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District Six storyteller receives honorary doctorate from Edinburgh university

District Six Museum’s very own storyteller, Joe Schaffers, with Professor of Urban Geography at The University of Edinburgh, Tom Slater. Picture: Supplied

District Six Museum’s very own storyteller, Joe Schaffers, with Professor of Urban Geography at The University of Edinburgh, Tom Slater. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 5, 2022

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Cape Town - District Six Museum’s very own storyteller, Joe Schaffers, has finally received his honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh for work done at the museum, an award delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

District Six Museum deputy director Chrischene Julius said Schaffers has been the museum’s resident musician, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of “langarm” traditions in Cape Town and beyond, with the museum drawing on his expertise long before his employment at the museum.

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Until his retirement in 2020, Schaffers worked as an education officer, conducting tours with primary and high school learners, university groups and a broad range of community groups visiting the museum, for 20 years.

“It is not often that individuals, on the strength of their own life story, receive recognition for their expertise. Joe has spent many years honing his craft as a storyteller and contextualising his history as part of a broader Cape Town, even national experience of the Group Areas Act,” Julius said.

“He has done so with sincere reflection, good-hearted humour and a sense of remaining true to his values. He contributed greatly to the success of the museum's education programme and the honorary doctorate is a beautiful validation of his years of service.”

Schaffers, 83, was born in 1939 at the Bloemhof Flats in District Six.

Prior to working at the museum, Schaffers worked as a City health inspector for 34 years, as he wanted to do something for the community. Schaffers was advised by the late Vincent Kolbie that he would be useful at the museum as well – advice he followed.

Chatting to the Cape Argus from Scotland prior to the official ceremony, Schaffer said: “I never in my wildest dreams expected it – that I would ever land up in the hallowed halls of the McEwan Hall of the Edinburgh University.

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“It is so unreal, I am still trying to get to terms with it, but God has been good, and here I am. The award was actually given to me three years ago, but we were able to survive Covid-19, and today (Mon), I’ll be walking on to that stage to get the honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh.”

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Cape Argus

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