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Cape Town - District Six claimant Matilda Arries, 70, has one wish - to move back to the area of her birth before she dies.
“So many have died waiting. But I want to be back before I close my eyes,” Arries, of Kuils River, told the Cape Argus on Monday.
Arries and her mother, Sophia, were forced out of their Vandeleur Street home in the late 1960s and moved to Maitland. Her mother died there a few years later.
“Growing up in District Six was a dream - I experienced some of the best days of my life here,” Arries said.
“There was no rape and murder. Children were protected by their neighbours and even by the gangsters. We could play outside without any worries. Blacks, whites, coloureds, Indians, Muslims, Christians and Jews: everyone lived happily together.”
Monday marked the 47th anniversary of the declaration of District Six as a white area, and the subsequent forced removals.
In commemoration, former residents, their families and friends went on a remembrance walk from the District Six Museum in Buitenkant to Hanover Street, where they placed stones from the areas to which they were displaced.
Ex-residents also participated in a “letting go of the past ritual”, during which about 100 white balloons with messages attached were released and sent up into the sky.
“The event is twofold,” said Bonita Bennett, the director of the District Six Museum and organiser of the walk. “First, to honour the past by being here and placing stones on the cairn. And second, it’s about letting go of the evils of the past and looking forward.”
Lionel Oaker, whose father owned three barber shops in District Six, said: “The District Six era will never return. It was a golden time. I remember in 1947, as a 10-year-old boy, I used to come home from school and help out in the barber shop.
“We’ve put in a claim for the house, but I don’t think we’ll ever get those three barber shops back. That’s another process. The trust told us that they are first sorting out the houses and will do the shops and other businesses later.”
Another former resident, Mogamat Benjamin, said all former residents of District Six would be back, “even if it takes a thousand years”.
CBD ward councillor Dave Bryant, who spoke on behalf of Cape Town’s mayor, Patricia de Lille, said that District Six was known, globally, as a place where people of different religions, races and backgrounds had lived together.
“But apartheid cut us all apart and into small blocks,” Bryant said.
“Our job now is to find ways to get us back together.”
District Six is being redeveloped. The process is being managed by the District Six redevelopment task team, headed by the regional Land Claims Commission and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.
The redevelopment was expected to be completed towards the end of next year. In a full-page newspaper advert on Monday, the department said Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti had mandated the District Six reference group, chosen by the claimants, to fast-track the restitution process.
Michael Worsnip, chief director of restitution support at the regional Land Claims Commission, said they were on track to deliver the houses by the 2014 deadline.