District Six | Attraction Guides | History Hit

District Six

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Sarah Roller

24 Nov 2020

About District Six

District Six, named the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867, was a lively, multicultural district made up of artisans, freed slaves, merchants and labourers. During the Apartheid era, it was declared aa white area and remains a powerful site of memory in the modern world.

History of District Six

District Six, as it became known, was long one of Cape Town’s poorer districts – its first inhabitants were newly freed slaves. At its peak, District Six housed around 1/10th of the city’s population.

Following the Group Areas Act of 1950, District Six was declared a white area in 1960 and the government forcibly removed around 30,000 of its inhabitants to make way for white settlements and bulldozed many of the existing buildings, including large areas of slums.

The government declared District Six was a crime-ridden slum full of dens of vice, only fit for clearance. Many believed this was a convenient cover story and that in fact, their desire to demolish District Six was because it was a prime piece of land, nestled between the city centre, Table Mountain and Cape Town’s harbour.

Despite grand plans for District Six, almost none of them came to fruition: the government’s rebuilding schemes were viewed as too excessive, and inability to raise funds combined with repeated stalling.

Some attempts were made to build residential areas in its place, most of the area which made up District Six is now empty, standing as a stark reminder of the savagery of apartheid with only grass fields marking its original place. In the 1980s, the Hands Off District Six came into being, lobbying the government to halt investment and redevelopment. Over time, they helped many displaced residents reclaim their land.

District Six today

The District Six Museum was established in 1994, and aims not just to highlight the injustice and savagery of the apartheid regime, but also to document and remember the vibrant cultural melting pot that District Six was prior to the clearances. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area, as the museum stands testament to this politically and historically important area of Cape Town.

District Six also has plenty of cultural institutions including the Fugard Theatre and Cape Craft and Design Institute.

Getting to District Six

Cape Town is a city which primarily favours cars – Ubers, cars or MyCiti buses are the best way of getting around, and getting to District Six. The suburb lies under Table Mountain and Signal Hill, and is a 5 minute walk from the Castle of Good Hope and Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum.

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