District 6: where the streets were the passages and the houses the rooms

December the 16th, The Day of Reconciliation, was marked in District 6 by a small group of friends and leaders.

Unlike in recent years which has seen large public walks to mark the Day, we come from a season battered by loss, overwhelmed by the demands of online connection, and exhausted with struggles on all fronts.

We decided to play it small, remaining open to possibility. A thought that whispered in the back of my mind was “Unless a seed goes into the ground to die, it remains alone.” The vision of big public events was not on the cards this year.

The small gathering at the Moravian Chapel, with the newly unearthed street sign from Richmond Street, District 6

Hosted by Bishop Augustine Joemath of the Moravian Chapel, and co-led by all participants, we met in the relative stillness of the church around a bowl of flowers and other natural objects from the area. Each one offered their prayer and thoughts as they aranged stones and herbage, and we sang.

Significant was the storytelling of Sheik Ismail Keraan of the Al Azur Mosque, who reminded us that in its original form, District 6 (dismantled by “Die Groep” – the men of the Apartheid Group Areas Act) in 1967 was a place where the streets were the passages and the houses the rooms, of one family that knew no separation between race or creed. It was an organic expression of urban Ubuntu, and an embodied expression of interfaith life; and its memory serves as a guide in the slow process of renewal, repatriation and rebuilding.

Sheik Ismail Keraan, Rev. Pippa Jones, Bishop Augustine Joemath

The second part of our gathering was to visit the Krotoa Sanctuary – neighboring Al Azur, a cleared circle of ground and a ring of stones with an east-facing entrance, to commemorate a great ancestor of the Khoi indigenous community – Krotoa (1643-74).

Krotoa

As a child she worked in the van Riebeeck household and then married Danish soldier Pieter van Meerhof. Although she acted as a key link between settler and indigene, learning both Dutch and Portuguese, and being baptised a Christian, her assimilation into European culture was destined to fail, and her life came to a tragic end that some sought to use as proof of the innate savagery of non-Europeans.

But she is remembered, not only as an early victim of the colonial project, but also as demonstrating remarkable creative spirit in the face of a totally new threat – the extractive intent and violent methods of the European colonial way – whose depravity and ignorance sometimes appears to be quite unbounded.

At the sanctuary, Zebada January recited the “Welcome To Land” to remind us all of the Khoi first inhabitants of these shores. Reconciliation with this fact is only at an early stage.

Zebada January, Krotoa Sanctuary, District 6

Apartheid was defeated by democracy. Many who were enemies were reconciled. But the effects of the trauma of violent separation of communities just rumbles on through the ages.

And the forces that sought to destroy District 6 – a vision of racial superiority – have morphed into a new foe – a people-commodifying, planet-destroying corporate greed. In D6 this expresses itself in gentrification, infighting, bureaucratic stagnation, and the corruption that is so rife in civil leadership.

Around the Krotoa Sanctuary with Al Azur Mosque behind

Yesterday, our tiny group remembered. Led by our life-long District 6 “natives” and stalwart spiritual leaders, as well as new visionaries, we gave thanks to the giver of Life and said a quiet yes to the call to continue a new chapter of struggle.

Published by Nic Paton

Composer of music for film, television and commercials.

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