Zainab Williams was born in Aspeling Street, District Six, before being removed by the apartheid government. Picture: ANA Pics
Zainab Williams was born in Aspeling Street, District Six, before being removed by the apartheid government. Picture: ANA Pics

Interesting facts for Harry and Meghan to know ahead of their District Six visit

By Orielle Berry Time of article published Sep 20, 2019

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While on their visit to South Africa early next week, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are expected to immerse themselves in the local culture. This will include a visit to District Six Museum and District Six Homecoming Centre.

Chances are, they'll be prepared. Orielle Berry has compiled a cheat sheet of sorts on the history and culture of the area.

Jews, Muslims, Hindus, coloureds, Italians, Lithuanians, Indian, a melting pot of cultures of 60 000 souls, they all lived in the area known as District Six in the latter half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century before it became notorious for its mass forced removals in the 1960s under apartheid.


Today much of the area is known as Zonnebloem, partly made up of vacant lots, a far cry from the narrow, bustling streets during its heyday.

Historically, it was was named the sixth district of Cape Town in 1867, populated by freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. The latter was partially due to the fact that it was close to the port and many immigrants coming off the ships made it their first stop and remained there. In addition, many of the labourers worked in the nearby port. 


As early as 1901 blacks were "resettled"and forcibly removed to Uitvlugt (later renamed as Ndabeni). 

Many of those who started their lives in South Africa in this area became more prosperous and they moved to the suburbs but the remaining community was torn apart in 1966 with the forced removals under the Group Areas Act. Demolitions ensued, pushing the former residents into outlying areas on the Cape Flats.

Following the first democratic elections in 1994, a process of restitution began in which families made claims and some have resettled in the area, while others claimed monetary compensation.

Keeping memories alive

The District Six Museum keeps the memories alive and pays tribute to the residents who once lived there.

In 1988, as a result of the Hands Off District Six Conference, the  District Six Museum Foundation was created. The Museum opened with an inaugural exhibition called Streets: Retracing District Six.

Prior to this the Museum existed between 1989 and 1994 in building support through memory and storytelling opportunities. "District Sixers" played an important role in contributing to the museum’s exhibition and programme.

Students study the past architecture honours students’ work that was displayed at the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre.

The museum was initially located in the Methodist Church building at 25A Buitenkant Street, home to its permanent exhibition, Digging Deeper. However, since the start of 2000, the Museum also has another home at 15A Buitenkant Street, called The District Six Museum Homecoming Centre, which is used for events and where most of the museum’s programmes are held.  

Much of the work of the museum, however, lies in linking and keeping contact with members of the diaspora of D6-ers, who live across the Cape and in the rest of the country.

The last part of the entrance panel to the museum reads:

In remembering we do not want
To recreate District Six
But to work with its memory:
Of hurts inflicted and received,
Of loss, achievements and of shames.
We wish to remember
So that we can all,
Together and by ourselves,
Rebuild a city
Which belongs to all of us,
In which all of us can live,
Not as races but as people. 

Enshrined in our heritage

Among the many books set in, or written about Dictrict Six, is Buckingham Palace: District Six, by Richard Rive. Penned in 1986, it is the story of Mary and the Girls, of Zoot, Pretty-Boy and Oubaas, of the Abrahams family who came from Bo-Kaap, of Last-Knight the barber and his prim wife. 

'Buckingham Palace' is a dingy row of five houses in the heart of District Six. In the novel Rive traces the close community through its moments of triumph and despair, its loves, its hatreds - and its bizarre characters ... until the forced removals to the Cape Flats. 

"Buckingham Palace: District Six" by Richard Rive

The book is widely used as prescribed school setwork and Rive grew up in District Six, also referring prominently to the area in his 1962 novel Emergency.

In 1986, District Six – The Musical by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen told the story of District Six which toured internationally ; while Kramer's 1997 stage musical Kat and the Kings is also set in District Six during the late 1950s. 

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