So when I came to live in South Africa in 2005, knowing that it was eleven years after the official end of apartheid, I was shocked by what I saw. We lived in the most beautiful home I have ever lived in with incredible sea views and someone to clean it for me. Compared with my regular life in the UK it was sheer luxury. However, just a few miles away there was a hillside that spread for miles, covered in tiny tin and wooden shacks, each of which was smaller than my bathroom, with no formal roads, electricity or sanitation to service them. It looked like living in hell. It disturbed me greatly - and even now, in 2015, the situation is little better for so many people.
As I settled in to my new home I began to research how South Africa got itself into this tragic human mess. I began volunteering with different groups to try and make a small difference in people's lives. I made many friends with people from all parts of the city and listened to the stories of their lives - so different from mine. I learned about how the Apartheid regime controlled their lives with things like the Dompas, The Population Registration Act, The Group Areas Act, The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, The Immorality Act and the Natives Resettlement Act. It is a lot to take in.
One of the most visually striking places that helped me better understand the impact of apartheid on people's daily lives was the District Six Museum in CapeTown. Situated on the edge of District Six (a suburb close to the prime location of the CBD that is now bizarrely a mixture wasteland, a few isolated clusters of housing, a church, a mosque and the Cape Peninsula University) it is an extraordinary place. Visit their website and learn more for yourself.
Images from District 6 Museum and a new friend, Mr Noor Ebrahim
In 1950 the white-ruled South African Government brought into being two very significant Acts of parliament which had severe implications for the lives of the vast majority of South Africans. The Population Registration Act required every inhabitant of the country to be be classified and registered in accordance with their racial characteristics and the Group Areas Act, that assigned these different racial groups to different geographical locations - effectively prohibiting non-whites from certain desirable or potentially urban areas. If an area was occupied by persons of the 'wrong' racial group they were forcefully removed from their homes and 'relocated' to an area designated for their racial group. There was no option - and sometimes even families were split apart. There was obviously huge opposition to this, so during the forced removals armed police and lorries arrived, often accompanied by bulldozers. With little notice people often bundled their belongings into the back of lorries and watched as their home was raised to the ground. They were then taken to the new 'location' - always far away and with few, if any services or amenities.
Forced removals on a huge scale were commenced in the 1950's onwards across the country; from Cato Manor and Warwick Junction in Durban, District Six and Crossroads in CapeTown, Fietas, Prospect Township and Sophiatown in Johannesburg, Lady Selbourne in Pretoria, Bethany in Bloemfontein to name a few.
In CapeTown, District Six was one of the areas that became an issue. Historically it was an area close to the port where freed slaves had settled and had then developed into a vibrant, if rather run-down area where a mixed community of around 60,000 people all races lived. Mr Noor Ebrahim (the gentleman in the pictures above) at the District Six Museum remembers the day it finally happened to his family. A few days later his father returned to the pile of rubble that was his home, for a last look - and found his homing pigeons quietly waiting for him. They clearly had not understood.
In Johannesburg an area known as Sophiatown was an area where black South Africans had bought properties and lived in a multi-racial community of over 60,000 people. Over the years new suburbs grew up around Sophiatown which began to be occupied by white middle class workers and in the 1940's the perception arose that the multicultural suburb was far too close to a white suburb and plans began for the relocation of the entire population of Sophiatown. On 9th February 1955 the armed police arrived and the residents of Sophiatown were forcefully removed. The entire suburb was then demolished, rezoned a whites-only area and then reprehensibly renamed - Triomf.
The repercussions of these forced removals added to the already difficult lives of the majority of South Africans. Their lives were turned upside down. They were moved to smaller homes, often without amenities, further away from their work and the city. If they had animals they were usually not allowed to take them. Those who were classified as 'surplus to requirements' (yes - that is true) were relocated to the rural areas. Here they often found the land infertile and with no jobs nearby they were left virtually destitute. Far away from their communities and support systems people had to let go of their history and start afresh elsewhere. Those old communities now remain only in the memory of those who were once residents, like Mr Noor Mohammed.
I gathered my understanding of all this over my time here in South Africa, and when the title 'Dislocation' was posed for the 2014 challenge I immediately knew what I wanted to create. Having spent time with Mr Noor Ebrahim and so many others who have suffered because of the policy of forced removals I wanted to tell the story of their experiences. It is not something many people feel comfortable talking about, but to ignore it or hide from it means it is more easily forgotten. And that would be terribly wrong too.
To read more about how I made the quilt, click here.
However, please do not misunderstand my post. I love the New South Africa and its people. It is a most beautiful place, filled with delightful people who, despite much adversity, are positive, friendly and more often than not, go out of their way to be kind and generous. I will be leaving soon and will do so with a heavy heart.
Thank you for reading
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