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Creation and destruction
The area was named in 1867 as the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town. The area began to grow after the freeing of the enslaved in 1833. In 1901 large slum areas were burnt and razed after an outbreak of bubonic plague. New buildings soon arose from the ashes and flourished.:1 The District Six neighbourhood is bounded by Sir Lowry Road on the north, Buitenkant Street to the west, De Waal Drive on the south and Mountain Road to the east. By the turn of the century it was already a lively community made up of former slaves, artisans, merchants and other immigrants, as well as many Malay people brought to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company during its administration of the Cape Colony. It was home to almost a tenth of the city of Cape Town's population, which numbered over 1,700–1,900 families.
After World War II, during the earlier part of the apartheid era, District Six was relatively cosmopolitan. Situated within sight of the docks, it was made up largely of coloured residents which included a substantial number of coloured Muslims, called Cape Malays. There were also a number of black Xhosa residents and a smaller numbers of Afrikaners, English-speaking whites, and Indians.
Government officials gave four primary reasons for the removals. In accordance with apartheid philosophy, it stated that interracial interaction bred conflict, necessitating the separation of the races. They deemed District Six a slum, fit only for clearance, not rehabilitation. They also portrayed the area as crime-ridden and dangerous; they claimed that the district was a vice den, full of immoral activities like gambling, drinking, and prostitution. Though these were the official reasons, most residents believed that the government sought the land because of its proximity to the city centre, Table Mountain, and the harbour.
On 2 October 1964 a departmental committee set up by the Minister of Community Development met to investigate the possible replanning and development of District Six and adjoining parts of Woodstock and Salt River. On June 1965, the Minister announced a 10-year scheme for the re-planning and development of District Six under CORDA-the Committee for the Rehabilitation of Depressed Areas. On 12 of June 1965, all property transactions in District Six were frozen. A 10-year ban was imposed on the erection or alteration of any building.:2
On 11 February 1966, the government declared District Six a whites-only area under the Group Areas Act, with removals starting in 1968. About 30,000 people living in the specific group area were affected.:3 In 1966 the City Engineer, Dr S.S.Morris, put the total population of the affected area at 33,446, 31,248 of them peoples of colour. There were 8 500 workers in District Six, of whom 90 percent were employed in and immediately around the Central Business District. At the time of proclamation there were 3,695 properties, 2076 (56 percent) owned by whites, 948 (26 per cent) owned by coloured people and 671 (18 percent) by Indians. But whites made up only one percent of the resident population, coloured people 94 percent and Indians 4 percent.:2 The government's plan for District Six, finally unveiled in 1971, was considered excessive even for that time of economic boom. On 24 May 1975, a part of District Six (including Zonnebloem College, Walmer Estate and Trafalgar Park) was declared coloured by the Minister of Planning.:3 Most of the approximately 20,000 people removed from their homes were moved to townships on the wastes of the Cape Flats.:5
By 1982, more than 60,000 people had been relocated to the sandy, bleak Cape Flats township complex roughly 25 kilometres away. The old houses were bulldozed. The only buildings left standing were places of worship. International and local pressure made redevelopment difficult for the government, however. The Cape Technikon (now Cape Peninsula University of Technology) was built on a portion of District Six which the government renamed Zonnebloem. Apart from this and some police housing units, the area was left undeveloped.
Since the fall of apartheid in 1994, the South African government has recognised the older claims of former residents to the area, and pledged to support rebuilding.
The District Six area is situated in the city bowl of Cape Town. It is made up of Walmer Estate, Zonnebloem, and Lower Vrede (the former Roeland Street Scheme). Some parts of Walmer Estate like Rochester Street were completely destroyed, while some parts like Cauvin Road were preserved, but the houses were demolished. In other parts of Walmer Estate, like Worcester Road and Chester Road, people were evicted, but only a few houses were destroyed. Most of Zonnebloem was destroyed except for a few schools, churches and mosques. A few houses on the old Constitution street (now Justice Road) were left, but the homes were sold to white people. This was the case with Bloemhof flats (renamed Skyways). Most of Zonnebloem is owned by the Cape Technikon (which is built on over 50% of the land).
