Hundreds of restitution claimants have been assured by top officials that all levels of government were working together – and had adequate funding – to this year start creating a new District Six that would be well-designed, beautiful, sustainable and economically vibrant.
The claimants, many of whom are elderly, gathered at the Castle of Good Hope this weekend to commemorate the 54th anniversary of the District Six forced removals which commenced on 11 February 1966 – and to be briefed on their future in District Six by the officials in charge of the resettlement process.
Speakers at the event included Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato, Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille, Director General of Rural Development and Land Reform Mdu Shabane, Mayco member for Spatial Planning Marian Nieuwoudt, the claimants’ attorney Nicki Van’t Riet from Norton Rose Fulbright, ward councillor for District Six Brandon Golding, as well as Shahied Ajam, chairman of the District 6 Working Committee (D6WC).
The D6WC won a landmark judgment against the national government last year, legally compelling it to finalise its plans, designs and budget for restitution housing for forcibly removed former District Six residents whose successful restitution claims from 1998 were never actioned.
At the meeting, it was explained that in terms of roles and responsibilities, the national government would, in terms of the court order, be responsible for building new homes for the remaining 954 claimants who claimed between 1995 and 1998. Apartment units will be rolled out in seven phases over a period of three years, starting this year. This is apart from the 108 apartment units of the Phase 3 presently under construction and which, according to the Department of Rural Development should be completed by the end of 2020.
“The Working Committee would deem it a great show of compassion and political will by the government if the most elderly of the claimants could be housed in those 108 apartments,” said D6WC Chairman Shahied Ajam.
“Government would then have restored the dignity of the people in a very monumental fashion should this turn out to be the case.”
Phases 1 and 2 were completed more than a decade ago. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform had already guaranteed R1.4billion for the project in the court papers.
The City of Cape Town would be responsible for laying down bulk infrastructures such as roads, sewerage and water systems, the design and construction of public open spaces such as parks and memorial sites, and ongoing municipal services. Plato and Nieuwoudt both confirmed that the City had adequate budget available to fulfil its role in the project. The provincial government’s role, in turn, would be to provide all services that fell within the ambit of its departments, once the claimants were settled into their new homes.
A number of positive announcements were made at the event:
• Shabane said his department had given the green light for rubble removal to begin, once public comments were received. This is the first task at hand, and entails the removal of the bulldozed remains of the former structures in District Six so that the ground can be prepared for construction;
• Plato said the City was ready to start with bulk and underground infrastructure, once public participation in the proposed layout had been finalised;
• Public participation processes have already been set in motion and the first one is earmarked for early March 2020 and more would follow;
• De Lille said soon after stepping into her role as Public Works Minister, she discovered and stopped an open tender that would have seen to the commercial disposal of government-owned land in District 6, and this land could now potentially be transferred to the people for restitution purposes;
• Nieuwoudt said the City would be building a remembrance wall in District Six, in the old quarry, using the “sentimental fragments” found during the rubble removal process, and would unveil it with a celebratory public event;
• Nieuwoudt announced that her department had “enough money” to pay for the design of “beautiful, sustainable, and water-wise” public open spaces in District Six that were intended to promote social cohesion;
• Nieuwoudt said the natural springs in the area would be protected and that the City was planning to open up a number of natural waterways to ensure that the public open spaces in District Six had water year-round;
• Nieuwoudt said the City was committed to making District Six “the jewel in the crown of Cape Town”, and in doing so would ensure that the neighbourhood would become an attractive sight against the slopes of the mountain;
• Nieuwoudt said the spatial plan for District Six would not just be focused on housing, but would also be geared towards the promotion of a thriving and lively local economy and cultural and civic life;
In addressing the claimants, Nieuwoudt explained that all spatial and district plans pertaining to District Six would be opened up for public comments during the course of the year. She pleaded with the claimants and public to use each opportunity to share their wishes and objections freely, but to always do so within the prescribed window periods, as any objections and resulting extensions to the timeframes would cause unnecessary delays. She said it was important for the public to enable the national government to finish construction of the housing units within the envisioned timeframe.
The City would start with infrastructural and underground work as soon as the public has had its chance to comment on all proposed plans for the area. The City will keep the public informed of every comment opportunity.
The public should take note of two important upcoming dates:
• A public comment period regarding the rubble removal ends on the 2nd of March and members of the public can contact the SA Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA) to find out more details;
• All claimants and stakeholders will be hosted for an open information session and workshop on the design framework for District Six, by the City of Cape Town at the Civic Centre, on the 21st of March.
Addressing a public “misconception that the different spheres of government were always fighting”, Plato said in terms of District Six the opposite was in fact true. There was excellent cooperation behind the scenes between all tiers of government and his predecessor De Lille was particularly helpful and committed to the process.
Also weighing in on perceived divisions between the role-players, Ajam again made a call for unity with all other District Six organisations and thanked them for their contribution to the betterment of the claimants’ lives over the years. He said other groups would continue to be invited to participate in all processes related to restitution in District Six. De Lille, in turn, commended Ajam for his “principled leadership” and praised his continued calls for unity.
In addressing the critics, Ajam said the court ruling received last year ensured that the claimants’ return to District Six was “no longer a pipedream”. The Land Claims Court was compelling national government to deliver three-monthly progress reports to the court until the 954 homes it had to deliver were completed. If they failed to comply, there would be grave consequences for the officials in charge, including the possibility of jail time for those who were in contempt. Shabane also weighed in on the seriousness of the court ruling, and said his head would be first the first one to roll if the government ever were to fail in delivering its mandated results.
Ajam also slammed critics who claimed that the 954 houses that would now be delivered were smaller than those from the first and second phases. He said the new homes were ample in square meterage and were designed in such a way that they could be expanded upon, something that was not possible with the units from the first two phases.
“We are very grateful for that,” he said.
Delivering more good news, Ajam announced that provision was not only being made for those who claimed in 1998. Those who claimed between 2014 and 2016 and beyond would also to receive restitution and alternative housing as soon as the 954 houses were completed, and therefore “no-one would be left behind”.
In true District Six spirit, the meeting ended with several artists performing for the crowd. In a lighthearted moment, the officials on stage danced with each other as the crowd sang and danced along to the music. Former Star Bioscope singer Neesa Abrahams, who is in her late 70s, paid a special tribute to the six claimants at the event who were over the age of 80, and who were brought to the stage to be honoured with a rousing performance of Shirley Bassey’s “Memories”. Abrahams’s powerful performance earned her a standing ovation and had many audience members in tears.