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The way we lived 30. (Part 2) District 6 – a stab through 60,000+ hearts.

Updated: May 31, 2023

I was born in Claremont, which, eventually was zoned for Whites only. We moved, and I grew up in Lansdowne – later also changed to Whites only.

Over the years, I experienced District 6 in many ways. The earliest memories I have were family visits to Uncle Tabby and Aunty Jane Gool on D6 outskirts. IB Tabatha and Jane Gool were political activists who eventually, with my father Alie Fataar, fled into exile in Zambia and Zimbabwe as founder members of a more radical organisation, APDUSA (African People’s Democratic Union of South Africa). Several other anti-establishment D6 figures were either banned, imprisoned or exiled because of their political work. The Gool-Tabatha loquat tree out the back was one of the largest I ever climbed in and it was probably the loquat tree with the best view of the Mother City and its surrounds.

My next memory is of a monthly visit to Dr Rustum Gool, who had his rooms on the mountain-side of mid-Hanover Street as it made its way up the hill, which is part of the base of Devil’s Peak before it joins Table Mountain. Hop-on-at-the-back double-decker buses ran the entire length of Hanover street, but walking the street was far more interesting. My regular visits as a teenager endeared me to the area with the sheer vibrancy that surrounded one on the way up and down past countless stores in decades-old buildings some of which stood three-four storeys high. The aroma of spices from a few shops conjured up images of foreign lands not yet visited or lived in as was my experience in the Middle East later in life.

After a few years my main reason to visit D6 was for movies at the Avalon cinema. It was a special time in my life when I was courting Zonjia – only 55 years ago as I write. Her trip was from Somerset Hospital, where she was a trainee nurse. We’d meet on Adderley Street, where the bus dropped her. I’d usually take the train from Lansdowne station – about a three-kilometre walk from home. (What one did for love!). We’d often take a short detour via the Grand Parade to buy strawberry ice-cream shakes at the first of several stalls on the Parade. Zonjia’s other favourite Parade purchase was dried sour-figs (suurvye) from a fruit stall behind the drinks vendor. These were preferably eaten close to a toilet for fear of a potentially potent gastro-intestinal response!

Outside Cape Town’s central post office building was a popular place for Movie Snaps’ street photographers who would have photographed tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Capetonians as they went about their business on Darling Street – I have at least a dozen of these candid shots. Cameras were scarce back then and the street photographers pounded the pavement outside the post office looking for business. The shot of Joe cool and his soulmate was taken in 1967 – notice the love in those looks? Second shot with Zonjia shows us on our way to get married in court somewhere behind the City Hall in 1968. The suit I’m wearing was my father’s favourite which I laid claim to when he went into exile. He specifically asked after the suit, but we never responded to his request to send him his black suit with a small blue stippling in the material – I wore it for many years, including at my graduations as a doctor and later as a specialist.

Our 3km-kilometre-long walk usually took us past the Grand Parade flower sellers who seemed to have been there forever. The mainly female vendors’ inducements included razor-sharp wits and tongues. Walking by the old City Hall (based on London’s Big Ben at half the size), we were not to know that the little balcony in front of the Hall would one day feature so prominently in South Africa’s future. In 1989 the Peace March ended there, having started at St George’s Cathedral one kilometre away. With well over 30,000 people, it was the first large illegal march without a known police-related death – it certainly augured well for the future. Rev Allan Hendrickse, founder and leader of the United Democratic Foundation, prophesised to much applause that President de Klerk would be the last White president of the country. In his distinctive purple robe, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed the crowd as the “Rainbow Nation”. It was the first time he publicly used what became his trademark description of South Africans. The balcony featured even more prominently a year later when the just-released Nelson Mandela addressed a crowd of over a quarter of a million people gathered on the Grand Parade opposite the City Hall.

En route to the Avalon, one almost tip-toed past the Seven Steps of stone where rumour had it gang members hung out playing dice and cards, but it really was the heart and soul of the vibrant D 6 community. There are actually eight granite steps where people hung out, shared gossip with neighbours or where romances started while kids played their games on or above the steps around the two metal bollards polished smooth with the decades of hands walking by or kids bums from where they sat atop the posts. This photo shared with permission of Gharlib Fredericks is a shot of his dad coming down the steps – posted in Facebook’s District 6 in December 2020 .

To get an idea of how ingrained D6 was to so many people displaced all those years ago, just read the Facebook notices posted on the District 6 site. Here’s a small random sample (Mostly, people’s names have been withheld; their comments are in italics.)

Shared with permission from Keith Abrahams post of 3.1.2021.

This relatively simple photo of Keith’s attracted 58 comments. People provided the names of neighbours who lived in every house, including the name of the woman putting out a dirt bin in the lower-left corner. “We lived at number 14.” “Do you remember me? I remember you. We lived at number 11” “I used to play with all these kids till the sunset and we playing hide and seek and kennetjie and drie blikkies…still have the scarred knees from falling on that cobbled street surface.” “My dad was a frequent visitor there. They ran the Farfie from there…all very hush-hush because it was illegal.” “Yes, those were good days of our lives and fondest memories.” “Do you remember me? I was an only child. My grandmother lived with us. She was crippled in her one leg.”“Everyone has passed on. Grandma in 1981, my mom and dad in 1987 and 1988. 6 months apart.. Only me left.” “… running around at night playing games in the street. Me going home and getting stuff for us to eat, sitting on the pavement and talking nonsense; yinne those were the days.”

Shared with permission from Ishmael Davids post of 18.10.2020 – this photo in 2020 attracted 74 comments.

