The District Six Museum in the old Methodist Mission Church recalls the life of this once-vibrant racially mixed suburb and its destruction under apartheid. This museum in Cape Town seeks to reconnect with the spirit of the community and provide a different interpretation of the past.

Did you know?

The vibrant history of District Six was celebrated in a musical of the same name by David Kramer and the late Taliep Pietersen.

There are many places in Cape Town where you can capture the spirit of a bygone era, but the District Six Museum is where to find the heart and soul of a broken community.

Housed in adjoining buildings in Buitenkant Street, in the inner city, the museum started out as a place for former residents to meet and discuss their anger and sadness, and to decide how best to get back to the strip of land they were born on. 

That meeting place, the Methodist Church, evolved into the District Six Museum in 1994. More recently, the museum expanded into the adjoining Sacks Futeran building. 

You will be transported back in time reading the 300m-long memory cloth. It captures thousands of first-hand accounts of what life was like in District Six, the horror of forced removals and the subsequent devastation of a community's psyche. 

District Six was established in 1867, one of six districts in Cape Town. The area, on the outskirts of the inner city, was vibrant, colourful and crowded. 

Residents – freed slaves, black, white, coloured, immigrants, artisans and merchants – owned and rented houses. They lived in harmony and were close to work, schools, places of worship and entertainment.

In 1901 black people were forced out, and as the decades rolled by it became a predominantly coloured community. 

District Six was a crowded place. More than 60 000 people lived there, but it was a happy place, until 1966 – when the apartheid government declared it a white area under the harsh Group Areas Act. Bulldozers moved in, and people watched in horror and anger as their homes, and belongings, were destroyed. In a further act of humiliation and dehumanisation, people and their belongings were transported, like cattle, in open trucks to their new homes. 

Families were torn apart and dumped up to 30km away, in places like Mitchells Plain and Athlone. Harsh places, with no sense of community, with no amenities, where the wind would whip up gritty sand, blowing it into eyes and mouths, stinging bare legs. Adding to the misery. 

By 1982 District Six was a barren strip of land, and so it remained. Empty, a deep scar.

And it is here, in the museum, where people can come and remember their history. It is a place of solace, a place to meet almost forgotten friends and, for some, a place of healing. 

Aspeling, Hanover, Tennant, Constitution, Hamilton, Richmond are some of the street name boards on display. On the floor is a map of the area. The museum is not only filled with personal memoirs and mementos, but also with poignant photographs, which tells both stories: one of a happier time, a bygone era and the second one, the brutality of the apartheid state and how a once-proud community was destroyed.

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