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District Six keeps the past alive

By Allison Whittier


On Feb. 11, 1966, District Six--a multicultural hub in Cape Town--was declared a white area. Over the next decade, all the black, Indian and coloured families were pushed off their land and their homes demolished, destroying a heterogeneous community known for its harmony and vibrancy.

New Age's Alex La Guma, featured in one of the museum's displays, described District Six as "the main artery of the local world of haves and have-nots, the prosperous and the poor, the struggling, and the idle, the weak and the strong."

Today, the two-story District Six Museum, run by former residents in what was once a Methodist Church that served as a gathering spot for the displaced families, keeps the memories of that community alive.

The building is adorned with artifacts from the apartheid era struggle, including original street signs, letters, and pictures. A replica room resembles a family dwelling from the neighborhood. Music and video clips from that era are streaming throughout the museum.

In 1968 the first demolitions began, and over 60,000 people were removed in a multifaceted process--the "main artery" was no more. But due to local and international protests, the rubble-covered land was left unoccupied despite its prime location and access to the heart of the city.

After the end of apartheid and the first multiracial elections in 1994, the land was officially released from the regime. Two years later it was reclaimed by the original inhabitants and the District Six Museum was established.

Curator and ex-resident Noor Ibrahim describes the inhabitants of the area as "one big happy family" before its dismemberment. This sense of family can be seen in the various community efforts found throughout the church. The seven-meter Namecloth inscribed with names and messages from ex-residents and District Six floor map to reclaim land are just two of the efforts they have undertaken.

Ibrahim says the ex-residents of District Six were very involved in creating the memorial--a true testament to their fallen community. They wanted to capture the life that once existed on the streets and in the homes of their community, he says.

Posted by South Africa Group on June 7, 2011 8:02 AM
Category: South Africa