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Reliving story of Cape's slave heritage

Published Dec 4, 2016

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Cape Town - While Cape Town’s public spaces are mostly silent about its slave heritage, an annual walk through its streets honours ancestors buried here during a time of colonial oppression.

The Emancipation Walk, organised by the District Six Museum in Buitenkant Street, took place this week .

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Locals started at the Strand Street quarry, moved on to the Prestwich Memorial site in Green Point, finally made their way through the Bo-Kaap to Church Square.

This was the tenth walk organised by the museum and the Prestwich Place Committee. It began just before 10pm and ended after midnight.

The museum said the event was to “commemorate the end of slavery”.

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“On 1 December 1834, the enslaved people of the Cape were officially freed, and the annual Emancipation Day Walk takes place to pay homage and celebrate as the enslaved did when they were finally freed,” it said.

Poetry and pain unfolded alongside a distinct Cape Town beat that usually brings the city centre alive for the Tweede Nuwe Jaar jol.

Tweede Nuwe Jaar marks the day when slaves were granted permission to celebrate new year during the colonial era.

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Slave stories are not often heard or told in Cape Town.

The city’s narrative of colonial and apartheid statues or landmarks is not complemented with the history of its coloured, black and Indian children.

Father Michael Weeder of the St George’s Cathedral in Wale Street reminded the few hundred people at the Prestwich Memorial that “our city is built on the graves of our people.

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“Under a lot of these buildings, our people’s bodies are buried.

"We uncovered at Prestwich the remains of a slave burial ground. We said leave the bones but that didn’t happen.

"Behind me, below the ground, are the skeletal remains.

"This place was meant for the children and other communities to come here and learn our history.

“It’s cynically renamed Truth (coffee shop), not the truth about our history and who we are.

"You can drink coffee here at the graves of our people.

“Tonight we are reclaiming our story.”

Historian and writer Patric Mellet, speaking to the gathering at Church Square, said slave-like narratives remain present in Cape Town and the Western Cape.

Mellet referred to gentrification in the city and the exploitation of farmworkers in the province.

“We need to start talking up for ourselves.

"Our slave ancestors didn’t sit quietly.

"People did stand up for their rights,” said Mellet.

“It’s not just about history.

"We have to translate that into realities of today and stand up and really claim our freedom.

“All this gentrification taking place in Cape Town means there’s still (apartheid-type) forced removals.

"People in Woodstock are being moved.”

A host of poets performed, including Diana Ferrus whose emotive words talked about her slave ancestors and the drowning of slaves carried on a boat to the Cape.

“No Jesus walks on water for me,” she said in Afrikaans.

Her poem continued in English: “My name is February. Stranded at Third Beach.

"But nobody comes to look for me.”

Weekend Argus

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