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Post apartheid museology and museum definition

Cape Town Six District: Deconstruction of an apartheid suburban area to the memorial cultural district

Keywords: collective memory/ post-apartheid history/ history writing in memory space

Basic history line of Cape Town

A.early history

B.1600 -1800s arrival of Europeans

    -Dutch period

    -British Period

  -South African period

C.pre-apartheid period -1867 (District Six was formed)

D.Apartheid period 1948-1990 (1965 District Six declared as only-white area)

E.1990-Today (District Six Museum opened)

District Six has become an iconic landmark in Cape Town and a reminder of the dispossession and injustice committed to its residents as a result of the Group Areas Act implemented during the apartheid era. In 1966, it was declared as an area for people belonging to the white racial group, resulting in most of the residents of District Six being forcibly removed and its buildings flattened (Pistorius, 2002). The amount and rate of spatial change that occurred in District Six over the last century have been significant. For this reason, it has been selected as a case study for time series mapping. According to Schaffers (personal communication, August 2014), most people understand the history of what transpired in District Six but are not fully aware of the extent of spatial change that occurred through time. This is where the art and science of time-series mapping may be applied to facilitate the understanding of the spatial change of District Six.[1]


While we are familiar with the role of cultural institutions as imperial technologies of power, there has been less scholarship on the postcolonial history of these institutions, and their role as brokers for postcolonial practices and identities, although it is certainly a field of investigation that is growing.[2]

The name “District Six” comes from the fact that it was the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867. Kanaldorp was its previous informal designation, allegedly coming from the city’s network of canals, some of which had to be crossed to get to the District.  District Six became known as Kanaladorp[3] over time, and the name may be a combination of the two meanings.

Before Apartheid, District Six was a group that represented diversity on a variety of levels – language, race, economic status, and regional background – which served as a living symbol of how diversity might be a community’s power rather than a source of terror. With strong links to the city and the harbor, it was a thriving neighborhood of freed slaves, traders, artisans, laborers, and refugees. That was the polar opposite of what the Apartheid regime wanted citizens to think and internalize when the National Party came to power in 1948.

Collective memory, oppression, and culture as a tool of politic rehabilitation: District Six Museum and history

How colonial experience recorded to be displayed? Does memorial architecture in the frame of monumentality and functionality play a political rehabilitation?

District Six was designated as a white-only zone under the apartheid regime. Numerous citizens were deported, and almost all of the houses were demolished. The District Six Museum opened in 1994 a year after South Africa’s apartheid collapsed, to preserve the experiences of District Six and other displaced people around the world. It’s a place where long-forgotten historical understandings are resurrected, and where alternative views of the history are encouraged. The museum also aids in the re-establishment of the District Six society and the city of Cape Town.

The sixth municipal division of Cape Town was a port city on Africa’s southern coast. District Six, which had been a vibrant, diverse neighborhood until apartheid. Through the overwhelming majority of South Africans, the term District Six is still associated with some of the more heinous aspects of the apartheid regime.

The museum is a self-contained room where long-forgotten historical understandings are resurrected and diverse views of the past are encouraged. The museum not only reveals the tales of compulsory removals, but it also helps to rebuild the culture of District Six and Cape Town by highlighting the region’s history of nonracialism, nonsexism, and anti-class prejudice efforts before apartheid, as well as encouraging free dialogue regarding the past, current, and future. District Six’s History Over the years, the District Six neighborhood has become host to a variety of cultures.

The indigenous Khoi used the lower slopes of the Table Mountains as a refuge when fighting the Dutch invaders in the 1600s. Slave owners were fined for agreeing to the abolition of slavery in 1834, and a large portion of this money was used to establish the District Six town.

The recently emancipated slaves were among the first to come into the district. Slaves in South Africa primarily came from the East, especially the East Indies, India, Malaysia, and Madagascar. Since the Christian church did not proselytize among slaves in South Africa’s early colonial period, the majority followed Islam, which flourished at the time. In addition to the escaped slaves, people from all over the world flocked to this centrally located neighborhood. Africans from all over South Africa moved to the region as their land became rapidly scarce. A large number of African Americans attended their congregations. There was still the European contingent to consider. They involved those seeking to preach and convert, as well as those seeking wealth in a world where gems and gold were found in the 1860s and 1880s, respectively.

District Six was an ideal starting point for them when they entered their newly adopted world. With all these disparate backgrounds, these interwoven threads, District Six, a largely black, working-class city, was quite cosmopolitan. A largely working-class neighborhood, it had a vibrant cultural existence and a vibrant academic life, all of which promoted a left-wing ideology to a significant extent.