“… was at TFJ until it closed its doors then went to George Golding. I remember how I had to travel by train every morning to town from Mitchell’s Plain then take the bus at the parade to Walmer Estate.” “I was there from 1974 to 1976, started in standard 2″ “Brings back wonderful memories. I actually have the same class photo. Does anyone perhaps have a pic of the athletes of that year.” “I was the captain of the netball team in 1970, and we won the overall cup that year.“ “I think u were neighbour of my relatives.” “Yes we stayed in Stirling Street.” “That was close to the school.”

Shared with permission from Dino Isaacs post of 11.2.21. People took with them their memories and their street signs.

“I stayed in De Villiers Street.”

“Thanks for showcasing our roads I miss the big days.”

These seemingly mundane comments are from people with these images of 50+ years ago still etched in their minds as if the photos were taken yesterday. Virtually every day, the District 6 Facebook site has similar posts. Collectively they represent the past joy of a closely-knit community violently torn apart by the inhuman Group Areas Act, one of apartheid South Africa’s most vile laws.

Tears flow with the recollections of experiences of people separated from familiar surroundings to face a new life plagued with the legendary crime and violence in the townships in a Cape Town, described as “Rape Town” in the 70s; more recently as “Gang Town”. To many of these evicted citizens around the country, their daily lot of crime and violence was part of apartheid’s fallout which must rank as one of its worst legacies.

One of the reasons given for D 6’s removal was “slum clearance”. Not many slums could produce luminaries as D6 did. A Wikipedia list includes the following:

  1. Abdullah Abdurahman – physician and politician

  2. Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand) – world-renowned revolutionary jazz musician

  3. Albert Fritz – politician and lawyer

  4. Alex La Guma – writer and anti-apartheid activist

  5. Basil Coetzee – saxophonist

  6. Bessie Head – writer

  7. CA Davids – writer and editor

  8. Dullah Omar – politician and later ANC Minister of Justice

  9. Ebrahim Patel – cabinet minister

  10. Ebrahim Rasool – politician and diplomat

  11. Eddie Daniels – anti-apartheid activist

  12. Faldela Williams – cook and cookbook writer

  13. Gavin Jantjes – painter, curator, writer and lecturer

  14. George Hallett – photographer

  15. Gerard Sekoto – artist and musician

  16. Gladys Thomas – poet and playwright

  17. James Matthews – poet, writer and publisher

  18. Johar Mosaval – principal dancer with England’s Royal Ballet

  19. Lionel Davis – artist, teacher, public speaker and anti-apartheid activist

  20. Lucinda Evans – women’s rights activist

  21. Nadia Davids – writer

  22. Ottilie Abrahams(née Schimming) – Namibian activist and educator

  23. Peter Clarke – artist and poet

  24. Rahima Moosa – anti-apartheid activist

  25. Rashid Domingo – chemist and philanthropist

  26. Reggie September – trade unionist and Member of Parliament

  27. Richard Rive – writer and academic

  28. Robert Sithole – musician

  29. Rozena Maart – writer, and professor

  30. Sathima Bea Benjamin – jazz singer and composer

  31. Sydney Vernon Petersen – poet and author, and educator

  32. Taliep Petersen – composer, director of musicals, including District 6

  33. Tatamkhulu Afrika – poet and writer

  34. Zainunnisa Abdurahman “Cissie” Gool – anti-apartheid political leader … and there were others.

The highlight for me in the D6 Facebook postings has been the discovery of Alvie January’s poems. With Alvie’s permission, I copied a few lines of one of Alvie’s many poignant poems from a post on 29.1.2021.

The Children’s Song

Mama just heard at school today!

They going’ to break down our houses

And send us all away.

Heading to a place far away

Where, nobody knows.

Will you be there Mama,

Will you be around to hold my hand?

Will you be there to explain

What I don’t understand

Will there be stairs to reach the rooms above,

Will I be safe under your wings of love?

Can I have a picture of our house?

If I promise to be as quiet as a mouse?

I will be ready with school cap and bag

When the white trucks arrive.

At school I heard it being said:

“We’ll be counted so that no one’s left behind …”

©Alvie J January 25.01.2021. Dedicated to all: Mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers of D6. Thanks for keeping us safe through a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened …

Allow me to share some of the 81 comments which followed this poem – as is the case with several others that Alvie has composed and posted. For me, these quotes say it all!

“Thank you so much, Alvie, for conjuring up all these beautiful memories.” “Once again you touched the heartstrings. Moving from familiar to totally unfamiliar territory is bad enough but losing family and friends is devastating.” “My heart melt. And the tears started dimming the words as I go threw each line.” “So much pathos and longing. I love Alvie’s rendition of our sad and true history.” “Boeta Alwie- u have that gift of putting the feelings into words…I guess we all sang a part of your poem at some time in our lives…” “Thank you Alvie, beautiful. You’ve done it again, you made me cry…”

Like the last writer, Alvie’s work has more than once brought me to tears too! How I wish D 6’s poet laureate would publish his work! Like me, many are asking for it. I hope Alvie follows through with our requests one day!

Incidentally, Alvie’s surname dates back to Cape Town’s slaving days. Apparently, when owners ran out of names for their new slaves, they used the months of the year for their newly purchased servant or labourer. No doubt, slave blood from all quarters of the world flows through the veins of many ex-District 6 residents who are the offspring of the old colonies melting pot of-all-sorts – they are the original Rainbow People of the country.

It’s been said that “apartheid was social engineering gone wrong”. Nowhere was this more evident than the way the destruction of D6 affected its residents.

District Six Memorial Plaque


P S Of course, D6 was merely the ugly tip of the Group Areas iceberg which also destroyed the lives of another 250,000 of Cape Town’s Black citizens forcibly removed from their homes especially from the most scenic suburbs in the Mother City.



1 Comment

Apr 08

Thanks Edward

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