Thursday, October 22, 2015

Learning about history and the current struggle in Cape Town's City Bowl

On the morning of June 30, 2010, we set out for a visit to the District Six museum, which recounts a Cape Town "urban renewal" project undertaken with an apartheid twist that made it sound truly malevolent compared to the US history of urban renewal a/k/a "negro removal" projects, which have been at best a mixed bag.  District Six was a vibrant downtown neighborhood, some of which was run down but made a home for more than 60,000 residents.  In 1966, pursuant to the 1950 Group Areas Act, the South African government declared District Six in Cape Town to be a White Group Area, requiring all black, Asian and colored people to move out, after which their residences and shops were bulldozed;

the new name for the neighborhood, Zonnebloem, still appears on highway signs.  These residents were supposed to be moved to the Cape Flats, but either no provision or insufficient provision was made for their housing there.  Neighbors were separated from neighbors and from proximity to their places of employment, religious worship.

The District Six museum, housed in an old church in the neighborhood

commemorates the pass laws and the forced removal as well as story of land claims advanced after the end of the apartheid area.  The organization of the museum was a bit confusing but the detailed accounts drawn from interviews with victims of the removals, along with photographs, copies of newspaper accounts, and original artifacts, form a compelling portrayal of the impact of apartheid on the lives of individuals and on a whole community.  As on Robben Island, the staff are former victims who participate in making history real for visitors; Sam and Joe chatted with a book store employee whose interview had been excerpted in exhibits displayed on the walls of the museum.

While the rest of the family continued at District Six, I walked over to the Open Democracy Action Project for a chat with two attorneys about the struggle to implement democratic practices in South Africa.   Michelle Desai and Fola Adeleke discussed their efforts to use litigation and lobbying, respectively, to secure access to government information.  Because Public Citizen, where I work, has been a leader in litigation under the Freedom of Information Act, we were able to share experiences.  ODAC has recently been arguing for the application of the Vaughn index, a procedure for litigating FOI cases that Public Citizen developed in the 1970's (when our statute was roughly ten years old, as South Africa's statute is now).   It appeared to me that one of the most important impediments to implementation of the South African statute on access to information, apart from general ignorance of its provisions among lawyers and judges, is the fact that the rule of "loser pays," under which the loser in a lawsuit automatically has to pay the legal fees of the winner, also extends to cases against the government.  So the ordinary citizen who wants information about how her government works can be at risk for hundreds of thousands of dollars if she loses.  Apparently, the hourly rates of litigators in South Africa can be as high as the exorbitant fees charged by American lawyers.

Afterward, I met up with the family and we strolled past the Houses of Parliament (the statue is of of Queen Victoria)

and a building housing Parliamentary chambers with an inspirational banners about the life of Nelson Mandela)


and the Company's Garden with its collection of South African flora and some great old trees (here is a tree aloe).

The park had a collection of zebra statues in different poses (such as this John Deere-like zebra,

reminiscent of pandas and elephants and donkeys that have graced the streets of DC, and the cows that we saw in Brussels a few years ago.   We also passed a vendor selling soccer jerseys and cleats with national team colors made out of beads (a local craft tradition)  We finished our afternoon downtown at Charly's Bakery (note the cakes in the form of a soccer ball on a pitch and a Bafana Bafana jersey)

The boys wanted to head back to our hotel to stroll along the beach, where unusually large waves were crashing.

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