Holy Cross Catholic Church 1916 – 2016

Celebrating 100 years

Holy Cross Church in Nile Street, District Six
Section of mural completed by Peggy Delport on the wall of Holy Cross Church Hall in Nile Street District Six: ‘Res Clamant’ (the earth cries out)

Firstly, congratulations to the Holy Cross community, past and present, present and absent for keeping this community of faith alive. One hundred years is no mean feat. Thank you for opening up this commemoration to the community beyond the parameters of your own faith, thereby acknowledging how we are all a part of each other’s faiths and each other’s stories as we strive to rebuild communities that are able to exceed the realm of tolerance and enter the space of embracing.

We can only imagine what this physical building has observed over the 100 years of its life here, with a vista looking both inward to the District and outward over the broader city. What it might have observed in terms of the tangible growth and then destruction of the surrounding community, and what it might have intangibly absorbed from the experiences of the people.

This building would recall its humble beginnings, and the sacrifice of the community that scrimped and saved to make its construction possible, and whose descendants continue to do so in order to maintain its presence.

It might remember the early days of evangelising in the District, the commitment of the Holy Cross Order, to education and community building, and would smile with pride at the many school graduates who might have passed through its doors.

It might remember how the educators and faith leaders strove to affirm the humanity of all, and how they understood the interconnectedness of the many aspects of human lives. Such understanding led to the commitment of sporting and cultural opportunities that were offered from its midst.

It would remember absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of a vibrant, thriving community life. Of the hustle and bustle and the daily jostle of people  living cheek by jowl, and often very humbly.

Of people embracing life in all its fullness, and the confidence with which they walked the city streets which became real stages for human drama.

It would have observed the gradual decline of the community: from the time of proclamation of District Six as ‘whites only’ on 11 February 1966. The varying responses of people: from anger and resistance, to despair and apathy, to depression and what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It would have heard threats from authorities known as the ‘group’- the enactors of the Group Areas Act, delivering what was ironically known as ‘love letters’ – demonstrating the age-old District Six penchant for playing humorously with words even under tragic circumstances.

It would have seen this integrated community gradually fall apart, and would have held the scaffolding that supported artist Peggy Delport painting the mural on its side, depicting the earth crying out as the mural is aptly named, Res Clamant.

As it celebrates 100 years, it might still be troubled by the many things it observes even in this time of renewal. But I am sure that it is pleased and rooting for the return of a community that holds within its future the possibility for true integration, a community that is a reminder that there is a state of being that is greater than and beyond tolerance because it has lived that life.

If you will allow me to give this building a personality and some emotion, I am sure that it is supporting the proclamation of District Six as a National Heritage Site- not as a way of elevating this community’s story in isolation from and above all others, but as a way to claim significance on behalf of the many places that, like it, were destroyed. And by places I also mean the people that were destroyed.

Thank you for this opportunity to remind us all that we are all part of this unfinished story, and helping us to assert the right to remember without having to make explain too much about why we need to do so.

In creating opportunities for collective memory we are proving the point that it is important because the past really matters.


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