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District Six Museum

District Six Museum

District Six was named the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867. Originally established as a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants, District Six was a vibrant centre with close links to the city and the port. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the history of removals and marginalisation had begun.

The first to be 'resettled' were black South Africans, forcibly displaced from the District in 1901. As the more prosperous moved away to the suburbs, the area became the neglected ward of Cape Town.

In 1966, it was declared a white area under the Group areas Act of 1950, and by 1982, the life of the community was over. 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers.

The District Six Museum, established in December 1994, works with the memories of these experiences and with the history of forced removals more generally.

Up until the 1970s, District Six was home to almost a tenth of the city of Cape Town's population. In 1965, the apartheid government, as it had done in Sophiatown in 1957, declared District Six "white". More than 60,000 people were forcibly uprooted and relocated onto the barren plains of the Cape Flats. In the process, over a century of history, of community life, of solidarity amongst the poor and of achievement against great odds, was imperiled.

The District Six Museum Foundation was established in 1989 and launched as a museum in 1994 to keep alive the memories of District Six and displaced people everywhere. It came into being as a vehicle for advocating social justice, as a space for reflection and contemplation and as an institution for challenging the distortions and half-truths which propped up the history of Cape Town and South Africa. As an independent space where the forgotten understandings of the past are resuscitated, where different interpretations of that past are facilitated through its collections, exhibitions and education programmes, the Museum is committed to telling the stories of forced removals and assisting in the reconstitution of the community of District Six and Cape Town by drawing on a heritage of non-racialism, non-sexism, anti-class discrimination and the encouragement of debate.

The Museum seeks to develop policies relating to heritage and memory that are both grounded in and seek to develop the interests of the poor and dispossessed, specifically:

1. The District Six Museum is a heritage project that seeks to serve the interests of the victims of the various forms of forced removals that occurred in District Six, the larger city of Cape Town and in other parts of South Africa.

2. The Museum seeks to place itself at the heart of the process of reconstruction of District Six and Cape Town through working with the memories and experiences of dispossessed people. It offers itself as a center for former residents of District Six and others to recover, explore and critically engage with the memories and understandings of their District Six and apartheid pasts, for the purpose of remaking the city of Cape Town.

3. The Museum seeks to stimulate the recovery and development of different forms of knowledge of the city, identity and community, and to use these in debates, discussions and policy development initiatives around diversity, difference, inequality, injustice and the future of the city.

4. The Museum seeks to develop alliances and partnerships with dispossessed communities in South Africa and other parts of the world, with non-governmental organisations, government and others in its quest to open up debate and discussion around heritage policy development.
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