The community of Stellenbosch’s best kept secret is not a new picnic site, wine farm or hidden waterfall that I have recently discovered.
The history of the town and it’s involvement in forced removals is probably one of it’s best kept secrets. The displacement of over 3,000 residents of colour who all owned properties close to the town square; is a story not commonly told. Although most of us are very familiar with the forced removals that occurred in District Six. Die Vlakte was a vibrant predominantly coloured community that was then later proclaimed a white group area in the year 1964. Thousands of families were displaced and separated as they were forced to move to areas such as Idas Valley and Cloetesville.
As Ms Renee Hector-Kannemeyer led the discussion she mentioned the the rise of deviant identities as a legacy of the forced removals. She related it to the surge in gang popularity post-displacement that was observed within the ‘new’ communities. This observation captured my interest immediately. I was raised in a predominantly coloured area on the Cape Flats, called Mitchell’s Plain.This community along with Bonteheuwel, Belhar, Hanover Park, Manenberg and Athlone amongst many more, were areas that most displaced residents from District Six were sent to go and live in. I have seen the glamorization of the gang world within these communities and the influence it has on many young people’s lives.
As the the residents of both District Six and Die Vlakte were displaced, people watched their homes and personal belongings get crushed to dust and rubble right before their eyes. They watched how their sense of community, pride and dignity got demolished in such an inhumane manner. The residents all felt very strong personal connections to communities which they had once called home. They rooted their identities within their ‘homelands’, where they lived with shared values, diversity and a strong sense of social cohesion. Thus as they were forcefully removed many felt disconnected from one another, their sense of home and what they knew community to be. They felt disconnected from their very identities.
As a result many tried to create new identities within their communities, many of which found deviant identities within gangs, where they could find a sense of belonging, family and importance once again. Interestingly enough, gang activity is more prevalent within the areas of District Six displaced residents than that of Cloetesville and Idas Valley within Stellenbosch. This could be as the residents from Die Vlakte were moved to areas still within the Stellenbosch town; a town that they could still identify with, where they were still relatively close to their schools and places of work. Whereas, the District Six displacements separated people across long distances and at least 30 kms away from their home community where they had once schooled and had found employment.
With the recent surge in gang activity across the Cape Flats along with the killings of innocent children by members of the community, I could not help but take a deeper look into what seems to be a direct correlation between the legacy of forced removals and deviant identities found within gangs in the areas affected. As coloured people many of us struggle with this concept of identity, stemming from the lack of knowledge of ancestoral history, forced removals as well the colonial and Apartheid government’s plan to separate and divide coloured people from black people, resulting in many racial and social complexes and issues still prevalent within the coloured community today.
I ask that as we reflect on the forced removals that occurred as a result of the Apartheid government’s Group Areas Act and it’s legacy within South Africa; we also remember the forgotten indigenous people of this land who were forcefully removed from their communities, mistreated and murdered by the colonial settlers of the time. I ask that we remember the residents of Salt River and Woodstock who are now presently fighting the same battle. Let us not turn a blind eye but let us actively support causes affecting our communities, especially when the legacy of forced removals run so deep within our history as natives of this land.