CAPE TOWN COLOREDS FIGHT FOR THEIR DISTRICT SIX
Rugaya Daniels will not stand in the sunlight, will not venture out of her crumbling hovel for fear "the group" will see her. "The group," after all, might smash the windows or rip the roof off her tumbledown dwelling. Or Rugaya Daniels, together with her mother and three children, might be forcibly evicted -- and the doors and windows might be boarded up to keep them out.
("The group" is the familiar term for South African government officials who enforce the Group Areas Act. That 1950 act empowers the government to set aside specific areas for the exclusive use of one racial group.)
Eventually, Rugaya Daniels knows, "the group" probably will bring in the bulldozers and flatten the family's shelter into a heap of plaster, tin, and bricks.
The group will do that in furtherance of a plan by which the South African government intends to make sure that not a single person who is not white lives in this area of Cape Town, known as District Six.
And therefore Rugaya Daniels has a problem. She is a so-called Colored -- a person of mixed race. And she is one of tens of thousands of Colored people who eventually will be uprooted by a government they had not part in electing.
The same thing happens, on a larger scale and for varying reasons, each year across South Africa. The displaced people are most often black, Colored, Indian -- and occasionally even white.
This massive forced movement of people is all to bring about apartheid -- separation of the races -- here in South Africa. By some estimates, nearly 2 million people have been uprooted in this country in the 32 years the white Nationalist Party has been in power.
But District Six is perhaps the most visible example of the furtherance of apartheid ideology. It is a time-worn, neglected ghetto on the slopes of Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town, the "Mother City" of South Africa and the place where its all-white Parliament sits.
In 1966 the government's minister of community development cited the 1950 Group Areas Act in declaring District Six a "white" area.
Ironically, the minister was Pieter W. Botha. Today, he is South Africa's prime minister, a man who has been pledging to end "unnecessary, hurtful discrimination" in South Africa.
Thousands of South Africans of all races would argue that the destruction of District Six is both hurtful and unnecessary. But up on the slopes of Table Mountain, the bulldozers keep busy. And "the group" keeps evicting people because they have the "wrong" skin color.
The demolition has continued apace for the past 12 years, despite heated protests from many of the people of Cape Town. Now, there are indications that the government here is going to accelerate the process.
By the end of this year, District Six may be nothing more than a memory. And , for many of South Africa's 2.5 million Colored people, it will be a bitter memory, indeed.
For District Six is the symbolic, if not the actual, birthplace of many of South Africa's Colored people. It dates back to around 1838, when freed slaves from Malaya, along with the brown-skinned offspring of early Dutch settlers and indigenous black Africans, began settling on the slopes of Table Mountain.
Over the next 25 years, District Six became a sort of cultural crossroads for the Colored community. Devout Muslims shopped the open-air fruit stands of bustling Hanover Street alongside rowdy fishermen and dockworkers. Children playing in the rutted alleyways had complexions ranging from olive to ebony, accents from soft East Indian to husky Dutch.
It was not an altogether pleasant place, with more than its share of muggings and mayhem. Parts of the district were indisputably slums, although parts were made up of neat, well-kept bungalows. But this patchwork community -- home to both young thugs called "skollies" and salt-of-the-earth working people -- was also indisputably alive.
The district survived such diverse challenges as a partial razing in 1901 -- to fight a bubonic plague epidemic -- and periodic incursions by well-meaning social workers bent on "civilizing" it. The language shouted down its streets was often as salty as the breeze that wafted in from Table Bay. But many of its residents developed an attachment to the neighborhood that outweighed any of the hazards of living there.
Nevertheless, by the early 1960s District Six was clearly in need of governmental attention. Author Richard Rive, writing in Outlook magazine, says of his childhood in District Six, "It is notoriously easy to romanticize about slum life and sentimentalize it. In truth, the slum was damp, dirty, and dank. . . ."
In 1964 the government's Department of Community Development set up a committee to study the redevelopment of the area. Some planners envisioned demolition of some structures, retention and rehabilitation of others, and upgrading of municipal services.
But when Pieter W. Botha announced the government's plans for the area on Feb. 11, 1966, Cape Town's Colored populace was shocked. For he not only proclaimed that the area would be redeveloped, but also that only whites would be allowed to live in it.
