Cape Town on Foot (II) – District Six Museum and a little bit of history

If you know me, you’ll know I love museums…very much. There’s so much to see and learn and listen to… it’s like knowledge paradise! South Africa is a very complex country… it’s history at least. And the best way to understand the history of this beautiful country is to visit a couple of museums. In Cape Town, one of the prominent museums is the District Six Museum. It’s not the typical huge and daunting museum… this church turned into a museum generally tells one aspect of the ugly story that was apartheid in Cape Town. With the apartheid regime came a whole load of racism and discrimination, came the erroneous belief that the white/caucasian skin and its features is superior to every other skin tone or colour.

District Six is an area that is bang in the centre of Cape Town and as you can guess, it’s a prime location in Cape Town. It used to be home to a whole mix of people, mostly coloureds (i.e. not 100% white, but not 100% black either). The apartheid regime passed the Group Areas Act which dictated where people could live based on the colour of their skin and as you can imagine, this meant that such a prime location should be inhabited by the “prime/superior” race – the whites.

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In 1966, District Six was designated a “white group area”

And just like that, tons of people and families were displaced from where they lived, and were relocated to other “subprime” places. Over a period of 15 years, more than about 60,000 people were given notice to give up their homes and move to new townships, some of which cynically were named after streets in District Six. It didn’t matter that you had title deeds, or that you were living in the same property your grandparents and parents lived, or that you were born into that property, or that you had an actual life in that community. Are you white? No. Get out. Leave.

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The museum is littered with personal accounts and stories of former residents of District Six- their lives before their displacement, how they were displaced, and life in the Cape Flats or one of the townships after the displacements. You’ll read stories of how a society was effectively broken down because the people that were all part of one choir before were displaced to different places, or the customers that a grocer relied on to make purchases from him had all been displaced.

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Some displaced residents were able to take some things, like this old mirror, from their former house in District Six, to their new residences in one o the townships

But there was one thing that the former residents didn’t change. Even after  their failed resistance to their displacement, after the heartbreaking displacement, even after the loss of property and the breakdown of their society, they still kept coming back to this church in District Six where the museum now lies.

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Tips

  • Give yourself time. Even though it’s a small museum, which can be done in about 2 hours, you don’t want to get there late and have to rush through the whole experience.
  • This is one of the few museums where you are actually allowed to take pictures! So don’t hold back!
  • You can get a “guided tour” by a former resident of District Six and they take you through their personal experiences as well some other notable parts of the museum. Highly recommend. Even if you don’t pay for one, they are usually quite nice and just invite you along to listen to their story.
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Meet a former resident of District Six as he tells his experience

 

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