District still at sixes and sevens

Long wait: District Six’s original residents are frustrated by the snail-pace response from provincial and national authorities regarding restitution and redevelopment. (David Harrison)

Long wait: District Six’s original residents are frustrated by the snail-pace response from provincial and national authorities regarding restitution and redevelopment. (David Harrison)

Victims of forced removals from Cape Town’s inner city during the 1970s and 1980s have been waiting for more than two decades to return to the place they once called home. Now, it appears the plan to restore their property and dignity has stalled again.

Waiting demands patience but comes with a lot of frustration. Shahied Ajam, the chairperson of the District Six Working Group, says: “As we are sitting here people are asking me why don’t we just go put up our hokkies [shacks] until government acts.

“Our history started in District Six as far back as 1656, four years after Jan van Riebeeck arrived.
When the first exiles and slaves arrived, and then the population grew. So people will always feel passionate about District Six.

“We decided we are not going to invade the land, and we decided we will go to court and make it a humanitarian issue and a constitutional issue and get much faster results,” Ajam says.

Last week, the department of rural development and land reform missed a high court deadline to deliver a detailed plan of action on the cost, scale and model of a District Six restitution project. The district’s working group says it will now seek a high court declaratory order to force the government to act.

“To be blunt, nothing was put on the table. There’s no plan. So what does it tell us? It means that we have to legally strategise, find a court date and let our legal team do its work,” a frustrated Ajam says.

In November last year, Judge Jody Kollapen gave the department and the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights three months to provide feedback on how it will make claimants’ dreams a reality. Ajam says the national government has been dragging its feet.

“Primarily it is national [government] because they are mandated by the Constitution. We have said from as early as 2013 that the department of land reform and rural development can’t do this alone. It is a huge project; they should have learned from the mistakes they made since 1995 where they paid rural and urban claims with monetary compensation. They did not learn and they keep repeating the mistakes,” he says.

Claimants now want to put forward their own plan for restitution and redevelopment. He says people don’t want money; they want to return to the area from where they and their parents were forcibly removed.

“If the government doesn’t have a plan, should the working committee have a plan? Of course, we have. We have not been waiting for government all this time, we have been very busy. So if government didn’t satisfy the court, we will satisfy the court when the time comes,” Ajam says.

In an affidavit, the department says it was difficult to hold consultative meetings with claimants during November and December because most people were out of office or on holiday.

It also says, because of the number of claimants, the heritage status of the area and the state of the land, the cost of redevelopment could be more than R11-billion and could take up to 20 years to complete.

But the affidavit concludes the department is committed to restitution for the District Six claimants.

This issue is just one thorn in the side of local, provincial and national government departments, which are grappling with plans for low-cost, inner-city housing in Cape Town.

Suburbs adjacent to the City Bowl, such as the Bo-Kaap, Woodstock and Salt River, have also been targeted for major high-end commercial development.

The City of Cape Town recently announced plans to develop 10 projects for inner-city, low-cost housing and it is trying to establish if city-owned land can be transferred for this.

Meanwhile, the poor and working class, including the District Six claimants, are waiting to be heard and to have promises made fulfilled.

Bo-Kaap seeks protection

Residents of the Bo-Kaap, a predominantly working-class Muslim area and home to some of the oldest Mosques in the country, have been resisting major commercial development in the area, which they say is slowly pushing out residents.

When developers move in, they try to entice residents to sell their property. And with richer owners comes higher rates and taxes.

Bo-Kaap residents say they hope plans to designate parts of the neighbourhood as a heritage area will help to protect residents from commercial development and gentrification.

The residents’ association’s Jacky Poking says: “We are not rich; our people have inherited their homes. For us, it’s central to the people living here. And for the people to continue living here, we also require low-cost housing.”.

The Bo-Kaap is also one of several communities around the City Bowl trying to fight gentrification and commercialisation.

The project to declare the Bo-Kaap a heritage area is now with the South African Heritage Resource Agency and is currently open for public comment.

Poking says it might be another two years before it is declared a national heritage area, meaning a limit on commercial development.

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