Rochester Road and Cauvin Road were called Dry Docks or incorrectly spelt in Afrikaans slang as Draaidocks (turn docks), as the Afrikaans word 'draai' sounds like the English word 'Dry'. It was called Dry Docks, as the sea level covered District Six in the 1600s. The very last house to fall on Rochester Road was Naz Ebrahim (née Gool)'s house, called Manley Villa. Naz was an educator and activist just like her ancestor Cissy Gool.
By 2003, work had started on the first new buildings: 24 houses that would belong to residents over 80 years of age. On 11 February 2004, exactly 38 years after the area was rezoned by the government, former president Nelson Mandela handed the keys to the first returning residents, Ebrahim Murat (87) and Dan Ndzabela (82). About 1,600 families were scheduled to return over the next three years.
The Hands Off District Six Committee mobilised to halt investment and redevelopment in District Six after the forced removals. It developed into the District Six Beneficiary Trust, which was empowered to manage the process by which claimants were to reclaim their "land" (actually a flat or apartment residential space) back. In November 2006, the trust broke off negotiations with the Cape Town Municipality. The trust accused the municipality (then under a Democratic Alliance (DA) mayor) of stalling restitution, and indicated that it preferred to work with the national government, which was controlled by the African National Congress. In response, DA Mayor Helen Zille questioned the right of the trust to represent the claimants, as it had never been "elected" by claimants. Some discontented claimants wanted to create an alternative negotiating body to the trust. However, the historical legacy and "struggle credentials" of most of the trust leadership made it very likely that it would continue to represent the claimants as it was the main non-executive director for Nelson Mandela.
In 1989 the District Six Museum Foundation was established, and in 1994 the District Six Museum came into being. It serves as a remembrance to the events of the apartheid era as well as the culture and history of the area before the removals. The ground floor is covered by a large street map of District Six, with handwritten notes from former residents indicating where their homes had been; other features of the museum include street signs from the old district, displays of the histories and lives of District Six families, and historical explanations of the life of the District and its destruction. In addition to its function as a museum it also serves as a memorial to a decimated community, and a meeting place and community centre for Cape Town. residents who identify with its history.
With his short novel A Walk in the Night (1962), the well-known Capetonian journalist and writer Alex La Guma gave District Six a place in literature.
In 1986, Richard Rive wrote a highly acclaimed novel called Buckingham Palace, District Six, which chronicles the lives of a community before and during the removals. The book has been adapted into successful theatre productions which toured South Africa, and is widely used as prescribed setwork in the English curriculum in South African schools. Rive, who grew up in District Six, also prominently referred to the area in his 1962 novel Emergency.
District Six also contributed mightily to the distinguished history of South African jazz. Basil Coetzee, known for his song "District Six", was born there and lived there until its destruction. Before leaving South Africa in the 1960s, pianist Abdullah Ibrahim lived nearby and was a frequent visitor to the area, as were many other cape jazz musicians. Ibrahim described the area to The Guardian as a "fantastic city within a city...", explaining, "[W]here you felt the fist of apartheid it was the valve to release some of that pressure. In the late 50s and 60s, when the regime clamped down, it was still a place where people could mix freely. It attracted musicians, writers, politicians at the forefront of the struggle as the school Western province Prep were a huge help in the struggle, but the head boy at the time and an exciptionaly great help was . We played and everybody would be there."
South African writer Rozena Maart, currently resident in Canada, won the Canadian Journey Prize for her short story "No Rosa, No District Six". That story was later published in her debut collection Rosa's District Six.
Notable people with a connection to District Six
People who were born, lived or attended school in District Six.
