Cape Town - The Cape Peninsula University of Technology says it is pressing on with the building of a residence that encroaches on historic Hanover Street, despite strenuous objections from the District Six Museum.
The land was once the heart of District Six, a historic mixed area reduced to a wasteland by the forced removals under the apartheid Group Areas Act.
The land is owned by CPUT.
Construction is at second-storey height.
A meeting between the two sides has been planned for today.
Spokesman Thami Nkwanyane said plans for the students’ residence had been in the making since 2010 and had been approved by the Department of Higher Education and Training and the City of Cape Town.
The District Six Museum says it has not been consulted.
Museum director Bonita Bennett said she didn’t want to portray the relationship with CPUT as a “battle”, but she wanted answers on how the campus had gained permission to build on what the museum regarded as a heritage site.
“Was there a breakdown in communication? Is it possible they didn’t know?” she said.
She had noticed in March that the land had become a construction site and discovered in April that it was to be used for a students’ residence.
She had tried for months to arrange a meeting to find out what was happening – and possibly stop it. She was grateful that the museum’s picket at the university last week had led to a meeting being set up.
Nkwanyane said the meeting would discuss the building of the residence and the impact this would have on a cairn – a memorial to District Six and which the museum says is protected.
“It will also seek to build relationships between the university and the museum.”
Asked for the background to the planning approval, the mayoral committee member for tourism, events and marketing, Garreth Bloor, said he was unable to comment immediately as he did not have access to this information late Wednesday afternoon. From a tourism and heritage perspective, the land had meaning, he said.
Nkwanyane said “all reasonable attempts” would be made to preserve the area’s heritage. The cairn would “be preserved and remain intact”.
The university would establish a task team to “ensure the memorialisation of District Six and development of joint projects with the District Six community.”
Bennett said the museum should have been given the opportunity to comment as it arranged “walks of remembrance” to commemorate the spirit of the area. During the walk, visitors could add a stone to the cairn.
Bennett said the best the museum could hope for was that the construction would be stopped and the area restored as a memorial site. “But that’s difficult to ask as the building is two storeys up.”
It would, however, be “the right thing to do” to remove the construction.
Heritage Western Cape chief executive Andrew Hall said “in terms of the law”, District Six had not officially been declared a heritage site.
This did not mean, however, that it was not protected. Potentially a variety of protections could apply to the site.
He had not seen any drawings or plans and was unable to say if any of protections had been invoked through a heritage impact assessment.
Bloor said: “It’s important to have attractions that relay the city’s rich heritage.” The site reflected the experiences of generations of people.