District Six

Today i went to the District Six Museum. If you have seen the film District Nine, this is the story of District Six but with non-humans instead of non-whites and in Johannesburg, not Cape Town. The people living in District Six were forcibly removed from 1966 onwards and most of the buildings destroyed. Until today most of the land is left undeveloped and is a wasteland, in the city bowl close to the Central Business District, the centre of Cape Town.

What struck me most in the stories of District Six and its residents is their defiance and the vibrant community in this working class neighbourhood close to the harbour. First in the beginning of the 20th century, after an outbreak of the bubonic plague for which the black population was falsely blamed, they were forced to move to their ‘homelands”. In 1966 District Six was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950, and by 1982 more than 60 000 people were forcibly removed to the Cape Flats. District Six was razed to the ground except for a places of worship, today still standing in the barren land.

The stories, told by former District Six residents in interviews, are personal accounts of life under Apartheid, with pass laws limiting where people could go. But also the resistance against this, like people burning their passes. The struggle of unions and political organisations, like the Non-European Unity Movement rejecting coöperation with the government. But also the stories recalling the vibrant culture, the two cinema’s, the coon carnival, Hanover street running trough the district like its artery.

While District Six itself isn’t much more than a wasteland with a few churches and the CPUT campus on it, it is worth to drive trough, for instance with MyCiTi bus 102. The museum is definitely worth a visit to give an insight in this part of South Africa’s history. And if you are in town beginning of January, the coon festival is a part of the vibrant culture of District Six that is still alive today.

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