Districts 6 museum, the urban scars of apartheid

Featured Image Source: Henry M. Trotter, Under Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:District-Six-Memory-Plaque.jpg

District 6 is one of the districts in Cape Town, South Africa. Before apartheid, the district was a lively area where freed slaves, artisans and immigrants lived. After a large fire and plague in 1901, the area rebuilt and the area grew into one of the nicest areas for black and coloured South Africans living in Cape Town. During the formative apartheid area, the area was relatively diverse with Blacks, Asians and a small number of Whites living together.

In 1964 the apartheid government declared the area a slum and set up a ten-year plan to redevelop the area. The government said that this was needed because the area was an area of vice (gambling, drinking and prostitution) and that the area was crime-ridden. The government likely embellished the truth or flat out lied because of the good location the area was in, close to the city centre and the harbour. In 1968 the government declared the area a whites-only area and forcibly removed around 60,000 coloured residents from the area. The residents were moved to townships around the city. During the time of apartheid, similar episodes happened all over the country, though district six is notable for the number of people that were moved, (source).

By 1982 all coloured people have been removed from the area and the district had been almost completely demolished with only churches and mosques being left. However, rebuilding for White residents never happened and the area remained largely unbuilt, (source).

The first residents came to the area in 1833 when freed slaves need a place to live. It was named the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867 as a mixed race area. It quickly grew to one of the densest areas of Cape Town. People came from all over the world and it was one of the most cosmopolitan areas in the city, (source). The area was an economic powerhouse for the coloured community with many shops providing services for the district’s residents. The tight street pattern and high density made the area busy and full of life, it was an important area for coloured people living in and around Cape Town.

The people who were told to leave District Six often protested against the apartheid government’s decision. The people were moved to a new area in racially homogenous areas. This often meant that people were no longer living in their own communities but with strangers who just happened to have the same ‘race’ as them. It was often very difficult for people to leave their communities, 2 men living in other areas who were being forcibly removed committed suicide. Often older people died because of the stress of moving and losing all they had built up in their lives, (source). People lost their communities, their friends and neighbours, their places of work and much more.

The Museum aims to remember this time and to try and recreate what district six was like before 1982. The museum describes personal stories from those that were affected, it tries to create a personal connection between the people being described and the visitor, (source).

One enters the building from the Buitenkant street, the building is in a Cape Dutch architectural style with its rounded gables and grey walls, (source). One enters the building into a large atrium with intricate wooden trusses holding up the roof. The atrium is surrounded on three sides by an arcade. This acrade is held up by 6 thin sculpted metal columns. The building has kept almost all of its original features, even some old church benches have been kept. The building, therefore, is able to transport you back to before 1982. In the centre of the room, there is a large map of the area with the old street patterns and names. Behind that, there is a large exposition with old street signs and other memorabilia.

Source: Gary Bembridge, Under Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/tipsfortravellers/5305783728

The expositions in the museum describe how people dealt with the forced removals, through resistance, and how their lives changed after they were forced to start a new life. It also describes what District Six was like before the demolition started.

Today District Six has still been left largely undeveloped becoming a physical scar in the urban fabric of Cape Town. The largest user of the land is the Cape Peninsula University of Technology but other than that the site is in much the same state as just after demolition. The District Six Museum is there to explain why in the centre of Cape Town this large area exists filled with only memories.


District Six Museum. (n.d.). Last Days of District Six – 1996. Retrieved April 18, 2018District Six Museum. (n.d.). Last Days of District Six – 1996. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
Sciarone, T. (2016). South African museum strategies
SAHO. (2017, February 20). Cape Town the Segregated city. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
Spatial Agency. (n.d.). District Six. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
Trotter, H. (2009). Trauma and Memory: The Impact of Apartheid-Era Forced Removals on Coloured Identity in Cape Town.
Wikipedia. (n.d.). District Six. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Cape Dutch architecture. Retrieved April 18, 2018.

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