It was home to a diverse group of well-known thinkers, authors, singers, government figures, and authors who organically contributed to and were embraced by their culture. The growth of community-based programs in the region flourished. This is not to suggest the citizens of District Six were never involved in a controversy, faced oppression, or discriminated against. The pre-apartheid period runs the risk of being mythologized as a time of perfect peace, stopping us from learning from and celebrating the hardships faced by oppressed citizens in their own societies. However, it is necessary to remember that in District Six, there was a very deliberate phase of community organizing that forged proposals that served to challenge apartheid’s roots and eventually helped form South Africa’s new constitutional order.

The notion of nonracialism was a basic tenet of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa’s Western Cape area and District Six politics. In reaction to new political proposals emerging from new areas of the globe, organizations in District Six, like the Non-European Unity Movement, protested against the concept of ethnicity defining citizens. The African National Congress (ANC)[4] was also present in the region. There was a deep sense of sympathy with communist experiments in Russia and Europe among the intelligentsia, who rejected apartheid ideals and the knowledge of WWII. As a result, these proposals were partially conceived in areas like District Six, where philosophers resided and worked, putting their theories into motion.

When the apartheid government enacted the Group Areas Act in 1950, one of the foundations of its policy was enshrined in District Six for all time. This law mandated that citizens reside in a separate region reserved for them based on their classification. There were fifteen different classifications under apartheid, including White, Black, Honorary White, Chinese, Asian, Other Asian, Cape Malay, Cape Coloured, Coloured, Other Coloured, and so on. District Six is a mainly Black neighborhood, meaning it was largely inhabited by citizens identified as Black under apartheid.

District Six was proclaimed a “whites only” district in 1966, and all “non-white” residents were advised they had to relocate. The official reason for the leveling of District Six was slum removal, but many people believe that the cosmopolitan and mixed area’s innovative political vigor was a more plausible cause for why officialdom could not let District Six prosper. 60,000 inhabitants were forced to leave their homes in District Six, beyond the ridge, and into the Cape Flats as a consequence of this order. The government expected the initiative to be completed in two years; instead, it took fourteen years.

By 1982, the town had been bulldozed and leveled to the point that only the churches and mosques remained. The protest that had begun in the 1960s became stronger after the full-scale eviction took place and the people were physically displaced. In 1987, a coalition of concerned and outraged citizens formed the “Hands Off District Six” movement. The opposition to the elimination began eventually. There were several campaigns centered on specific locations in the District.

Specific challenges developed into a widespread uprising, with a groundswell of opposition literature, both opposing the government’s effort to reframe the country as “reformed” apartheid. The residents of District Six were remarkably competitive in keeping the barren land from being developed. Due to the strain applied, the land of District Six remained open and empty, leaving a memorial scar on the cityscape. Following that, there was a general outpouring of artistic poetry, journalism, and music, all of which alluded to the devastation of Johannesburg neighborhoods including District Six and Sophiatown. Before and during the compulsory demolition under apartheid rule, District Six was mourned and revered, and it became one of the core themes of emerging South Africa. Jazz, music, and journalism from South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. The commissioning of a film on forced removals at District Six as a case analysis about how such removals affected systemic suffering was part of a global conference on poverty and its causes in the 1980s. The film significantly increased public understanding of the connection between poverty and displacement. The fact that the bulldozed terrain of District Six was such a visible marker in the center of the city contributed to the campaign’s popularity.

Post apartheid museology and museum definition

About the Museum

The District Six Museum Foundation was founded in the late 1980s with a mission statement that stated the museum’s goals as preserving the history and memory of forced removals in South Africa while also challenging all forms of social oppression. It would focus on the cosmopolitan nature of District Six in order to foster understanding between people who have been separated by segregation. The significance of the area was framed by the museum in terms of its history of forced removals. Other criteria could have been used, such as the uniqueness of its urban culture, street and carnival culture, architectural heritage, links to the slave past, or it’s status as the birthplace of South African jazz, the site of a colonial college for African nobility, and an important site for the emergence of black South African journalism and literature. All of these are significant, but the museum acknowledges that the area’s destruction is the most substantial consequence.

With such a specific goal, the foundation, which started out as a small group of people, began looking for a suitable location to tell the story. They organized exhibitions, conferences, and discussions to keep the memory of District Six alive while they searched. They discovered a location in 1994, the abandoned Central Methodist Mission church on Buitenkant Street. The foundation thought the Central Methodist Mission would be an excellent location because the church has a long history of social justice and was known as the “Freedom Church” during its years of operation. Many people recall the church celebrating the abolition of slavery, with a congregation of over a thousand people rising to their feet and weeping with joy on the anniversary of this social justice triumph.

