Museum Notes: District Six Museum • Cape Town
District Six Museum
As you take the walking tours in Cape Town, the stories of apartheid will shock you. The stories that I have read in books are more impactful seeing the actual places and hearing the stories from citizens still feeling the impact today across South Africa.
This specific museum, District Six Museum, in Cape Town, tells the story of one community of 60,000 residents of various races who were forced from their homes during the Apartheid time in the 1970’s.
District Six, or “Distrik Ses” in Afrikaans, was a bohemian, mixed neighborhood with a multiracial blend of working class people, Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike, many of whom were descended from freed slaves and immigrants.
During the apartheid regime of the 1960s and ’70s, the segregating Group Areas Act saw all the non-white residents of District Six evicted and relocated further outside the city. It was called “slum clearing,” but the true intention was to fill the desirably located neighborhood with white residents and high rises.
The community was destroyed. The land cleared by bulldozers. It became the symbol of anti-apartheid. Today, it remains mostly undeveloped dust land.
You might be able to see the remains of District Six in the top picture I took from Lion Mountain. Look for the light brown dusty area in the middle of the picture.
The District Six Museum opened in 1994.
In 2019 it was housed in old-Gothic style Congregational Church in the former inner-city residential area. While the interior church hall room is smaller than most museums, the walls (and floor) are covered in information and stories of the former residents of this area. You could spend quite a bit of time here reading the stories and seeing the photos.
I unfortunately had not noted the early closing time (4 pm) and therefore rushed through. The impact was felt though even in my short visit of a community destroyed.
Note: This is an internationally engaged museum of innovation working with the memories of District Six and other communities affected by forced removals, and contributing to the cultural reconstruction and restitution of post-apartheid Cape Town.
The floor of the District Six Museum is covered with a map of the district. Former inhabitants have signed their names to indicate where their houses were once located.
Street signs create a tower in the center of the church and are also placed on the step leading to the balcony. The names tell the history of this multi-cultural neighborhood with streets names after different ethnicities and religions.
The District Six Museum walls are covered with old photographs donated from residents showing the vibrant life of this community. Daily life, entertainment, professions, families are all captured in photos, memorabilia and stories covering the walls.
Signs of Apartheid
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