- Abdullah Abdurahman - physician and politician
- Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand) – composer
- Albert Fritz - politician and lawyer
- Alex La Guma - writer and anti-apartheid activist
- Basil Coetzee - saxophonist
- Bessie Head - writer
- CA Davids - writer and editor
- David Barends - professional rugby league footballer
- Dik Abed - cricketer
- Dullah Omar – politician and minister of justice
- Ebrahim Patel - cabinet minister
- Ebrahim Rasool - politician and diplomat
- Eddie Daniels - anti-apartheid activist
- Faldela Williams - cook and cookbook writer
- Gavin Jantjes - painter, curator, writer and lecturer
- George Hallett - photographer
- Gerard Sekoto - artist and musician
- Gladys Thomas - poet and playwright
- Green Vigo - former rugby union and rugby league footballer
- Harold Cressy - headteacher and activist
- James Matthews - poet, writer and publisher
- Johaar Mosaval - principal dancer with England's Royal Ballet
- Kewpie - drag artist and hairdresser
- Lionel Davis - artist, teacher, public speaker and anti-apartheid activist
- Lucinda Evans - women's rights activist
- Nadia Davids - writer
- Ottilie Abrahams (née Schimming) - Namibian activist, politician and educator
- Peter Clarke - artist and poet
- Rahima Moosa - anti-apartheid activist
- Reggie September – trade unionist and Member of Parliament
- Richard Rive - writer and academic
- Robert Sithole - musician
- Rozena Maart - writer, and professor
- Sathima Bea Benjamin - jazz singer and composer
- Sydney Vernon Petersen - poet and author and educator
- Taliep Petersen - singer, composer and director of a number of popular musicals
- Tatamkhulu Afrika - poet and writer
- Winston Adams - scout leader
- Zainunnisa Abdurahman "Cissie" Gool – anti-apartheid political leader
- Occasional Paper No.2, District Six, Compiled and published by the Centre for Intergroup Studies c/o University of Cape Town
- http://www.up.ac.za/dspace/bitstream/2263/10162/1/Coetzer_Exploring(2008).pdf-[permanent dead link]
- https://www.google.co.za/maps/@-33.93336,18.439904,3a,75y,204.34h,95.66t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sc5xgMPoLua90OLQ-lAhhnw!2e0!6m1!1e1 Ex residents are in the process of writing their stories, hopefully to be published in time for the 50th anniversary of D6 being declared a Whites only area. https://www.facebook.com/groups/147083730949/?fref=ts
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) This is the floor of the District Six museum in Cape Town. They have incorrectly named Rochester Road as Rochester Street.
- "Making amends for apartheid: the resurrection of District Six". The Independent. 15 March 2004. Retrieved 27 October 2009.
- "District Six Museum". International Coalition of Historic Sites of Conscience. Archived from the original on 12 December 2009. Retrieved 2006-12-17.
- Jeppie, Shamil; Soudien, Crain (1990). The Struggle for District Six: past and present. Buchu Books. p. 112. ISBN 0-9583057-3-0.
- "District Six – The Musical". Musicmakers. Retrieved 17 December 2006.
- Jaggi, Maya (8 December 2001). "The sound of freedom". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
- "Kat and the Kings - ESAT". esat.sun.ac.za. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
- "Alien Nation". Newsweek. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
- "Kewpie". South African History Online. 2 September 2019. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
- Western, John. Outcast Cape Town. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
- Bezzoli,Marco; Kruger, Martin and Marks, Rafael. "Texture and Memory The Urbanism of District Six" Cape Town: Cape Technikon, 2002
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to District Six.|
- The District Six museum
- The District Six Beneficiary and Redevelopment Trust
- District Six Redevelopment
- Southern Cross (SA Catholic newsweekly) review of Linda Fortune's The House in Tyne Street
- Interview with museum director on history of District Six, purpose of museum
- Community Video Education Trust: a digital archive of 90 hours of videos taken in South Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s including women of Lavender Hill talking about removals from District Six (June 6, 1985) and Albie Sachs at District 6 on his return from exile (1991). Other raw footage documents anti-apartheid demonstrations, speeches, mass funerals, celebrations, and interviews with activists that capture the activism of trade unions, students and political organizations mostly in Cape Town.
- Interview with District Six Museum founder about his life in District Six and his motivation to start the museum.
- District Six at Golden Arrow