The politics of return around which [the] District Six [Museum] has strategised and structured its cultural practice over the last ten years has entered a phase of actuality and this is both a very joyous moment and I would say a disconcerting one…as the possibilities of actual return become more real - that’s the juncture you are dealing with now. This imaginary is compelled to deal, I think, with the more banal yet intricate logistics, legalities and bureaucratic mechanisms of return which are no longer pitted against apartheid...
Today these logistics and mechanisms are framed inevitably within the constitution and government of the new South Africa.
The building of new homes in the historic District Six community presents both challenges and opportunities for conservation. The physical reconstruction combined with the intricacies of rebuilding a traumatised community, is in itself a huge project which has forced the Museum to confront the concrete realities associated with the return. It is a context which the Museum has had no choice but to face head-on as it further explores the relationship between landscapes and memorialisation in support of human rights, urban justice and the creation of a more just and inclusive civil society.
Stringent population control measures contributed greatly to the range of human rights violations in pre-1994 South Africa. Many people lost their homes in District Six and other areas as a result of one or more of the legislative control measures, a number of whom have not since found a place to call ‘home’ in the full sense of the word. The Land Restitution Act 22 of 1994 has formed part of the post-apartheid government’s strategy to acknowledge and make amends in some measure for this. In the case of District Six it has meant that for those who had struggled for years to keep the land undeveloped and protected for the community, the possibility of return has become a reality. Issues relating to the attainment of housing justice for all South Africans are a key area of state concern, and the process of restitution forms part of an array of government interventions. Many other areas where people were forcibly removed from have been irreversibly changed and developed, rendering the possibility of return an unobtainable dream. The return to District Six can serve as a model for restitution, as a process which has made it possible for citizens who ordinarily would not have been able to afford it to have access to prime real-estate in an increasingly gentrified Cape Town. It has facilitated the process of repossession of the city by the dispossessed.
Another aspect of modeling a process of return reflects back to the original character of District Six. The Record of Understanding signed by the District Six Beneficiary and Redevelopment Trust, the City of Cape Town and the Regional Land Claims Commission in November 1998 acknowledges the former multicultural character of the area. It resolves: ‘To provide restitution for those forcibly removed from District Six through an integrated redevelopment which will result in a vibrant multicultural community whose dignity has been restored in a developmental environment, grounded in, and meeting the social and economic needs of the claimants and broader community that will contribute towards the building of a new nation.
Given the availability of land in District Six, and the fact that some claimants have opted for financial compensation in lieu of returning to the district, the Development Framework (2005) makes allowance for families affected by forced removals from other areas to be accommodated on land earmarked for restitution in District Six. This serves as an acknowledgement that the concentration of resources allocated to the District Six redevelopment should not be to the exclusion of other similarly affected communities for whom return to their original land of dispossession is not an option because of subsequent development. District Six thus will become a symbol of return and restitution for a much broader community of returnees.
For more information about the restitution process in District Six, visit the websites of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform at www.ruraldevelopment.gov.za and the District Six Beneficiary and Redevelopment Trust at www.districtsix.za.org