Mapping community memory - the case of District Six, Cape Town

Tue, 2005-11-15 18:57.

One great example for object-centered sociality is the case of District Six. This was once a vibrant neighborhood in Cape Town and a living model of how people from different cultures can coexist, until the Apartheid regime ended their community life with its Group Areas Act. Between 1966 and 1982 more than 60.000 people have been removed to the suburban townships and the district was flattened by bulldozers.

The former citizens of District Six have lost their houses, but they haven´t lost their memories. To give these memories a new home, the new government under Nelson Mandela established a District Six museum in 1994 located near the old neighborhoods.

Visiting the museum, I was absolutely impressed, how creatively the people were keeping their memories alive by continuously enriching the documentary objects of their own history in the most vivid and unusual ways. As one example, there is a complete map of the old district drawn on the floor, where former residents can write down the names of their families on the drawings of their houses.

To quote Terence Fredericks, the Chairman of the District Six Museum Foundation:

Working with memory involves ensuring that people’s stories are kept alive, but it is more than this. We take great care in how people’s stories are told, recorded and displayed so that the process assists in healing. The museum also has a very practical focus. By documenting history it is possible for those in the present to trace family and community histories. It is also possible for claims of restitution to be made.
By using the memory and the history of families of District Six we hoped to inspire communities elsewhere in the country, and this is now occurring. By piecing together the stories of all the different communities who were dispersed, the social, economic and political history of this country will gradually become more available to us all. District Six has become a symbol all of that was wrong about forced removals, but also a symbol of the beauty of reclaiming history.


District Six - Cape Town
Interview with Terence Fredericks, the Chairman of the District Six Museum Foundation