DISPLACED: Across Cape Town, from Sea Point to Simon’s Town, families were torn from the only existence they had ever known to live far away from the places where they were born and which they called home. One is Harfield Village. Picture: SIONA O’CONNEL
Cape Town - When people think and speak about forced removals in Cape Town during apartheid, it's almost natural for District Six to spring to mind first.

The vast open space at the foot of Table Mountain remains a stark reminder of more than 60000 people being driven from their homes, a result of the area being declared "white" on February 11,1966. But across Cape Town - from Sea Point to Simon’s Town - families were torn from the only existence they had ever known, to live far away from the places where they were born and which they called home.

One of those areas is Harfield Village in Claremont, the subject of a new book by University of Pretoria academic, Siona O’Connell.

“What makes Harfield Village different from District Six is that those homes are still there. Many who lived there drive through it every week to relive the memories,” she says. The book is based on a set of photographs taken in 1974 by the late sculptor, David Brown.

DISPLACED: Across Cape Town, from Sea Point to Simon’s Town, families were torn from the only existence they had ever known to live far away from the places where they were born and which they called home. One is Harfield Village. Picture: SIONA O’CONNEL

He photographed the families who lived in 2nd Avenue, before they were evicted.

As a student at UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, Brown used to walk down the avenues of Harfield Village from his home in Kenilworth, with his Nikon camera around his neck

In O’Connell’s 2015 documentary, An Impossible Return, Brown recalls how people living there called out to him to take pictures of them.

He photographed babies, bedridden grandmothers and families in their Sunday best, returning days later to hand over the snaps. Before his death in 2016, Brown said looking at those pictures still cut him up - the pain and loss of being forced to leave the home where you were born.

O’Connell has some of the pictures Brown took in those years, and is trying to trace the people in them. There are images of a toddler on a rocking horse, a baby on a checked bedspread, and smiling siblings in the corner shop, among others.

A particularly arresting image to which O’Connell is drawn is of a young boy in an immaculate suit.

DISPLACED: Across Cape Town, from Sea Point to Simon’s Town, families were torn from the only existence they had ever known to live far away from the places where they were born and which they called home. One is Harfield Village. Picture: SIONA O’CONNEL

“I’ve often wondered how different these people’s lives would have been if they didn’t have to move,” she says. It’s estimated that the people in these photographs must be in their late forties and fifties now.

“I’m interested to know what the trajectory of their lives has been. I want to know if they remember the day their parents got the letter which many referred to as the 'love letter' What their earliest memory is What they imagined as children, and how these imaginings, hopes and dreams shifted as a result of being forced to move.”

O'Connell believes apartheid's forced removals have a direct bearing on increasingly frequent evictions in places like Woodstock, and issues of gentrification, which have become such a highly contentious subject in the city in recent years.

“This is not a nostalgic exercise. It speaks to the history of Cape Town and what is happening now Getting the undesirables out It’s about who belongs and who has access to resources.

"South Africa, once again, is at a crossroads and while the moment of 1994 offered a multitude of possibilities, many of these have been squandered.

“We simply do not have the luxury to do this again, and the question of land, belonging and justice must be central to how we choose to live in a society that is among the most unequal in the world."

DISPLACED: Across Cape Town, from Sea Point to Simon’s Town, families were torn from the only existence they had ever known to live far away from the places where they were born and which they called home. One is Harfield Village.  Picture:  SIONA O’CONNEL

O'Connell says many who live in the Harfield area today appear to have “amnesia” about its history. “How can we be ignorant and oblivious to our past? Or is it a convenient amnesia and privileged naiveté?

"We need to put faces to the trauma and the hurt."

O'Connell says Brown's photographs counter the notion of "coloured" and "black" people as being less than human.

His images show lives of humanness, evident in the care taken to create moments of life in inhospitable times.

She says the photographs say to people: "We were here."

But for the now grown men and women across Cape Town who have gone on to forge lives elsewhere, the pull to the area remains.

Forty-four years later, they drive down the narrow avenues that make up the tightly-knit community of Harfield Village, stand at the gates of the homes where they and their siblings were born, reminisce about a happy childhood, and imagine how their lives would have turned out if they never had to leave.

The project to trace those depicted in Brown’s photographs is a collaboration between the University of Pretoria and the Centre for Curating the Archive at the University of Cape Town.

“Anywhere where there has been forced removals - from Pretoria to Cape Town, Durban to Johannesburg - there’s an overdue debt that needs to be repaid. South Africa deserves nothing less,” says O’Connell.

DISPLACED: Across Cape Town, from Sea Point to Simon’s Town, families were torn from the only existence they had ever known to live far away from the places where they were born and which they called home. One is Harfield Village. Picture: SIONA O’CONNEL

All images are copyright of SIONA O’CONNEL

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Cape Argus