Forcibly removed 60 years ago: Simon’s Town land claimants return
100 houses allocated to victims of the Group Areas Act
- 60 years after they were forcibly removed to Gugulethu by the apartheid regime, families are returning to Simon’s Town.
- About 100 land claimants will receive RDP houses in the Dido Valley Housing Project.
- However, about 773 Luyolo township claimants have accepted compensation instead of land over the years.
Broadhurst Cona was 18 when he and his family were forcibly removed under apartheid’s Group Areas Act from their home in Luyolo Location, Simon’s Town, in January 1966.
“It was the end of the world for us,” says Cona. “We never even knew where we were going.”
Each day about 20 families, with all the belongings they could fit, were moved by truck. Cona and his family were one of the last to lose their homes.
The trucks took them from the slopes of Simon’s Town overlooking the sea to a barren street in Gugulethu, where the families were provided with small, two-bedroom houses. Many of the Luyolo community and their descendants still stay in these houses.
Now, nearly 60 years later, Cona, who is 75, is set to be a beneficiary of the Luyolo Land restitution claim, which forms part of the Dido Valley Housing Project behind Anchor Bay Mall in Simon’s Town. The housing project will have 600 units, 500 for residents from the Redhill informal settlement and 100 for the Luyolo land claimants.
Mayco Member for Human Settlements Malusi Booi said that if all goes according to plan the first units should be handed over to Luyolo claimants in March or April this year.
The first 33 Redhill units have already been completed and will be handed over once electrification is done, said Booi.
Luyolo was a small vibrant township formed on the mountain slopes at Simon’s Town in 1901 by labourers brought from the Eastern Cape to work on extending the railway line from Kalk Bay to Simon’s Town. After the railroad was completed, many workers remained and found work at the dockyard in the Simon’s Town naval base.
At the time of the forced removals, Luyolo had about 1,500 predominantly African residents.
Lungiswa Somlota, secretary of the Luyolo Land Restitution Committee, was born two years after her parents were forcibly removed from Luyolo in 1965.
“They were forced to relocate, but they couldn’t leave their jobs as they had to put food on the table,” says Somlota.
Her father continued working at the naval dockyard, waking up at 4am to take the bus to Simon’s Town from Gugulethu. She grew up hearing the stories of Luyolo community life.
“The community lived as one big family. No one would go to bed on an empty stomach. There was self-reliance. People could go and fish,” says Somlota.
Cona grew up next to the sea as a young child and fell in love with long distance swimming. However, after being forcibly relocated to Gugulethu, he had nowhere close by to go and swim.
“Later I started going to Camps Bay, where I joined some of the long-distance [sea] swimmers,” says Cona.
Cona started playing rugby and got picked by local club Flying Eagles in Nyanga in the 1970s. This started his professional rugby career. He would go on to play for the Leopards (the black rugby team during apartheid under the South African Rugby Board) against France and he played abroad in Italy.
At the same time he was working night shifts as a labourer. “Before I slept I had to go to train alone, because I couldn’t go to the main practice, so I had no teamwork. Only one week [a month] I had time for teamwork. I nearly quit because it was so taxing on me,” said Cona.
The long path to restitution
In the early 1990s Cona was listening to the radio when a government official outlined the process for instituting a land claim. Cona then went and met with an official in Athlone.
“I took down every detail in the meeting, and then I campaigned in our community for Luyolo descendants to come and claim. I called a meeting and fortunately the community came in droves,” says Cona.
However, after this initial period of excitement and hope, bureaucracy started dragging the process out.
“You come back [to the Department of Land Affairs] and there is a new commissioner, and the new one won’t start where the other left off; he will do his own thing,” says Cona.
Another major obstacle was how to deal with the issue of financial compensation. Land claimants are given the choice of taking a set amount as a form of compensation, or they can choose to follow the land restitution process. In the early 2000s there was a debate in the community about which to pursue – compensation or land.
“The people were so disillusioned. They thought they would never go back, that it was a pipe dream. We tried to convince them that taking the money was not worth it. It was peanuts, about R22,000 at the time. You know they use money as a weapon, and that’s where we lost,” says Cona. “It was a disaster for us.”
In total, 773 Luyolo land claimants have chosen financial compensation since 1998, according to Dr Wayne Alexander, Chief Director of the Western Cape Regional Land Claims Commission.
Only about 130 chose land over financial compensation.
The land restitution project slowly gained momentum and it is now nearing completion. However, Cona has mixed feelings about it.
“I was so excited and very happy, because I could see the progress. I am happy for the legacy of going back, that we were forcibly removed, and now we have claimed and are going back. But the excitement is gone,” said Cona.
Spirits are somewhat dampened. Cona questions the size of the plots they will receive and also that they never had a say in the construction process.
“We expected a restitution project, not RDP houses,” says Cona.
Somlota, who is completing her final exams for an LLB at UNISA, said she is excited for the return of the Luyolo community. “We are happy that we are still alive to come and see this day, with the hope that we will see the final efforts of our commitment.”
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