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The way we lived. 29. (Part 1) District 6 – a stab through 60,000+ hearts. Interlude:

Updated: May 31, 2023

Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill have been the centuries-old witnesses to dramatic moments in Cape Town, South Africa’s Mother City – among these was the destruction of District 6 and its people.

District 6 – a stab through 60,000+ hearts.

Map shows how central ringed Hanover Street bisects District 6. Note sea and mountain proximity.

Apartheid divided us as a nation like none other. At its heart was an iniquitous disparity of citizens’ rights based on colour. The racist National Party government came to power in 1948 and inflicted its razor-wired barriers of segregation to force and keep people apart in the world’s ultimate master-slave relationship.

Two of the most hateful laws in South Africa were the Pass Laws (see later separate post) and the Group Areas Act. In Cape Town, the latter law inflicted the horror of en masse displacement on the residents of the centuries-old District 6.

With its location alongside the central city, D6 was home primarily to people of colour, especially those classified “Coloured”. From February 1966, almost overnight, more than 60,000 people began their imposed evictions before the bulldozing of all houses and businesses.

Image shows red-ringed Hanover Street running into inner-city Darling Street on the left.

The State’s Group Areas Act of 1950 provided a significant part of South African racial separation mechanics. The Mixed marriages Act and the Immorality Act forbade marriage or sex across the colour line. The Separate Amenities Act ensured the racial segregation of public premises, vehicles and services. Consequently the graffiti of segregationist signs blighted our lives and hammered home the message daily with initially Europeans or Non-Europeans only signs, later Whites or Non-Whites only.

Only churches, mosques and some schools remained after the Mother City’s Ground Zero moment. The following two photos graphically depict the before and after images of the madness of apartheid, of power abused for the National Party’s distorted ideology of separateness and racial purity.

Pinterest-uploaded mage from M Strydom

D6’s bulldozing was a ripping out of not only the vibrant heart of the city but the hearts of the citizens who were trucked out far and wide to the sandy wastelands of the Cape Flats, truly one of apartheid’s main dumping grounds for its displaced people. To this day, nearly 60 years on, former D6 residents still feel the pain of their dislocation, of their enforced removal and the splitting asunder of a close-knit, supportive community of family and friends.

The Ground Zero of D6 decades later. It’s as if the area was tainted as very few buildings were built there over the years. This prime real estate was not snapped up by developers. The poisoned turf and the hurt of the displaced citizens haunt the ground to this day as acrimonious debate continues over D6’s future.

Sterility and barrenness replaced their vibrant and connected society. D6 was an environment where professionals, artisans, labourers, gangsters and the unemployed lived cheek by jowl with each other. People cared for each other and still speak fondly of the gangsters of the day, especially of the Globe Gang – their names recalled on regular Facebook posts – see next blog for examples.

It was a community where neighbours could spank you if you misbehaved, apart from another hiding when your parents later heard about your misdemeanours. People still talk about the food they ate and shared before moving out to live in fear in the new townships. Those few who could afford it built homes in the Cape Flats townships. The majority were forced to take up residence in poorly constructed municipal housing out on the sandy wastelands where low sand dunes had been flattened to accommodate the displaced tens of thousands in places like Mannenberg, Bishop Lavis, Heideveld, Hanover Park … arguably some of Cape Town’s poorest since the time of their inception.

The displaced of D6 were misfits, square pegs in round holes. Their struggling parents’ ten-minute stroll to central city jobs became a one-plus hour city commute by bus and/or train. People’s lives had been split apart in no uncertain terms. Their harmonious environment of looking after each other over the decades was replaced by the breeding ground of criminals and gangs for the youthful city rejects.

Here, in Sir Francis Drake’s fairest Cape in the world, “Gang Town”, now sadly, is Cape Town’s unwelcome moniker stemming from the remnants of seeds sown from the time of D6’s destruction. Social disruption and displacement were the eventual fate of more than a quarter of a million Capetonians forcibly ejected from around the city.

This image to weep over is from Mariëtte Momberg’s. She is a member of The Printing Girls, who currently have a group exhibition at D6 Museum (6 Spin Street Gallery, Cape Town from 17 April – 8 May 2021). It captures D6’s proximity to Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head in the background while graphically showing the rubble from a bulldozed row of houses on one side of a D6 street.

[Posted with permission from Mariëtte Momberg whom I quote: “… body of work is the result of (re)learning our collective national history, giving power to those whose voices we tried to silence. An exploration of displacement, our historical interwoven connection to a place and the omnipresent visual remembrance of the mountain whose shadow bore witness to the lies our history books told. COVID 19 has had a devastating effect on the museum and donations to ensure the preservation of this national treasure is needed. A percentage of the sale of this body of work will be donated to the museum. Reference images that influenced these works are credited with thanks to Jan Greshoff.” (The late Jan Greshoff was a local architect and photographer.)

Mariëtte’s note above symbolises the ongoing spirit to keep alive memories of the Mother City’s events which should never have happened in a decent society.

[Part 2 to follow soon.]


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