By Sarah Darby

Joe Schaffers is a former resident of District Six who was forced to move from the area after it was declared for whites only. Schaffers is now an Education Officer in theDistrict Six Museum, where he has worked for 20 years. 

Are people from the Cape Flats moving back to downtown areas?

People have been living together in Flats for decades. If they move out, it’s not a community. For 20 years we have been in democracy. You find that some people still have the conception that this is my area, that is your area. You don’t belong here. I don’t belong over there. This is not a problem that will go away over night. The forced removals caused new problems of Xenophobia. People look at each other differently. Apartheid’s impact is still here. It will take a while for people to solve it.

Democracy means you can live where you want to if you can afford to. You can live in the areas occupied by so-called white communities. You can move into a very nice area, but you are still in isolation because that doesn’t mean that people have to speak to you. They can isolate you in that way. You’ll find people moving to that area that still come down to the Cape Flats or the places where they lived to meet up with friends. You can move into these areas, but it’s not like the community that we know.

What do you think about the white people who occupied your home in District Six?

I don’t have opinions about white people at all. I tell you quite honestly. For me, I have one philosophy: no matter what the color of your skin is, the texture of your hair, the bridge of your nose, whatever the case is, when you cut yourself, your blood is one color. It’s red. You shouldn’t hold bias against another.

When I was in school, my focus was a lot of readings about Nazi Germany. I don’t understand why are these people going for this, what makes us different. Even if it was not about myself, I felt the pain. If you lose somebody that you love, you feel it. I feel it. So what makes us different? Why do people look at each other differently?

Do white people come to the District Six Museum?

Very very very very very few.

I think now quite a few more are coming in because they were made to believe that what is being done is for their own good. So you’ll find people just carry on, until they discover the truth. Then it becomes a contrite thing when they feel guilty about it. So they still won’t come. I say no. They shouldn’t go away. They should come in.

This museum is not only about the forced removal. It’s also about reconstitution and how we can turn things around. That is my job in this museum, to change people’s mindset. I believe firmly that for each one, I teach under one principle. We can tell people: you are not different from me in any way. It goes across principles. It goes across religions. That is the thing: Don’t try to impose your thoughts upon somebody else. They are happy with what they are doing, and they are not hurting you physically, then let them do what they do. That’s my simple philosophy.

Why did apartheid happen in your opinion?

It’s all about power. That’s the bottom line because the human species, we have seen major problems. You have to listen and learn what happened in the past so that you can look for improvement.

You find things actually get worse, which is driven by greed. We get what we need, but we always want more. We always want power. Instead of learning to share, we want to take. We go through capitalism. We go through religions. You’re trying to impose your idea onto somebody. If they don’t listen, you start to use force.


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