Sharing precious memories at District Six reunion

Tyne Street Wash House District Six with the St Marks Church in background. taken in 1976. Source: Jan Greshoff, copyrights of Katherine Abbott, Martin, Adrian and Robert Greshoff.

It was a special Easter celebration for scores of people who were forcibly removed from District Six more than 50 years ago, as they reunited with loved ones, family and friends they hadn’t seen in a long time.

In Green Point Park on Sunday April 16, people pointed out familiar faces, hugged one another and cried tears of joy as they recalled memories of the old neighbourhood and the way it was before the apartheid state declared it a “white group area” in 1966. Some brought old pictures of their homes, others carried old school reports.

The reunion was organised by Priscilla Fortuin, who lived in Cauvin Street but now lives in Ottery.

She first got in touch with her old friends and neighbours through a District Six group on Facebook.

“I saw how hungry the people in the group were for a reunion,” she said. “We decided on a date, and thought Easter Sunday would be best. Although a lot of Christian people couldn’t make it, this is the first of many more we will try to host.”

She said people should look out for the next reunion to be held after the fast on a date that has yet to be decided.

Yolanda Harris and Helena Ludawyk are sisters who haven’t seen each other in 15 years, as Ms Harris recently returned home from abroad.

Ms Harris, who now lives in Lansdowne, said she had gone to the reunion to build her family tree. “In the old days, people were very secretive and quiet, so I am here to get in touch with my family I’ve lost all those years ago, and to hear about them from my neighbours.”

Ms Ludawyk, whose family was moved to Lentegeur during apartheid, now lives in Elfindale. “This experience is so overwhelming. If I have to talk about it, I’m going to cry,” she said.

Ms Harris said they had found many people from where they had once lived in Cauvin Street.

“We found Priscilla and other neighbours who told us about our grandparents, and friends of my mother who had passed away, so we have made some progress.”

She said the best thing for her was to hear how much she looks like her mother, and how much she is like her mother. “It warmed my heart. I wish there were more people here, but they should definitely have another reunion.”

Keith Adams, who grew up in Canterbury Street, said the reunion had given him and others a sense of belonging.

He said name tags would have made it easier for him to spot old friends and neighbours.

Shamilla Abrahams said the reunion had brought childhood memories rushing back. “Myself and my twin sister, we were Priscilla’s babies. We practically lived in each others’ homes. I didn’t recognise her when I first came, but then when I stared at her, it all came back to me.”

Ms Abrahams said Ms Harris resembled her mother, whom she had grown up with.

“I cried when I saw Yolanda. We are all part of each other’s memories, and we are all looking for closure. Although most of us were moved to Mitchell’s Plain, we were all scattered and lost touch with one another. It’s a very emotional experience for many of us.”

Nur Arendse said it was overwhelming to see all the familiar faces after 45 years.

“It’s so awesome because we were all scattered. I can’t even explain the feeling. It was so sad, being removed from District Six and being dumped all over the show, but nothing can break our spirit.”