People the world over are at least somewhat familiar with the apartheid regime that caused so much suffering and tragedy only a few short decades ago in South Africa’s history. Today, the country is a changed place with the free intermingling of races and the ready embracing of different religions and cultures. But a short trip to the District Six Museum will quickly help you travel back in time.
In more recent years, District Six has become a somewhat iconic urban area situated at the heart of the beautiful city of Cape Town. The district first got its name in 1867 when the government proclaimed it to be the ‘sixth municipal district of Cape Town’. The area was originally home to a mixture of people from various backgrounds, including freed slaves, artists, laborers, merchants and immigrants. This dynamic mixture of people and cultures went a long way to making District Six a vibrant cultural center. Its proximity to the city and the port helped it to prosper. Prior to the 1970s, District Six was home to almost one tenth of the entire city’s population. Then in 1966, the apartheid government declared District Six to be a ‘white’ area. By 1982 some 60 000 people were forcibly removed to a barren area outside the city limits known even today as the Cape Flats. Life as they knew it was over and most of the homes in District Six were bulldozed.
But these efforts to separate people of different races was unfounded and unnecessary. Just under a decade later District Six became a neglected and empty part of the city. Those who could afford to, quickly moved away from the city into the suburbs and few ‘whites’ wanted to live in the area in the first place. In 1989 the District Six Museum Foundation was established as part of efforts to conserve whatever remaining fragments of history and community life remained. Old, condemned buildings that had survived were set aside for restoration and District Six once again became what it had been: a symbol of success despite great odds.
In 1994 the District Six Museum Foundation opened a public museum in which the memories and lives of those displaced from the area are kept alive. The District Six Museum in South Africa has since served, not only as a place for reflection and contemplation on the atrocities of the past and the struggle for life and livelihood despite shortcomings, but also as a vehicle for the advocating of social justices. The Museum has challenged several half-truths which have become an accepted part of Cape Town’s history and has created a legacy based on the non-racist, non-sexist and non-discriminatory past of the district. So visit the District Six Museum and discover this fascinating aspect of South Africa’s past for yourself.