Remembering District Six

2016 marked 50 years since District Six was declared a white area. In 1968, over 60 000 people had their houses destroyed in accordance with the Group Areas Act enacted by the apartheid government. Consequently, residents of colour were forced to move into the area known today as the Cape Flats.

The District Six 50th Commemorative Print Exhibition portrays not only District Six victims but the community that was established in 1867: a mix of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, and labourers with victims of forced removals from various parts of South Africa. The process of forced removals began gradually with the eviction of black people from their homes in 1901. The exhibition aims to create a display that represents the impact these removals had on their families.

The exhibition began on 21 March 2008 in the Lwandile Museum, which focuses on the horrific impact of the migrant labour system. It was then followed by the District Six Museum the same year, on 10 May.

The District Six exhibition on display at the Rhodes Art Museum is an artistic depiction of the emotions felt when victims reminisce about the evictions. Currently on exhibition is an untitled photograph by Stephen Inggs, which shows four suitcases stacked on top of one another on a cupboard, showcasing preparation for the evictions. The Return by Donovan Ward shows an elderly woman dressed in traditional clothing looking over the city. The painting also shows the town, appearing to be gradually growing towards a declining rural settlement next to a single hut. The piece’s use of black and white shows apartheid’s racial agenda being carried out as District Six had been declared a white settlement, forcing all other races to evict the settlement.

Vedant Nanackchand’s Commemorating Memory shows the price that indigenous people had to pay in order to create a ‘paradise’ for white people, as described on the painting. It has an apocalyptic feel to it: before this ‘ideal’ settlement was established, the neglected settlement had to be destroyed. The painting itself shows fire and destruction, which is in stark contrast to the words on the painting.

The exhibition successfully captures the tragedy of the forced removals and the impact the displacement has on present generations. The repercussions of such forced removals are still being felt today and are expressed through artistic mediums that can be seen as a reflection of South Africa’s history.


Words by Donavan Manquma

Photos by Victoria Briggs