District Six Museum is a must visit place if you are in Cape Town. The museum is small, but very well showed off, and they have fabulous dedicated guides, most of them grew up in District Six in Cape Town. Our guide Noor Ebrahim has written a book about his upbringing in the area and eagerly tells us stories while gesturing and pointing around. ”Noor`s Story – My Life in District Six”.
District Six was originally built in the mid 1800s to settle released slaves, merchants, artists, workers and new immigrants. Most of them were colored and many originally from Asian countries. In Cape Town they were often called Cape Malays. The area was named the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867. People from many cultures lived here side-by-side and racial oppositions that characterized the rest of the country and the city were not so prominent in District Six. It was a culturally rich and lively area.
The idyll did not last, already in the early 1900s; the multicultural society began to shed. The black population was forced to move in 1901 and many of the others with good economy moved out to the suburbs. Soon, District Six became a neglected district. The government wanted to demolish large parts of the buildings and said that crime was overtaking, it was simply a slum, they argued.
It got worse. On February 11, 1966, District Six was declared “Only whites area”. In the next few years more than 60,000 people were forced to move and their homes were demolished. Today, the area is partly incorporated into other districts and developed, but large parts still remain without reconstruction as a memory of what once was. The international community reacted strongly to the destruction of District Six and the forced relocation of people. Rebuilding was therefore difficult for the Cape Town municipal government.
District Six Museum was established in 1994 and made alive both the great memories and the tragic story of the people from District Six. The museum was made after the initiative of former residents of District Six and many of them work as guides at the museum. The museum not only shows collections, it is also a meeting place for people in Cape Town and a center for information about the apartheid era.
What made impressed my most was the floor of the museum. There is a map of each street with the names of everyone who lived there. Our guide Noor told us that there are often major emotional outbreaks when former residents visit the museum and stand in the middle of the floor above their own name.
A long flag with embroidered greetings, messages and small stories hangs from the roof downward. The sight is very emotional and it is an ongoing story. You can still write down your message on a new piece of white cloth and it will be embroidered and added to new flags.
District Six Museum, not only tells the story of individuals, but also the history of a political system that unfortunately still has to be combated. Today, major parts of the District Six area are undeveloped and there is a great deal of disagreement about what should happen next. Many promote the idea that District Six should be left alone and function as a national monument. Others want to move back and fight to be allowed to build new homes. By 2017, no decision has been taken on this question. However, the discussion about this is important and helps us think more thoroughly at how political systems should not be allowed to evolve.
The museum is located in 25A Buitenkant Street, Cape Town. Opening Hours: 9am to 4pm every day except Sundays. It costs 30 R to get in, 45 R if you want a guide.