district six: "the home we live in" -- article: reflections from noor ebrahim
Reflections from Noor Ebrahim
Noor Ebrahim in the District Six Museum In his book, Noor’s Story, Noor recalls the history of District Six and the people who made it so special.
surrounded by photographs of his family.
This is my story and the story of my family. We grew up and lived in District Six, an area of approximately one and a half square kilometers….[District Six} was originally a mixed community of freed slaves, immigrants, labourers, merchants and artisans. Later it included a different kind of mix—artists, politicians, businessmen, musicians, writers teachers, sheikhs, priests, gangsters, sportsmen, housewives and always lots of children.
Sixty to seventy thousand people lived together in great harmony until disaster struck our community…1
Noor recalls leaving District Six:
…it was very sad when the government moved us out of our homes. I remember that my father cried like a baby. In fact many people died of broken hearts. I didn't actually cry. I was sad, I was angry, but my saddest day was in 1975 when I had to leave.
The District Six Museum stands as testimony to this claim, filled with stories of individuals, families, religious communities, businesses, and neighbors who learned first hand what this means.
But I'll start from the beginning. This was the saddest story for me. Now, as a kid of ten or eleven years old, I was very, very fond of pigeons and my neighbour had a lot of racing pigeons. Every day after school I used to go to him and I used to sit in his pigeon loft for hours. And then he said to me one day, 'Noor, when you grow older, I want you to build your own pigeon loft and I will give you fifty racing pigeons.'
I tell you, I couldn't wait for that time. Eventually, when I turned seventeen, I asked a couple of my friends to help me and we built a new pigeon loft. It took us about a full day, and then I went to my neighbour, and said to him, "Come and have a look!' He came with me and exclaimed: 'What a beautiful pigeon loft!' Then he said, 'Come with me,' and he gave me all those fifty pigeons, as promised.
My whole family was very lucky, and in 1975 we moved to a place called Athlone. That was one of the so-called coloured areas where you could purchase a house. When I moved, I built my new pigeon loft in Athlone. Of course, I used the same wood.
After three months, during the summer on a Sunday morning, I said to my wife, 'I think it's about time I let all my pigeons out and set them free. I want to see if they will come back to this new house.'
I did that and then I went out for the day. When I came home that evening, at about half past six or seven, I went straight to my pigeon loft to feed them. When I opened the door, not one pigeon had come home.
....I used to work for the Reader's Digest for many years, but I couldn't stay away from District Six, so on my way to work every morning I would usually go down Caledon Street in my car. My house was bulldozed already and that morning I stopped right opposite where my house used to be. When I got out of my car, guess what? All my pigeons had come home.
This was a sad day for me, very strange, but true. They were facing the sea, the harbour, and when I tiptoed behind them, they all turned around. This was absolutely amazing. I actually cried. As if they wanted to ask me, 'where is our home?' If that was a pigeon, imagine how we felt as human beings when they moved us out of our homes. But I always say, we don't even hate them. We forgive them for what they did to us."2
1 Noor's Story: My Life in District Six by Noor Ebrahim (District Six Museum) 2001, p. 8.