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District Six Museum

Cape Town, Western Cape
Museums 

About District Six

The area known as District Six got its name from having been the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867. Its earlier unofficial name was Kanaldorp, a name supposedly derived from the series of canals running across the city, some of which had to be crossed in order to reach the District (kanaal is the Afrikaans word for ‘canal’.) Over time, some people called District Six Kanaladorp, (kanala being derived from the Indonesian word for ‘please’), and it’s likely that the name stems from a fusion of the two meanings.

District Six, before its destruction under Apartheid, was a community representative of diversity on a number of levels: language, religion, economic class, geographical area of origin. It became a living example of how diversity could be a strengthening characteristic of a community and need not be feared. It was a vibrant community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants, with close links to the city and the port. It represented the polar opposite of what the Apartheid government, inaugurated by the National Party coming into power in 1948, needed people to believe and internalise. District Six thus became one of the main urban targets for destruction in the city of Cape Town.

On 11 February 1966 it was declared a “white area” under the Group Areas Act of 1950, and by 1982, the life of the community was over. More than 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers.

About the District Six Museum

The ‘Hands Off District Six’ conference of 1988 led to the formation of the District Six Museum Foundation in 1989. The Foundation worked towards the establishment of the Museum which was launched on 10 December 1994 with its inaugural exhibition, Streets: Retracing District Six.

Leading up to this, the Museum existed as a peripatetic movement between 1989 and 1994, building support for the work of memory through creating collecting points and storytelling opportunities in different parts of the city. The diaspora of District Sixers played an important role in shaping and contributing to the Museum’s exhibition and programme, and they continue to be pivotal to the ongoing work of memory and holistic restitution. Their desire to return and remember is ever-present in this work.

The Museum’s first physical location was in the historic Methodist Church building at 25A Buitenkant Street which to this day is the home to its permanent exhibition – Digging Deeper. Since the early 2000s, the Museum has expanded into the historic Sacks Futeran building one block away, at 15A Buitenkant Street, which has aptly been named ‘The District Six Museum Homecoming Centre.’ This address has become a popular venue for events such as conferences, seminar and book launches, and is also the place where most of the Museum’s programmes are held.

A large component of the Museum’s work takes place outside of its buildings: on the vacant site of District Six, within the returned community of families who have been successful land claimants, and in the various areas to which the displaced families have been forcibly removed. Linking its work to the experiences of people from other sites of forced removals across the country has been an important thrust, and partnerships continue to be a source of strength and support.

Address:

25A Buitenkant Street, Cape Town

Opening & Closing Times:

Open: 9am−4pm (Mon−Sat). See website for details.

On Saturdays please call 021 466 7100