As Mr. Rive writes, "I cannot find any reasonable objection to slum clearance , especially for the purpose of reconstructing decent homes to replace the former tenements. But when District Six was razed, it was done so by official decree to make room for those who already had too much."
Indeed, the government's stated intention in demolishing District Six was to eradicate a slum that bred crime. But others note that the District Six location -- bordering Cape Town's urban center and offering spectacular views over the docks to the blue stretches of Table Bay -- made it prime real estate, too valuable to be occupied by "nonwhites."
Others ascribe a darker motive to the decision to remove the Colored population. In the event of a racial uprising, they argue, the government could not have sealed off District Six easily. And the concentration of so many Colored people -- at one time estimated by over 60,000 -- so close to the city center could have made some white officials uneasy.
Whatever the reasons behind the move, the first of the district's 3,695 dwellings was demolished in 1968. By the government's own figures, more than 8, 00 Colored families, made up of 40,000 to 45,000 people, have since been moved from the area. Many of their homes have been bulldozed, along with their churches and schools.
A few of the original residents have found homes in nearby areas. But most have been moved to racially segregated townships on flatlands below Table Mountain. Some are "model" towns, but others are bleak cinder-block ghettos.
Almost without exception, most District Six residents are farther from workplaces and shops in downtown Cape Town, and commuting costs are increased. Some people are poorly served by public transport. Worse, the costs of renting or buying in the newer Colored townships are often much higher than in District Six -- and that leads to financial hardships.
"Evictions are an everyday occurrence," says one Cape Town resident, noting that evicted families are often forced to split up and live with various relatives.
Some critics say the forced uprooting of families from District Six and the consequent breakup of community life have increased an already serious alcoholism problem among Colored people in Cape Province.
And others view Cape Town's crime rate -- one of the highest in the Western world -- as another manifestation of the bitterness among the dispossessed Colored populace.
The destruction of District Six also had had an insidious effect on Colored youth, according to the Rev. Basil Van Rensburg, a white Roman Catholic priest working to save what remains of the community.
"You've got children who, for 15 years, know nothing of the South African government except that it tears down their homes," he says. The result, he adds , is bitterness -- and growing militancy.
Surprisingly, however, an estimated 10,000 people remain in District Six. Some reside in tidy bungalows, others in Victorian cottages or crumbling row houses with ornate wrought-iron lattice twining on the porch corners.
And a few, like Rugaya Daniels and her family, are squatters, inhabiting the shells of abandoned homes -- and moving out just ahead of "the group" and the bulldozers. They cannot understand why the government is bulldozing houses, especially when the shortage of housing in Colored areas, according to Fr. Van Rensburg, often means a wait of up to 10 years for new accommodations.
For the past 14 years, residents have fought to stop the demolitions, restore what is left of District Six, and turn the vacant land back to the Colored community.
But 1980 is shaping up as a decisive year in the struggle. The government has informed residents that they must be out of the area by Christmas, says Nasima Edbrahim, chairwoman of the District Six Rent Residents and Ratepayers Association (RRRA).
Interviewed shortly after hearing that news, Mrs. Ebrahim conceded that she was at first "very, very despondent." The organization's "Save District Six" campaign -- complete with lapel buttons, bumper stickers, and neighborhood rallies -- appeared to have come to nothing.
But later, she vowed, "I'm going on with the battle. . . .
"If they want me out," she said, "they'll have to bulldoze me out. . . . This has only made me more determined."
But if residents are more determined, so is the government. Prime Minister Botha has refused to meet with neighborhood representatives and routinely turns back requests for re-evaluation of the decision to bulldoze the area.
Fr. Van Rensburg says that pressure from the outside -- both from governments and individuals -- may be the last hope for saving the ravaged neighborhood.
Residents now are shepherding foreign diplomats through the area to rally support for their cause. And requests are being sent to church congregations around the world for prayers to halt the destruction. With each letter is enclosed a reminder of the urgency of the situation: a packet of rubble from a recently demolilshed house.
