08 May 2010
Opening Pandora’s Apartheid Box – Part 10 – District Six, A case study in forced removals.
By Mike Smith
8th of May 2010
When one today thinks about Apartheid forced removals, immediately Sophia Town in Johannesburg (blacks) and District Six in Cape Town (coloureds) springs to mind. We will take District Six as a case study.
Today one is up against a mind set of people who wants to believe that District Six was a Multicultural paradise where, mostly coloureds, some Indians, some whites and also a few blacks all lived in harmony and perpetual bliss.
They believe that the evil white government destroyed a happy go lucky community and forced them onto the Cape Flats, mainly where Mitchels Plain is today.
To tell the truth about District Six today will be a revolutionary act.
Firstly a bit of history...
Where is or was District Six?...Well if you stand with your two legs in the water of Table Bay and you look towards Table Mountain, District Six would be on your left side at the slope of Table Mountain, just above “The Castle”. Today the Cape University of Technology (Zonnebloem campus) stands on part of the area.
The origins of District Six is like this.
Many moons ago during the Dutch and later British rule, it uses to be a farm called Zonnebloem. After the abolishment of slavery throughout the British Empire (1833) coloured people started squatting on the outskirts of Cape Town against the foot of Table Mountain, because they still wanted to work for the whites, but when they were slaves they were housed by whites, but as free people they now had to find their own houses.
Two areas of freed slaves developed in Cape Town in what is called, “The Bo-Kaap” and “District Six”.
The Bo-Kaap was mainly a higher classed Muslim area and District Six, although also having a lot of Muslims, was made up from other coloureds of lower social standing.
Now it has to be remembered that the Cape Colony only introduced official building regulations in 1861. By that time, 28 years of indiscriminate building by coloureds, resulted in a slum area developing in Cape Town’s District Six that was getting worse with every day passing. There was no proper sewage or running water infrastructure in those days. In no time, District Six became an overcrowded slum, with narrow alleyways between jumbled together structures.
Here one has to consider that building rules are largely there for safety and health reasons. Windows need to be of a certain size to allow fresh air and natural light in. Rooms need to be a certain height...Every human being needs a certain amount of breathing space to prevent diseases such as Typhoid, Tuberculosis, etc from breaking out (as is the case in overcrowded concentration camps). Streets need to be a certain width so that ambulances and fire trucks can reach emergency situations.
The coloured people from District Six knew nothing of such “trivialities”. They just kept on adding more structures made from wood and corrugated iron sheets.
This phenomenon can still be observed when one visit coloured areas today. No sooner have they received a house from the government for free, or they start building a “hok” (shack) in the backyard. Some have even multiple shacks or what is called “Wendy Houses”, low quality wooden dwellings. These shacks and Wendy Houses are rented out and provide the owner with an income. Some even set up shebeens (illegal, informal drinking bars) in their backyard.
In the case of District Six it was exactly like that. Some of these people had several such shack dwellings that they would rent out and became what is referred to as the “Slumlords” of District Six. Most houses were small, some consisting of only one room housing as many as 20 people. The toilet was in the back yard and washing comprised turns in the bath tub in the kitchen or washing oneself in a “kom”, a plastic bowl filled with some hot water. Once a week was enough.
Further, In District Six started what is today referred to as the “Skolly gangs”...coloured hooligans, who preferred a life of crime, drinking and drugs over honest hard work.
By the 1930’s District Six was a rat infested hellhole full of shebeens, “smokkelhuise” (smuggling houses) and brothels, where, alcohol and drugs flowed freely and sparked more and more social ills.
The government realised that something had to be done about District Six before an epidemic of bubonic plague or cholera could break out that would have killed thousands.
The government knew the history of the three smallpox epidemics of 1713, 1755 and 1767. The smallpox epidemic of 1713 killed about 90% of the KhoiKhoi (Hottentots) and about 25% of the whites of Cape Town.
The University of Cape Town has all the archives in their library. It is called THE DENIS VERSCHOYLE PAPERS
Denis Verschoyle, an Irish immigrant, was a City Engineer and Town Planner in Cape Town. From 1961 to 1972, he lectured on the history of town planning in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Cape Town. He died in 1997.
The information is today freely available to anyone who wants to know the truth about Cape Town planning and in particular, District Six.
