After a century on earth, Shariefa Khan, affectionately known as “Mama” in District Six, says she still isn’t free.
The oldest District Six land claimant says Freedom Day, which was celebrated on 27 April, doesn’t hold any meaning for her and that she still feels sad about being forcibly removed from her home in District Six.
“I still don’t feel free. There is still racism going around and it makes me very sad. I feel sad,” she says.
“Freedom to me would be going back to District Six where I spent most of my life and getting the house I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” she adds.
Khan says apartheid brought about lots of pain and separation, and destroyed many people’s lives because nobody was able to live freely.
On the 11 February 1966, the apartheid regime declared District Six a white area and shortly thereafter, the family received a letter which stated that they would have to move.
“We cannot forget the pain, anguish, dehumanisation, deprivation and degeneration which the forced removals brought upon us. Now in my old age, I still remember the pain of seeing how our homes were bulldozed.”
Speaking to News24, the bubbly woman reminisces about the place to which she longs to return.
“The day when we were told to leave D6 I left everything behind. My husband didn’t want to go, so he stayed and I left and went to stay with my sister in Kensington,” Khan says.
Her voice trembles as she recalls having to leave her husband behind so that he can salvage whatever he is able to.
She and her husband managed the famous Bombay Café, also known as Dout’s Café, at number 238 Hanover Street, and had to put up a sign which indicated that they would close down.
Her chef husband, nicknamed Dout, made excellent mutton curry, roti and dhaltjies.
Khan says: “My husband makes the best roti and curry, I miss his cooking so much.”
Khan recalls that she had no income at the time and sold samoosas to make money to feed her children.
She had a stroke in December last year. Although she is recovering well, the right side of her body is partially paralysed which means that she is unable to make samoosas and many other foods she wishes she can still cook.
Khan is still waiting to hear if she made it onto the government’s shortlist for an apartment in Hanover Street as part of Phase Three of the restitution process.
Born in 1921 in Vryburg in the North West, Khan and her family moved to Cape Town in 1928. They lived in Muizenberg at first and later relocated to Kensington where her father had the very first halaal butchery in the area.
“I am very sad that I still don’t have a home where my late husband and I once lived,” she says.
Khan lived in District Six for more than 40 years and in that time, she married her late husband Dawood Khan. She describes him as the “love of my life”.
Nadiema Khan, her eldest daughter, says they applied for a house in 1999 but are still waiting for an answer.
“I always say we were poor but happy in District Six. I don’t understand why they had to move us like criminals. The only thing we did wrong was not being white,” the 100-year-old woman says.
“No one will ever understand how painful it is to stand on a patch of waste ground where your house once stood. I want to die in District Six – it’s my last wish,” she adds.
Khan says she had eight siblings but only one younger sister is alive and she lives overseas.
The Khan family has endured their fair share of tragedy. They lost two daughters – one was killed by a drunk driver in 1959 and another died of leukaemia in 1965.
The family celebrated Shariefa’s 100th birthday extravaganza in Wynberg and Rylands and most of her 17 grandchildren and 35 great grandchildren were present.
Sumaya Mukadam who is her youngest daughter, says it is a “blessing” to still have her mom and even more of a blessing to have her live with them.
“My mom loves the outdoors and loves going for drives. I take her for drives along the beach as she really enjoys that,” she says.
She says her life in District Six was “lekker” and fondly remembers playing outside with her neighbours when they all were young. She says the people living in the area were like brothers and sisters to her.
“They were very nice people.”
Although the process has been slow, Khan has never given up hope of returning to her beloved District Six.
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