In the meantime, the South African government is forging ahead with its own plans for the area. On one part of the site, it is building a $3 million barracks for police and military personnel. And a government ally, the Afrikaanse Christelike Vroue Vereninging (a women's group associated with the white Dutch Reformed Church) has announced plans for a high-rise building on the site.
But so far, few private-sector companies have chosen to build on the land. Some multinational firms -- Total and Shell oil companies, for example -- have eyed construction sites in District Six, but hastily shelved plans when protests were lodged with governments in their home countries.
Cape Town residents of all races have registered their objections to the government's uprooting of the Colored community. One white man says, "It's tainted land. No one wants to be part of the shame connected with District Six."
One prominent Cape Town architect, Revel Fox, even resigned from the design team for a $55 million technikonm -- a technical training institute -- when the school's governing council chose to build on District Six land. The decision eventually may cost his architectural firm more than a million dollars, but he says, "There was absolutely no hesitation.
"I disagreed with the choice," says Mr. Fox, "on technical grounds and on human rights grounds. I felt it would be such a hurtful and damaging action that I didn't want to be a part of it."
The institute, covering 21 hectares (about 52 acres), would take over almost one-fifth of District Six. Its construction, according to some studies, would require the demolition of an additional 348 houses, occupied by some 350 families that total about 2,500 people.
The Cape Town City Council consistently has opposed the plan. City engineer J. G. Brand notes that the influx of students during daylight hours will add to Capet Town's already severe traffic congestion. Moreover, he says the removal of full-time residents from the area inevitably will hurt downtown businesses and reduce the city's tax base.
Some urban planners have come up with alternative sites, but the technical institute's all-white governing council is pushing for the District Six site. (Some observers say the council is acting with the approval -- if not the prodding -- of the South African government, a charge institute officials deny.)
To defuse criticism, some of the technical institute's defenders argue that it eventually may be opened up to Colored students -- but that is by no means certain.
"We believe that in the future, as there is a change in the attitudes of the people, we will be able to enroll an increasing number of people from other racial groups," says Dr. Theodore Shippey, technikonm director.
He says the choice of the District Six site is "purely a very carefully thought-out plan to provide the most suitable site, educationally speaking, for the technikon."
But Fr. Van Rensburg sees the issue in much different terms. "It's kind of an obdurate stubbornness to pursue this white supremacist dream," says the silver-haired priest. "It's land grab, and it's immoral." and, he adds, it is also unchristian. Those ordering in the bulldozers should remember "that 'What ye do unto the least of these, ye do unto me,'" he says. "These are voteless, defenseless people."
Indeed, the prospect of being forcibly uprooted has had a devastating effect on some residents, especially the elderly.
One woman who has live in District Six for 31 years -- 26 of them in the same well-kept house -- says quietly, "I want to die here. I hope that God will grant me that."
A sad smile momentarily crossing her wrinkled face, she adds quietly, "I don't believe I'll ever see Heidiveld" -- the township to which the government is trying to move her.
Others do not react so benignly.
"I hate the government," says Rugaya Daniels, as she stands in the shadows. "I totally hate them. God says we mustn't hate. But they've made my life a misery."
The South African government, on the other hand, argues that its policy of racially segregated neighborhoods is "in the interests of harmony and sound development on social, economic, and political levels."
Further, it argues that the income of most Colored residents of the area is so low that they could not afford housing in the redeveloped District Six. And subsidized housing would be inappropriate, the government argues, on such a "potentially valuable urban area adjacent to the city center."
Besides, the government states in an official publication, there are enough Colored people already living in close-in areas to supply Cape town's labor needs.
Fr. Van Rensburg says he clings to the hope that what is left of District Six can be saved. But he observes that there are several lessons to be sorted out from the rubble to which of it has been reduced.
One, he says, is that "apartheid has never been more alive than it is now."
Another, he adds, is that no matter what the South African government does, District Six eventually will be returned to the people from which it was taken.
And, he adds, prayer may be the only way to ensure that the process of returning it is peaceful.
"We must love them," he says of the South African government, "and pray for them, that they will come to their senses."
"We won't hate," he said after a tour of the area, as the shadows lengthened on the remaining buildings of District Six, "because we know that by the strength of our love, we're going to win. . . . They'll have to give it back."