5o yearsof forced removals under apartheid

50 years since District Six was declared ‘whites only’

11 February 1966 – 11 February 2016

Remember Dimbaza.

Remember Botshabelo / Overwacht,

South End, East Bank

Sophiatown, Maluleke, Cato Manor.

Remember District Six.

Remember the racism

Which took away our homes

And our livelihood

And which sought to steal away our humanity.

Remember also our will to live,

To hold fast to that

Which marks us as human beings:

Our generosity, our love of justice

And our care for each other.

Remember Tramway Road,

Modderdam, Simonstown.

 In remembering we do not want

To recreate District Six

But to work with its memory:

Of hurts inflicted and received,

Of loss, achievements and of shames.

We wish to remember

So that we can all,

Together and by ourselves,

Rebuild a city

Which belongs to all of us,

In which all of us can live,

Not as races but as people. [1]

 11 February 2016 marks fifty years since the declaration of District Six as whites-only area under the Group Areas Act. Many former residents date the start of the destruction of their life-patterns and opportunities from this date which has come to be a significant linear marker.

The Museum intends to use this opportunity to make more visible and apparent, its commitment to acknowledging the impact of apartheid removals on the District Six and other displaced communities across the country. Our 2016 programme will explore  the legacies of a racialised geography both in our city and nationally, and will foreground the work of memory in countering such legacies.

Two events linked to the historic 11 February commemoration will kick off the programme for the year.

The first will take place on Thursday 11 February 2016, at 11h00. The public are invited to join former residents of the District at the Museum’s Homecoming Centre for a programme which will include the traditional walk of remembrance to the site of Hanover Street. A ritual of remembrance and marking the site followed by a programme of reflection, storytelling and performances will end off the day. We will also be calling on all citizens to support the declaration of District Six as a National Heritage Site as we revive this campaign which started in 2005.

For more than twenty years up until 2014, a ritual of bringing stones from the places where people were moved to under apartheid, placed on a growing cairn of remembrance, was enacted on 11 February as part of the walk of remembrance. It formed the main part of the annual commemoration. In this way,  the community symbollically claimed their connection to the site, which became a practical enactment of the refrain ‘No matter where we are, we are here’ – words attributed  to a now deceased Mrs Abrahams, a former resident. At other times people made their own private pilgrimages to the vacant site, quietly and unobtrusively enacting their own connectedness which, even though it might go by unnoticed by anyone else, is a no less powerful reclaimer of space because of its invisibility.

This ritual, however,  is no longer possible as the site has been ‘reclaimed’ by CPUT and now forms part of their student residence precinct. The commemoration of this date in 2015 took on a very different meaning and form from the previous ones. Stones painted red were laid at the cairn in order to signal a change in the practice. The ritual, which was always enhanced by the landscape and the performance of memory on the landscape, was shrunken down to a skeletal version of itself- now enacted on a building site strewn with rubble and building detritus, and bounded by fencing and danger tape. The fluidity of the practice was lost.

The 2016 ritual will be an exploration of a different way of doing memorialisation on the site.

The second part of the commemoration will take place on Saturday 13 February[2], also starting at 11h00. This will include a walk down Keisergracht (permission pending),with banners depicting District Six communities as well as other communities affected by forced removals. The programme will end with speeches, performances and music. The aim of this occasion is to create large scale awareness of the impact of apartheid displacement and to focus attention on the ideals of restitution.

Fifty years of this legacy will be themed throughout the year using all the Museum modalities. We will be refreshing the permanent exhibition – Digging Deeper –   to reflect in a more focused way, our commitment to raising awareness about other areas of displacement, and also to foreground the work of restitution and cultural reclamation. We believe that this will enhance the experience of Museum visitors, and will complement the programme of public education, walks of remembrance and other reflective activities planned for the February 2016 period. Film screenings, intergenerational conversations, oral histories, a conference, performances, storytelling events and various acts of memorialisation will be announced during the course of the year.

A campaign themed around suitcases as symbols of leaving home, will be launched to support the Museum’s programme. Building on the Museum’s memory box methodology of layering tangible fragments of personal narratives in containers, the suitcases will form the backdrop to a number of mobile exhibitions and provocative talking points in different places. It will be linked to the revival of the  campaign to have District Six declared a National Heritage Site, and the public will be called upon to add their voices and signatures to the campaign.



[1] Introductory text on a 2.4m panel at the entrance to the District Six Museum, 25A Buitenkant Street, Cape Town


[2] The reasons for this two part commemoration are two-fold. Firstly, the State of the Nation Address will take place on 11 February 2016 which means that access to the city will be limited on this day, and the possibility of obtaining permission for a walk on this day will be almost impossible. Secondly, a Saturday event makes it possible for more people to participate, being a weekend day.



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