Address at the District Six Land Claims Celebrations
26 November 2000
Master of Ceremonies
Minister Thoko Didiza
Mr. Saleem Mowser, Chair of the Cape Town City Council
Advocate Wallace Mgoqi, Chief Land Claims Commissioner
Mr. Anwar Nagia, Chair of the District Six Beneficiary Trust
People of District Six and of Cape Town
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It may very well be that in the fullness of time it will be said that apart from our liberation in 1994, the development we have come together to celebrate here at the Moravian Mission Church in District Six, represents for Cape Town and the Western Cape the most important signal that we have broken with our terrible past.
For the forced removal of our people from District Six has come to symbolise everything that was wrong about the system of apartheid and white minority domination.
It epitomised the callous use of force against a people defined by a criminal racist ideology as sub-human, which ideology was itself sanctified by a perverse interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.
It illustrated the inherently anti-human nature of the system of apartheid, as a consequence of which it was correctly characterised by the international community as a crime against humanity.
It confirmed the right and the duty of the people to rise up against such tyranny that could never have any claim to legality and legitimacy.
District Six itself had represented the evolution of South Africa towards a non- racial, diverse and yet united society, with a distinct character given to it by the people themselves.
Already a century ago, in 1901, white rule had sought to disrupt and destroy this historic process by the forced removal of 6000 African residents of District Six, the demolition of their houses and the establishment of the segregated township of Endabeni.
The final forced removals from District Six, sixty years later, sought to complete a consciously conceived racist design that was opposed to the natural instinct of our people, both black and white, to live and work together harmoniously, in a spirit of good neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation.
That consciously conceived racist design sought also to take away our laughter and our joys, our capacity to sing and dance, to celebrate our humanity.
Its endgame was the imposition of a life of misery on the people, punctuated only by the funeral dirge, as we buried one another, given the fact that the violent disruption of the people's lives led to a sharp increase in social disorder, with rising crime, alcoholism, the weakening of the bonds of community and the disintegration of families.
That funeral dirge was sung by millions of our people throughout the country and not only those who were removed from District Six to Hanover Park, Lavender Hill, Mitchells Plain and elsewhere.
It became the enforced anthem of those removed from Lady Selborne, from Sophiatown, from Fietas and Marabastad, from the thousands of places in our country that gave birth to such domiciles for so-called 'surplus people' as Sada and Dimbaza.
Where they had lived, the people had sung songs of joy, whatever their difficulties, because they carried hope in their hearts that tomorrow would be better than yesterday.
When the savage hand of racism struck, it sought to tell the people that despair and not hope was to be their permanent companion.
It sought to tell Abdullah Ebrahim that he was wrong when he wrote in his blues for district six: "early one new year's morning when the emerald bay waved its clear waters against the noisy dockyard a restless south easter skipped over slumbering lion's head danced up hanover street tenored a bawdy banjo strung an ancient cello bridged a host of guitars tambourined through a dingy alley into a scented cobwebbed room and crackled the sixth sensed district into a blazing swamp fire of satin sound" (from Africa, Music and Show Business in Voices From Within edited by Michael Chapman and Achmat Dangor, Ad Donker 1982) We have met here today to say that racism and apartheid were wrong and that Abdullah Ebrahim was right.
This sixth sensed district, the historic representative of a non-racial Cape Town and a non-racial South Africa, will, once again, be enveloped in "a blazing swamp fire of satin sound".
We who stand here today and those who will stand here on any other day cannot but be moved by the breathtaking beauty and panoramic view we have here of the slopes of Devil's Peak, in this nest between Table Mountain and the sea, this place which since the late 19th Century has been known as District Six.
As we celebrate the return of District Six to the people and the return of the people to District Six, we are giving the sea back to those who used to swim here day after day and we are returning the mountain to those for whom it was their youthful playground.
In this way, we are renewing ourselves as a district, as a people and as a nation, giving back to all our people their common heritage without the distinctions of race, colour and gender that racism, colonialism and apartheid imposed on all of us.
This, surely, is our country's new year's morning, of which Abdullah Ebrahim wrote, with its emerald bay and its dancing south easter, its banjos and its guitars with their 'swamp fire of satin sound'.
If we celebrate our country's new year's morning, as we do, we must salute the generations of fighters for liberation that District Six gave to our country and people.
I speak here of the Train Apartheid Resistance Committee which already in 1948 fought against apartheid being introduced on the trains.
Even earlier than this, I speak of the African People's Organisation (APO) in the early 1900's, which, under the leadership of Dr. Abdurahman, organised people to fight for their full rights as citizens of this country. I speak of the members of the African National Congress who played a significant role in the life of District Six operating from their office in Alberta Street. I speak of that outstanding leader of the ANC and the Communist Party of South Africa, Moses Kotane, who lived in Mount Street, opposite what then used to be the Peninsula Maternity Home.
I speak also of such outstanding leaders of the liberation movement as Jimmy La Guma and his son, the writer and ANC activist, Alex La Guma, the prominent trade union leader like John Gomas who headed the National Liberation League, Clemens Kadalie who co-founded the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (the ICU), Cissie Gool and countless others who fought for our freedom. This long legacy of struggle and resistance is what we also celebrate today, for we know that without this struggle, which was continued also by the descendants of those who were forced out of District Six, we would not be standing here today to return District Six, Cape Town and the country to the people.
As a result of that struggle and through the efforts of the District Six Beneficiary Trust, working in partnership with government, we have given concrete meaning to the historic call - Mayibuye iAfrika! We will have to continue to work together to ensure that this place, which was once a caring, committed community where different people lived and worked and worshipped together, must recover its laughter and its joy and, once more, become a centre for non-racialism, in theory and in practice, a vibrant place of diverse people yet sharing common values and aspirations.
District Six must, once again, show us the way about what we need to do to create our peaceful, prosperous and non-racial cities of the future.
We are saying that this place, which has given us great music and art, which still moves us even today, must continue to do so, for this will be a valuable contribution to our national culture and to what it means to be truly South African.
We are saying that even the African renaissance and the African century should also begin right here, close to the southernmost tip of our continent, here where the mountains meet the seas.
I wish the beneficiaries of this process of land restitution all the best in their endeavours to construct their homes, their churches and mosques, their places of education, work and entertainment and as they struggle to rebuild their lives.
The turning of the tide of history has put in place a government that will work to help you achieve these objectives, a system of governance which, because it is based on the precept that the people shall govern, represents for all our people a time of hope and no longer a season of despair.
On behalf of the government and all our people, I thank Anwar Nagia, the District Six Beneficiary Trust, the City Council, the Regional Land Claims Commission and the Ministry and Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs for redressing the historic injustice that visited the people of District Six.
Let justice and the defence of the interests of the ordinary working people of our country continue to characterise our continuing struggle to eradicate the legacy of apartheid and to construct a caring and people-centred society.