restore the dignity of claimants.
“We are working to secure justice without further delay, with the aim of upholding your fundamental human rights, we are seeking justice for every one of you,” she said.
Mr Ajam said this year’s commemoration was a defining moment for the District Six claimants after the D6WC won their High Court case against the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) last November.
“When the court ruled in our favour on November 26, and ordered the government to come up with a plan, I knew that victory was in sight,” he said.
The High Court judge ordered the DRDLR to come back to the court in February with a clear plan for the redevelopment of District 6.
Mr Ajam said the next High Court date is Tuesday February 26 and he feels justice will prevail.