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Monday, 27 November, 2000, 14:21 GMT
Righting an apartheid wrong
President Thabo Mbeki with Ismael Bassier, the oldest District Six resident and Fatima Banting
District Six residents are being compensated for their suffering
By BBC's Jo Frater in Cape Town

One of the most infamous injustices of apartheid was revoked in Cape Town on Sunday as coloured and black residents of District Six won ownership of the land they were forced to leave during the apartheid era.

In 1966, the apartheid government declared the area, with its fine views of Cape Town harbour and backdrop of Table Mountain, to be for whites only.


The government is offering claimants about $2,500 in compensation for their suffering and assistance with building new homes for those who wish to return

So began the forced eviction in District Six, renowned for being a melting pot, where new immigrants to South Africa sat on doorsteps chatting to neighbours of Indian, Malay, black, coloured or Muslim origin.

Up to 66,000 people were moved into segregated townships on the sandy Cape Flats, and their homes bulldozed to the ground.

President Thabo Mbeki, who presided over the ceremony, said the return of District Six might well represent "the most important signal that we have broken with our terrible past" since the 1994 democratic elections.

'A terrible blow'

Many of the thousands who came to celebrate the return of the land to the people had formerly lived in District Six which was a poor and overcrowded part of the city but had a vibrancy and life of its own.

100-year-old Ismael Bassier, former resident of District Six
Bassier: The oldest former resident of District Six
Men and women, young and old, enjoyed music popular in the 1960s and 70s, performed from a temporary stage erected on the grassy scrubland that is District Six today.

Despite the intense heat, they enjoyed speeches, prayers and poems, prior to the official transfer of the land.

One of the signatories was Ismail Bassier, 100, the oldest former resident of District Six.

He was moved to Bonteheuwel, a coloured township on the Cape Flats is the early 1970s.

"We had to begin a new life." said Mr Bassier.

"In Cape Town we were always friendly with everyone, there were no murders, rapes or house break-ins. It's not the same here - you can't walk late at night, you've got to be very careful."

He is one of the former residents who is not intending to move back to District Six.

Linda Fortune was 22 years old when her family were forced to leave.

"It was a terrible blow to us, I had grown up in District Six, as had my mother and her parents." We were moved to Hanover Park, where we knew no-one".

Compensation

Chairman of the District Six Beneficiaries Trust, Anwah Nagia
Anwah: "It's about little people and big victories"
The government is offering claimants about $2,500 in compensation for their suffering and assistance with building new homes for those who wish to return.

Chairman of the District Six Beneficiaries Trust Anwah Nagia says about 18,000 people wish to return to the area and he hopes that "the lights could be on in the first new house by April 2001."

It has been a long battle for the residents to win the right to return to their land in the heart of Cape Town, a move that will inject new life into a barren part of the city.

But for Mr Nagia and the mostly poor but proud claimants, "it's about little people and big victories".

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See also:

21 Nov 00 | Africa
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27 Jul 00 | Africa
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27 Nov 00 | Africa
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30 Aug 00 | Africa
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29 Aug 00 | Africa
Apartheid 'still alive' in SA
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