District Six families scarred by removals

SOYISO MALITI

Ursula Brooksbank was only five when her family was kicked out of District Six but she remembers the profound sadness of that day.

It’s 50 years since District Six was declared a whites-only area, laying the foundation for its destruction and the forced removal of its inhabitants over the course of several years, but Ms Brooksbank, who is now 48 and living in Kuils River, believes what happened there cast a shadow over her life, one that she has never quite been able to shrug off.

She lived at 49 Mount Street with her grandmother, following her mother’s death. Her father lived nearby.

“The mood was just down. All I remember is the sadness when we moved,” she said.

The removal deepened the cracks in her family and saw her father, who now lives in Mitchell’s Plain, go his separate way. Contact with him wore thinner as the years went by. She is left with the memories of how he would take her to one of District Six’s four cinemas – she can’t remember which one – where he worked as cleaner.

The forced removal to Hanover Park pained her grandmother, who had lost her husband before she settled in the “close-knit” District Six.

Ms Brooksbank is now fighting a land claim on behalf of her grandmother, who died several years ago.

Audrey Ben, 53, of Wembley Park, Kuils River, still hopes to move back to District Six, which she describes as her birthright.

When contacted by the Northern News and told what the call was about, she breathed a heavy sigh and then grudgingly said, “That brings a lot of memories.”

At the time of her removal, she was 10 years old, but she felt aftershocks years later.

“I started realising it had destabilised my family,” she said. Her aunt, Kathleen Fortuin, 83, said they lived on the corner of Wicht and Rottemrow streets.

Ms Ben said her family hadn’t lodged a claim until 2014. Her sister, Hazel Windgovel, 70, who lives in Elsies River, is following up on it and has a reference number.

Department of Rural Development and Land Reforms spokesman Vuyani Nkasayi said the department had been urging District Six families to claim their land on social media. Claimants can check the status of their claim by providing their references or an acknowledgement letter.

Mr Nkasayi confirmed the Windvogel family had lodged a claim in 2014. He said claimants who applied in the 2014 window period would be attended to as soon as the first claimants’ phase had been rolled out.

The department received 2 670 claims for the first phase in District Six, of which 1 439 had selected financial compensation while 126 had opted to return to District Six.

Mr Nkasayi said the department had so far spent R39.6 million on the redistribution programme, and built 139 units as part of phases one and two. Phase one includes two-bedroom units, while phase three has three-bedroom units.

“We are building 108 units for phase three. Construction began last year, and we expect to finish this phase in February next year,” Mr Nkasayi said.