Basically Mr. W.S.Lunn who was city engineer in the 1930’s had a plan. He wanted to transform District Six. He wanted to build proper houses with proper infrastructure and so, started building houses... by the beginning of the Second World War, a total of 1127 homes had been built. But the coloureds did not want to move into the new houses. They claimed the rent was too high, but the rent was actually subsidised by the government (i.e.) White taxpayer money and very affordable.
This a coloured culture for you. They always seem to have money for drugs and alcohol, but never for rent or utilities. Why pay rent and electricity when you can live for free in a shack and burn candles and have more money for alcohol?
Eventually some did move into these houses, but as usual the backyards started being filled with illegally erected structures.
Today the coloureds that lived in District Six have very fond memories of a period when alcohol flowed freely, Dagga was smoked and every second person could play a musical instrument. Their memories of District Six are basically...party every night...I do not dispute that they were very happy there.
Like I said, in reality the place was a nest of social ills, it was dirty and it was a health risk...a ticking time bomb in actual fact.
But how does one convince a pig that wallowing around in shit all day is bad for him, when he is so happy at doing it? When one takes the pig away from his shit puddle, washes him off and let him live in a clean orderly place, he will be most distraught and upset with you. He will forever have fond memories of his shit puddle, where he was happy. No amount of explaining will ever convince him of anything else.
So how did these memories of such a harmless and convivial District Six take root in the minds of coloureds over the years?
Basically the newspaper called “The Cape Times”, in an attempt to save District Six, ran some articles in the 1950’s focussing on the music and culture of the people, painting everything rosy and saying nothing about the social ills, the gangs, the brothels, the alcohol and drug abuse...or the rats.
In 1966 the National Party declared District Six to be a 'White Group Area' so enabling them to destroy all buildings, except religious ones, on the grounds of 'slum clearance'.
The government moved about 60,000 people from District Six to the Cape Flats at a cost of 30 million Rand including compensation. In 1970, the government renamed the area Zonnebloem after the original Dutch farm.
They offered the land to investors to rebuild it, but no investors showed interest to rebuild the area, so the Government built the Cape Technikon Zonnebloem campus there.
In District Six, there is a museum today that documents this period in an extremely biased and subjective way.
It says that about 60,000 coloureds were forcibly removed from District Six to the Cape Flats because of the colour of their skin.
It fails to mention that the coloureds of the Bo-Kaap are still living there and so are the ones from Observatory. If the government wanted to remove the coloureds from District Six, because of the colour of their skin or to take their “prime” land, why did they not also move the Bo-Kaap coloureds? The Bo-Kaap is situated in the centre of Cape Town on prime property and worth billions. Why did the government not build millionaires villas in District Six, but instead chose to build a learning institution?
The simple truth is that District Six was everything from an eyesore, to a filthy slum, to a gang and rat infested hellhole.
The government in those days employed highly qualified health inspectors. One of them who were involved with the destruction of District Six told me how they went in there, saw rats the size of cats and millions of cockroaches half a foot long...how they had to board up these building structures first, fumigate them before they could destroy them, because they feared the plague would spread to the rest of Cape Town.
Today the ex residents of “District Six” are a dime a dozen. Although only 60,000 were moved today the “survivors” are probably double that if not more.
The “victim mentality” has fully taken hold of these “ex residents of District Six”, but what they forget is about 40,000 whites were also forcibly removed from their land to make place for the Black Homelands.
These whites have never been properly compensated for losing their farms that they had to sell way below market value to the government at the time, but they simply got on with life and made a living somewhere else.
District Six was a case study in this issue, but the same can be said for places like Sophia Town where Blacks were also removed. Large concentrations of people from whatever race, who overcrowd and indiscriminately build with no planning, will always, pose a health risk not only to themselves, but also to their neighbouring communities.
Today they complain about forcibly being removed, but what was the alternative... Death by epidemic proportions? They should be thankful that they are still alive today to yarn swap about their times in District Six, because if they carried on the way they did, disease would have wiped them out for sure.
The irony is that they cannot see the truth. They see the NP government as a bunch of racists who wanted to exterminate them, but if that was the goal of the NP, they could simply have done nothing and waited for the bomb of disease to explode.
No, the NP did everything in their power to avoid it. They actually saved thousands of coloured lives and entire future generations, along with their music and culture in District Six with their removal to the Cape Flats.
Today it is easy to reminisce about the banjo playing, alcohol and dagga clouded times of District Six, but when you are a professional government with a job to do...to protect all your citizens...the picture is rather different.
.../ to be continued