Music in a time of forced removals

To give a sense of the atmosphere that prevailed in Cape Town at the time Mannenberg was composed, our archive lifts the scars from the painful wound of forced removals, offering oral testimonies and reports about a time in which families were torn apart and neighbourhoods destroyed.

Empty Justification

Justifying the government's decision to remove people forcibly from District Six, the Minister of Planning and of the Environment, JJ Loots, argued in the Senate:

"The Opposition had a lot to say about Cape Town's District Six, but the fact was that the area concerned had never belonged to the Coloured people. District Six had always belonged to Whites, many of whom had unscrupulously exploited the Coloureds by renting them dilapidated houses at exorbitant rents... The Whites of District Six had for some reason or other gradually been moving out of the area. Coloureds slowly began taking their place to the point where there were about 44 000 Coloureds living in the district... The department had always tried to be fair to people who had to be moved in terms of the Group Areas Act."

- "District Six was always white area", Rand Daily Mail, August 22, 1974 [Wits Historical Papers: Removals - Western Cape, 1952-1975 (Box 217.4)]


Bitterness and vigorous protest

Mannenberg the song aroused a gut reaction among Capetonians at the time as it "spoke" eloquently of the forced removals of black people out of District Six and into the bleak and distant new racially explicit "group areas" like Manenberg. Here Jennifer Hayman reports on the plans to remove people from District Six.

"Most of District Six's inhabitants have already been moved under the Group Areas Act. The remaining few thousand families watch with resignation and a fair amount of bitterness as their centuries-old homes are demolished... Overriding vigorous protests from residents themselves and from concerned Whites all over the country, the Department [of Community Development] began purchasing properties in District Six and by 1970 had paid nearly R14-million for them... Some 30 000 Coloureds and Indians were to be moved by the mid-70s to make way for 15 000 Whites in 'luxury or semi-luxury high-rise flats and maisonettes'."

- Rand Daily Mail, May 25, 1974 [Wits Historical Papers: Removals - Western Cape, 1952-1975 (Box 217.4)]


Coetzee family forcibly removed

"The [Basil] Coetzee family was forcibly removed from the soon-to-be-demolished District Six to Manenberg in 1969, and it was his composition of that name which became his best-known work. Basil adopted the name as a middle-name, and became known as Basil 'Mannenberg' [sic] Coetzee."

- "Robbie Jansen", <>, downloaded October 9, 2007


Sala kahle District Six

In her biography, Sala Kahle District Six, Nomvuyo Ngcelwane tries to show that District Six was not a coloureds-only residential area, providing a detailed account of the lives of blacks in District Six, and how they were removed from the area in the early Sixties.

"In August 1963, my father received a letter asking him to report at the Drill Hall in connection with arrangement that had been made by the Local Authorities for him and his family. We had expected it, of course, because some of the Black Cross Street residents had already received their letters...

"During the third week of September, we were advised of our new address and the date of our removal: on the 4th of October we were to expect the removal lorry, some time after 9 o'clock in the morning, which was to take us to NY 75 No 7 Section 2, Nyanga West...

"At about 10 o'clock on the 4th of October, a big lorry stopped in front of our building and then driver asked for my father. My father was at work in Observatory, so my mother had to attend to the man. He gave her the key to our new home and they started loading the boxes on to the truck...

"I moved over to the window to take a last glimpse of the view that I used to enjoy so much, the yellow Muir Street Zainatul Mosque, the harbour, the sea at a distance, looking very calm in the fine weather. I could feel the emptiness inside me. Quickly I moved from the window, stopping at the door. The room was full of light because there were no curtains at the windows, and the walls were sparkling at the sun's reflection. I remembered how cosy it used to be in winter. Now I was forced to get out, simply because I was African. I wanted to cry. [pp130-133]."

- Ngcelwane, N, Sala Kahle District Six: An African Woman's Perpective, Cape Town, Kwela Books, 1998


Like it or not

These extracts from Lost Communities, Living Memories: Remembering Forced Removals in Cape Town feature oral testimonies drawn from a variety of people affected by the removals in Cape Town.

"The greater part of District Six was formally proclaimed an area of white settlement on February 11 1966, in accordance with the Group Areas Act of 1950. ... Because of its strategic and scenic position, District Six was highly valued and regarded as prime real estate, leaving it vulnerable to projects of 'urban renewal' and 'slum clearance'. These projects meant clearing out inhabitants of densely populated areas within city centres or within close proximity to commerce and industry." [pp63-64]

"Oh! Don't talk to me about that, please don't talk to me. I will cry. I will all over again. There's when the trouble started. When they chucked us out like that. When they chucked us out of Cape Town. My whole life became changed! There was change. What they took away they can never give it back to us again [weeps]. Oh! I want to cry so much, all over again ... I cannot explain how it was when I moved out of Cape Town and I came to Manenberg. In those days I didn't know why they chuck us out. What did we do ...? We wasn't murderers, we wasn't robbers, like today ... These people did wrong. They had everything that a person's heart yearns for. And we had nothing but we were satisfied. They broke us up. They broke up the community. They took our happiness from us. The day they threw us out of Cape Town, that was my whole life tumbling down." [Oral testimony of Mrs GJ, former resident of District Six, p11]

