District Six Museum
Create a platform and knowledge base to codify arts based peace-building techniques that can be embedded in public services, available to all.
An inspiring experience of a coherent community
On the surface of it, the label of being a ‘spark of hope’ might be an unusual way of thinking about a community which was destroyed under Apartheid. Despite resistance on a number of levels, the bulldozers moved in and obliterated the place known as District Six in Cape Town, South Africa, once it had been declared a ‘whites only’ neighbourhood. This was done under the provisions of the Group Areas Act, following the assignation of racial identities to all South Africans under the Population Registration Act.
11 February 1966 is the day that District Six was officially proclaimed a White Group Area. It is the day that the displaced community refers to as the beginning of the end of their lives as they knew it, having lived in aplace that was once home to approximately 66,000 people, known across the country for their happy mixture of languages, religions, geographical places of origin, income levels, and types of employment. Although it was not the only diverse community, it was Cape Town’s largest at the time, and its destruction sent many communities across the country reeling, fearing for their own futures.
A regularly repeated mantra among District Sixers is ‘you can take the people out of District Six but you can’t take District Six out of the people’. This has certainly been true. The spirit of District Six has so inspired people that wherever they were moved to, they carried the inspiring memory with them, of what they had experienced as a coherent community, and continued to reference it in relation to the realities of their current lives.
It is this powerful memory that has inspired the formation of the District Six Museum. It has formed an important part of a very difficult and protracted land claim process. It continues to be a powerful pedagogical tool in raising awareness especially amongst young people, about the past and how it does matter and is indeed part of our present, illustrating what one of South Africa’s great poets Don Mattera has used as the title of his autobiography: ‘Memory is the Weapon’.
The Museum has been instrumental in turning the traumatic association of 11 February into something positive. It has structured acts of memory and reclamation such as walks and other rituals of remembering, and creating symbols of renewal together with members of the displaced community, on this day each year. It has been a wonderful sign of hope that our late and great former president Nelson Mandela was released from prison on 11 February 1990, and made even more significant by his handing over the keys to the new homes of the first successful land claimants on 11 February 2004.
Signs of hope are located in the community’s resistance, in their resilience in the face of destruction, and their dogged determination to build belief that memory is a true weapon in resistance a reconstruction.