Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Dispatches: What used to be there

"They took everything," says Angie. It is the third time the 63-year-old single mother of two tells me this. We are walking up Service Street to a beige council-owned block with the mural of a woman bearing a TV on her head. Angie has lived there for 19 years. She wants to show me the view.

As we walk I ask Angie about the abandoned Zimbabwean consulate at the corner of Kuyper Street and Service Road.

They took everything, she repeats. The spiral staircase, wooden floorboards, carpets, geyser, electrical cabling and toilets.

She saw them do it, men in bakkies. For a while a man in black security uniform patrolled the Edwardian cottage. He is gone now, as is the corrugated iron that secured the holes created by the missing windows.

Angie – she has greying blonde hair and a tremor in one arm – unlocks the security gate and opens her flat door. It is dim inside, quiet. Her scullery is painted highlighter-pen green and flooded with winter light.

Kaput
Its cramped view overlooks a vast absence: District Six. "It was the heart of the Malay community," says Angie. As we walk back down Service Road, passing trainee land surveyors from the nearby university of technology – "kaput" it is nicknamed – Angie says there is talk of being relocated to an edge township, Blue Downs. It happened once before, she reminds me, then waves goodbye.

"Coming from the city to a township is not easy," says Sumaya. She is seated on an enclosed stoep at 23 Kuyper Street listening to 567 CapeTalk. The view through the slatted window overlooks her husband Moussa's garden of myrtle, lavender, roses and jalapeño chillies. "We had hard days when we moved out."

Sumaya met Moussa at a "hop" in District Six. In the 1970s the married couple was relocated to Diep River, later Lavender Hill. Eventually they settled in Retreat. Now in their mid-70s, they moved back to District Six – or Zonnebloem, as it was rechristened – 18 years ago.

"I'm from both sides of the equator, if you know what I mean," says Sumaya with a grin, who has decorated the stoep area with vintage photos of Wale and Hanover streets. One of eight daughters, her decision to convert to Islam when she married Moussa, who was born on Wale Street, meant embracing a coloured identity.

Six of her sisters preferred their father's classification: white. She recalls the gasps when she visited an estranged sister on her deathbed. "Sometimes I cry about it at night."

Moussa nods, returns to sweeping the pavement. I walk back up to the corner of Service and Kuyper where four young men sit in a huddle near the pedestrian bridge.  

At night they sleep in the abandoned consulate. It still has a roof.

Dispatches is a series that provides a glimpse into who we are and how we live in South Africa

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Sean Otoole
Guest Author

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Local elections: Water tops the agenda in Limpopo’s dry villages

People in the Fetakgomo Tubatse local municipality, who have to collect water from Motse River, are backing independent candidates because they’re tired of parties’ election promises

Careers the Zondo state capture inquiry has ended (or not)

From Vincent Smith to Gwede Mantashe, those named and shamed have met with differing fates

More top stories

Nigeria’s palm wine tappers face stiff competition

Large companies such as International Breweries and Nigerian Breweries are vying for the population’s drinking money

Covid-19 border closures hit Zimbabwe’s women traders hard

The past 18 months have been tough for women cross-border traders, who saw their income vanish when borders closed

Local elections: Water tops the agenda in Limpopo’s dry villages

People in the Fetakgomo Tubatse local municipality, who have to collect water from Motse River, are backing independent candidates because they’re tired of parties’ election promises

A bigger slice of the pie: Retailers find ways to...

The South African informal economy market is much sought-after, with the big, formal-sector supermarkets all looking to grow their share
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×