"Mr AC, former resident of Harfield Village removed to Manenberg, remarked: 'It takes a lot of nerve and a lot of courage to be uprooted and then told you must start again. The Nationalist Party took away our roots, our atmosphere. Harfield Village today is almost unrecognizable. I have often asked myself, do whites console themselves, we bought this property, we never stole it from them? I get very emotional. This place was like a human feeling, when I moved out I was completely shattered.'[p115]

"During the 1970s and 1980s a sizeable portion of the coloured community of Claremont was fragmented and moved to new homes all over the Cape Flats - in Manenberg, Hanover Park, Mitchells Plain, Lavender Hill, Grassy Park, even as far as Atlantis on the West Coast." [p112]

- Field, S (ed), Lost Communities, Living Memories: Remembering Forced Removals in Cape Town<i>, Cape Town, David Philip, 2001


Tearing out family roots

This article, published in August 1972, sheds light on the removals of other communities outside District Six.

"For many generations the School Street area (Noorde Paarl), as it has come to be known, has been occupied by Coloured people and it was therefore with a terrible sense of shock and dismay that these residents heard many years ago that the area was to be declared for the White group. A number of families tore up their roots in the area and moved across the Berg River to the rapidly developing Coloured area at Huguenot... The area is a little like District Six in Cape Town in that it [was] what the Minister of Community Development call[ed] "a desirable area" and therefore valuable in terms of economic realities. The White community of Paarl was also growing and there was a need for expanded areas for them to build homes..."

- "Noorde Paarl: Settled community has again been uprooted" [Wits Historical Papers: Removals - Western Cape, 1952-1975 (Box 217.4), photocopied article, August 1972]


Life on the streets of Manenberg

In his photographic diary of life in Manenberg, David Lurie uses pictures to document life in the township after which the legendary tune was named. These extracts shed light on how Manenberg was established, as well as offering oral testimonies by residents about how they felt about the place and their role in the liberation struggle.

"During the 1950s, as housing shortages remained unmet, the council made plans to occupy yet more space on the Cape Flats. In the early 1960s areas such as Bonteheuwel and Manenberg were planned. But with the establishment of these townships, the social and economic problems multiplied. In particular, gang violence and crime became a part of life on the Flats [p12]

"Recalling the good old days in Manenberg, Rita Booysen remarked: 'I was born in Stellenbosch and I grew up in the Bo-Kaap until the age of 14. Then I came to Manenberg. But there's a big difference between those years and now's years. That time it was the "tickey's time", but those were good years. You could walk three o'clock, four o'clock at night. No molesting, no rape, no assault. You could leave your home open and walk the way you wanted to. We as children went to fetch wood in the bush and walked with the wood on our heads. Buckets filled with water, we carried on our shoulders. But those were good days...' [p28]

"Andre van Staden, although acknowledging that the situation is not the best, believes that something good can come out of Manenberg: 'When I started going to school at Manenberg Primary, that time, I was very creative with my hands and with my mouth and so on. The teachers noticed my potential and they always encouraged me up to high school. There I met Matthews, also a writer and a poet, and he also told me to go ahead with my poems and writing. I saw my talents with essays. I always had the highest marks and there was always a good word to say about me. And basically, what I want to say is if I can become one of the best poets or writers from an area like Manenberg and become part of a group of people who have been ignored and pushed down for so many years. Because people and other races say we're worthless. We're just in a ditch hole. I'm one of those people who want to show them the potential here...' [p70]

"Rashied Staggie is less optimistic: 'Manenberg is a concentration camp ... They [the apartheid government] built concentration camps for the coloureds ... to murder each other, rob each other, rape each other. Of course the white people had an aim. Of course they knew what they were doing. They knew what would come out of here, the product at the end of the day, would be gangsters. And that's one of the reasons why 60% of the population are gangsters ... in every place like Manenberg ... What is happening here is still from the old government.'" [p120]

- Lurie, D, Cape Town Fringe: Manenberg Avenue Is Where It's Happening, Double Story Books, 2004


back to the Mannenberg memorial page

"Mannenberg catapulted musicians' minds into what was really happening."
Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim
Picture: © Sunday Times


Interviews as historical sources

In this lesson plan, students are asked to think about how music enables people to express ideas and to affirm the cultural diversity of South Africa. They will be asked to reflect on the value of interviews as sources.

Lesson plan
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Archive Photo Gallery
Images of the men who created Mannenberg.
Artwork Photo Gallery
Check out the “sound” memorial marking the recording of Abdullah Ibrahim’s famous anthem, Mannenberg.
Audio Archive
Listen to Abdullah Ibrahim and others reminisce about what gave rise to their famous tune.
A 360º view of the memorial on Bloem Street, Cape Town.
Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee 1
Part 1: Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee explains why they named the song after a Cape Town township, and how it became an anthem of the struggle against apartheid
Basil “Mannenberg” Coetzee 2
Part 2 of a 1998 SABC3 documentary on Basil “Manenberg” Coetzee
Curious to see and hear the Mannenberg memorial?
SABC2’s Curious Culture magazine programme goes to Cape Town to report on the Mannenberg memorial
Launching the Mannenberg Memorial
SABC2’s Weekend Live programme reports on the launch of the memorial to Mannenberg