Keizersgracht Street.
Keizersgracht Street.
Heritage Western Cape committed a heritage crime by approving the use of a cairn of stones to memorialise Hanover Street, writes Matthew Nissen.
Heritage Western Cape committed a heritage crime by approving the use of a cairn of stones to memorialise Hanover Street, writes Matthew Nissen.
As we gear up for the celebration of Heritage Day, there is something to ponder. It is ironic that Heritage Western Cape has a section on its website where one can report a heritage crime.

You can leave your name, a comment and presumably they will get back to you. But what if they have committed a heritage crime?

I am talking about the last physical remnant of Hanover Street, and the cairn of stones memorialising it.

It was the last remnant before CPUT decided to build a residence there, offering to put the stones on a plinth and ride roughshod over history. They left the cairn of stones in the end, protected by an orange barrier fence during construction.

But the story does not stop there, because approval was needed, and approved it was: by Heritage Western Cape. They approved the destruction of the last part of Hanover Street, a place of pilgrimage for those forcibly removed from District Six.

How can a heritage body be so ahistorical? And I know that CPUT complied with all the regulations and all their paperwork was apparently in order. But it wasn’t enough, was it? They were complicit in the further destruction of District Six.

It is no wonder the City of Cape Town plans to rename Keizersgracht Street - a road that did not exist before the destruction of District Six. Keizersgracht Street rests on foundations of buildings (homes and businesses) and parts of Aspeling, Vogelgezang, Pedersen, Stuckeris, Eckard, Lee, Combrink, Cowley, St Philips and Windsor streets.

It runs parallel to Hanover Street, never actually touching it. If you do not believe me, look at the maps and city survey yourself. If Heritage Western Cape does not know the significance of the HERITAGE, then why should the City bother?

I challenge you to try to visit the cairn of stones. It is on Hanover Street and can be accessed via Richmond Street. But you will have to gaze at it through a clear-vu fence and gate. One cannot blame CPUT for wanting security, but I blame them for taking ownership of something that was never theirs to begin with. Not an iota. It is District Six’s.

It brings me back to Hanover Street. Why is it so hard to uphold what is right in South Africa? How can we celebrate the memory of Hanover Street, when the only memorial space is flanked by two residences (built later) and blocked off by a clear-vu fence and gate? Bulldozers shaped what we see today in District Six.

Trucks took people and their belongings away. This is what we are supposed to remember on Heritage Day in Cape Town, it’s not nostalgia. It’s cold hard fact.

* Matthew Nissen is a researcher at the District Six Museum.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus