Exhibition honours Slave Church on 219th anniversary
The exhibition was put together by researchers Siona O’Connell and Nadia Kamies, and UCT students.
It features pictures, video, audio, objects and information that reflect all the years of the church’s existence and dates as far back as the 1700s when it was built, with a strong focus on the members who attended.
The front benches have the names of the first eight slaves baptised at the church written behind them, and the wooden floor by the pulpit has a constellation of stars that represent the night sky of December 1, 1834, when slavery was abolished in the Cape colony.
Yesterday, the Uniting Reformed Church held the first service there since the 1970s, when the Group Areas Act was enforced and they had to leave the building.
Reverend Llewellyn MacMaster, the minister of the Uniting Reformed Church in Belhar, said it was a bittersweet occasion.
“Our church was established here on this day 219 years ago.
“It was mainly for slaves and indigenous people, but because of the past laws people had to move out of this building, so we erected a building in Belhar in the late 1970s.”
O’Connell said: “The exhibition is about the Slave Church, which has deep links to the arrival of the Dutch in 1652. We realise history is not in the past, it is firmly in the present.
“Congregants were subject to forced removals and are still living these lives out on the Cape Flats.
“We are still a deeply divided city, we are under no illusions that we have overcome the legacies of slavery between the haves and have-nots.”
Guy Redman, chief director from the department, added: “The stories on the panels are about this place, not this space any more; it is now a place because you’ve reclaimed it.
“It has memory and meaning associated with it. We want this place to live up to what it is about, which is about truth. Churches are about truth, no matter how painful the truth is.
“Truth is told here, there must be no words added to make it sound better, more palatable.”
The exhibition is open to the public on weekdays at 40 Long Street, from 9am until 4pm.