Staff member Vicky Mlanjeni admires a  display featuring weddings of the the past in the forced removals / Group Areas Act section of the Simon’s Town Museum.  Picture: Jason Boud
Staff member Vicky Mlanjeni admires a display featuring weddings of the the past in the forced removals / Group Areas Act section of the Simon’s Town Museum. Picture: Jason Boud

Pain, shock of forced removals

By DOUGIE OAKES Time of article published Sep 10, 2017

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IN SPRING of 1967 Simon’s Town joined Tramway Road in Sea Point, District Six in the centre of Cape Town and other suburbs in being declared a white group area.

The news shocked the coloured residents of the town. In 1959, the first proposal that Simon’s Town should be for whites only was advertised.

Prominent residents of the town responded by forming a local committee made up of representatives of the churches, the mosque, ratepayers’ associations, the Chamber of Commerce and sports bodies.

Some churches were not opposed to the Group Areas Act.

The activism of this body consisted of public meetings, petitions and individual representations.

Although this suggested unity among different groups to a watching world, it did little to stop the Nats from implementing racial segregation.

In 1950, the Dutch Reformed Church - the church of apartheid - had been agitating for separate residential areas for the different races.

In taking credit for the act, Dominee Koot Vorster, the brother of South African Prime Minister John Vorster, said: “It was very pointed and very clear that the church wanted separate areas because we believe what the Americans say, ‘Good fences make good neighbours’.”

In 1959, Internal Affairs Minister PW Botha, as brusque as always, had a full go at the Cape Town City Council, which the National Party believed was less than cooperative in implementing the Group Areas Act.

Botha dismissed the council as “a bunch of sappe, jingoes and coloureds” that should not be allowed to stop the implementation of the act.

Another member of the cabinet, minister of the interior Eben Donges, argued that National Party policy was designed to “eliminate friction between the races”.

When the announcement was made that Simon’s Town was to be a white group area, the local committee sprang into action with even greater urgency - and for a short time it carried the hopes of many of the coloured residents of the town.

Led by a local Black Sash member Barbara Willis, it directly approached the office of the minister of planning, Carel de Wet.

But there was to be no reprieve.

In her report of the committee’s attempt to get the minister to review the declaration, Willis wrote: “The minister’s secretary replied that Simon’s Town was proclaimed a white Group Area ‘after a thorough investigation by the Group Areas Board and careful consideration of the report submitted in this respect and you have the assurance that due cognisance was taken of all the relevant facts and information supplied.”

Looking back to that time 50 years ago, Ronald “Cocky” Roberts said: “I didn’t expect any other outcome.”

The mass uprooting of a settled community - from Simon’s Town to Slangkop, just over 15km away - was about to become a reality. Roberts said: “Officials of the Group Areas Board (GAB), in their yellow GG cars, started paying visits to the homes of residents, wanting them to fill in papers and agree to move. For a long time tenants tried to dodge them, pretending not to be at home,” said Roberts.

“The GAB quickly changed tack. Realising there was a dire housing shortage for coloured people, especially newly married couples, in Simon’s Town, they turned their attention to the younger people.

“They started offering them their own homes. Once they had made this breakthrough, more and more people took up the offer of a home in Ocean View,” he said.

“Suddenly, people started approaching members of the GAB asking for forms, or wanting to know why they hadn’t received this documentation.”

“They warned people that once the houses were all allocated in Ocean View, people would have to move to Mitchells Plain, which was much further from their places of work in Simon’s Town or Fish Hoek,” he said.

“We were among the first families to move,” Gacieya Esau said.

Esau said there were no schools when they moved into the township, so they still had to travel to Simon’s Town.

She said the fall of apartheid and the opportunity to claim restitution did little to heal the hurt of many families.

“My mother’s wish was to be buried in Simon’s Town. She had that wish 20 years ago.”

Esau said she eventually moved from Ocean View to Pelican Heights. “I still rent out my house,” she said.

Tina Koff’s grandparents, who were a mixed-race couple, were allowed to stay in St George’s Street, the main road of Simon’s Town, while her family had to move to the new township.

To add insult to injury, her grandparents were warned against giving overnight accommodation to members of their coloured family.

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