District Six

Event – Cape Town, South Africa

1966 – 1994


District Six refers to a displaced community, the manifestations of their agency, and of how this situation and the cause it represents have been taken up by others, now representing a shared heritage or an 'urban memory' which many others beyond the members of the original community have taken to heart. The key projects related to this are the District Six Museum and its website, which also acts as an online archive and community forum. Related to this is a grand project, considered by some to be impossibly foolish and by others (such as South Africa's Land Claims Commission) to be a national obligation, to rebuild District Six. In fact implementation of this has begun (and some 24 homes have been built), although it can and will never take the form of a reconstruction of what was lost. These projects are set in the context of a history of mass defiance, campaigning, cultural and critical protest, and social mobilisation which sought and seeks to overcome the impact and legacy of the destruction of District Six.

The story of District Six is well known and well documented in South African history. Originally a city centre mixed race neighbourhood, the district was bulldozed under apartheid laws (the Group Areas Act of 1950) and 60,000 residents were moved to a new 'coloured township' - Mitchell's Plain - and other locations on the barren Cape Flats, their homes and histories taken from them by force. Since the advent of democracy in 1994, plans have been afoot to reinstate District Six through a number of built projects, urban design and other initiatives, and through various community and cultural projects. There are many books, films, and debates about District Six, including the 2009 parody science fiction film 'District Nine'.

Although District Six came into being in 1867 - as the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town, originally established as a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants - the period in which it has been explicitly associated with resistance began in 1966, the year in which it was designated a 'white only' area. It could therefore be argued that this is the date in which the 'spatial agency' of District Six began, but of course the real story is more complicated than that. By the same token, the 'end date' given for District Six is simply provided as a point of discussion; some would say that 1994 - the year in which Mandela was elected and South Africa's rule by apartheid technically brought to an end - was simply the beginning of the end of District Six, and that the real end to the struggle will only be achieved when the community (or its memory) has been reinstated in its historical place.

References About

Alex La Guma, A Walk in the Night (Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1967).

Off District Six Committee Hands, The Struggle for District Six: Past and Present: A Project of the Hands Off District Six Committee (Cape Town: Buchu Books, 1990).

L. Le Grange, 'District Six: Pilot Project Housing', in Digest of South African Architecture 9 (Cape Town: Picasso Headline (Pty) Ltd and South African Institute of Architects, 2005), pp. 88-89.

Charmaine McEachern, Narratives of Nation Media, Memory and Representation in the Making of the New South Africa (New York: Nova Science, 2002).

Penny Pistorius and others (eds.), Texture and Memory: The Urbanism of District Six, 2nd edn (Cape Town: Sustainable Urban and Housing Development Research Unit, Dept. of Architectural Technology, Cape Technikon, 2002).

Richard Rive, Buckingham Palace: District Six (London: Heinemann, 1987).


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