Since the forced removals from District Six began in 1966, the area’s churches have played an increasingly important role in providing sanctuary and succor to the displaced community. The Freedom Church, which is located directly across from the central Cape Town police station, provided invaluable shelter to those protesting apartheid, particularly during the 1980s struggle years. The Buiten Kant Street church served the community until 1985 when the Central Methodist Mission merged its two central Cape Town congregations into a single nonracial congregation in Church Street, and the Buiten Kant Street church was closed.

The Museum has been expanding since the early 2000s when it moved to the historic Sacks Futeran building at 15A Buitenkant Street, which has been dubbed “The District Six Museum Homecoming Centre.” Most of the Museum’s programs are held at this address, which has become a popular venue for events such as conferences, seminars, and book launches.

Outside of the Museum’s buildings, a significant portion of the Museum’s work takes place: on the vacant District Six site, within the returned community of successful land claimants, and in the various areas to which the displaced families have been forcibly relocated.

Linking its work to the experiences of people from other forced removal sites across the country has been a key focus, and partnerships have remained a source of strength and support. SAMA (South African Museums Association) and ICSOC (International Council of South African Museums) are both members of the Museum (the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.)

Heritage status

District Six has been designated as a National Historic Site. The National Heritage Resources Act of 1999, which allows for the preservation of places of national importance by declaration, is the best mechanism available for preserving the District Six property, according to the District Six Museum. To ensure comprehensive restoration, this mechanism can be used in conjunction with the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994. In the fact that the two mechanisms are distinct, they are inextricably related to the shared purpose of safeguarding people’s rights as enshrined in the country’s Constitution and Bill of Rights. The National Heritage Resources Act of 1999 makes provision for the grading and preservation of sites considered to be part of the country’s rich heritage resources.

The phase of land restitution offers a number of possibilities for the region to be developed as an ongoing cultural heritage site that is incorporated into the city’s urban redevelopment process. One of the most difficult obstacles in ensuring that the restitution mechanism acts as a forum for continued reflection on change and citizenship education. The area’s heritage must be managed in ways that respect the community’s identity as well as new regulatory mechanisms for heritage and tourism management in South Africa. Significant landscape features can be incorporated into an interpretive plan that preserves the area’s “sense of location,” which is so important in people’s memories and lives. The programmatic challenge is to strengthen the remembered heritage by building concrete aspects of collective spirit such that as residents come to District Six – whether to reside or visit – they will absorb elements of the district’s rich background.

Critical remarks

Beyond the architecture of traumatic history, District Six is also critical to understand port-apartheid museology. The display decisions as Ciraj Rassool mentioned museumification and museumization being as social projects rather than a space filled with worthful content for the public gaze. Unlike the direct transformation of state power and national identification in Europe, District Six Museum was born as the opposition of institutional knowledge. In this way, the educational role embedded in museum nature has another significance in the case of Cape Town which is demanding of responsibilities to the history. So I would evaluate this experience as slightly active learning than just visiting an exhibition along the historical sequence that revolves around a single narrative.

It is also critical not to romanticize the pre-apartheid period in history as if everything was settled in peace. Museumization is an urban tool for cultural and political rehabilitation not only boosting the sense of empathy but also creating the collective consciousness not to repeat the history again.  Of course, this research is limited in time so it can be extended in the future by questioning the boundaries between memorial and museum in the 21st century within the academic interest in otherness.

As a general view of postcolonial cultural politics in Sub-Saharan Africa, heritage politics in post-apartheid regimes is reflected in the museology of cultural traditions, a cultural goal that often contributes to asymmetric ties of influence in which certain communities become more prominent and others more oppressed. We must also regard heritage and museums as something performative that helps one to speak about conflicts and dynamics. Still, we should even understand the normative dimensions that cultural policy and dialogue on heritage carry with them, on the other hand.


Markham,  Katie, (2017). Two-dimensional engagements: photography, empathy, and interpretation at District Six Museum, International Journal of Heritage Studies

McCarthy C, Mason R, Whitehead C, Parby JI, Cicalo A, Schorch P, Witz L, Gonzalez PA, Roux N, Ambos E, Rassool C (2013) “Museums in a Global World A Conversation on Museums, Heritage, Nation, and Diversity in a Transnational Age.” Museum Worlds: Advances in Research 1: 179–194.  Berghahn Books

[1] Nurudien Dawood and Siddique Motala, Evaluating an animated and static time series map of District Six: A visual and cognitive approach, South African Journal of Geomatics, Vol. 4, No. 3, August 2015

[2] Sarah Van Beurden, Art, the “Culture Complex,” and Postcolonial Cultural Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa Critical Interventions 10, Issue 3 2016

[3] Kanaal: the local term for ‘canal’

[4] ANC :The African National Congress is the governing political party in South Africa. Since Nelson Mandela’s victory in 1994, it has been the dominant party in post-apartheid South Africa, winning each election ever since.