Re-Stitching District Six

On 3 May 2024 I found myself exploring the remains of a bulldozed house in District Six, Cape Town, an area that was declared  for “whites only” by the apartheid government in 1966. This declaration set in motion the forced removal of 60 000 people to the outlying areas of Cape Town and the subsequent bulldozing of their homes. As I stood on the remains of a cement stoep with traces of red paint, I imagined the former owners sitting down to rest after they had polished the stoep on their hands and knees. I imagined them under the huge palm tree they had planted with future plans of enjoying its shade as they gazed at Table Mountain or out to the ocean. And I thought about the heartbreak caused by being forced to say goodbye to your homes, your neighbours and friends.

Ayesha Mukadam and Antoinette Engel are the directors and producers of this documentary that focuses on four “protagonists” – a tailor, dressmaker, hairdresser and me, chatting about our connections to District Six with Ayesha.

My father was born and grew up in District Six and my paternal grandmother was forced to move from there in the mid-1970s. My memories of the area revolve around the lively and diverse Hanover Street where my uncle had a tailor shop, our house doctor had his practise, and the barber where my brothers and I had our hair cut. Hanover Street today is unrecognisable from the vibrant community hub of my childhood.

During filming we are also in conversation with Cleo Droomer, a story-tailor  who is being tasked with translating our stories into four distinct garments – the literal re-stitching of our history and heritage.  The journey is proving to be both sad and joyful as we relive memories and walk through the largely barren landscape.  I feel honoured to be bearing witness in this way and I am excited by the concept of our stories being brought into the contemporary space through this restitching with Cleo.

All images taken by me in District Six. Featured Image: Film crew in District Six with Table Mountain in the background.