District 6

District 6 is a museum in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s a museum to tell a particular story of an area once inhabited by people of a mostly “non-European” background who were slowly, systemically and for the most part forcibly removed from their homes and their land. It’s a museum that in its particularity shows a face of apartheid; its horror and disrespect, its insanity and its reality.

District 6 was the sixth district of Cape Town. The museum’s website explains:

“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.”[1]

Here is a headline of one then-current day paper. You might not be able to make out the first line of the article, it reads, “The bulldozers eat like a cancer into the life of District Six. Everyday new patches of raw earth appear like open wounds. People watch in silent groups as the tangible links with their memories disappear before their eyes.”[2]

One street pre-1966, notice the church at the end of the street for a point of reference…Same street post 1982It was a large area of town…

Yes, that’s a Langston Hughes quote on the map, “Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”

The museum does a great job of giving dignity and showing life. The government of apartheid must have been able to shield itself from the humanity that was alive and well in District 6. It was not a romantic perfect place, the museum points that out too, but it was a place. A place of real humans that live, breath, love and bleed every day… What is it that grows in the collective mind that gets us to believe that another group of people are less than us? Or do not even think of the other? What is happening in our hearts when we can turn away from the cries of babies, of families and of the generations? What is this? Hate, fear, ignorance, greed, faith…? What is it?

This didn’t and doesn’t just happen in South Africa. It happens over and over again, in so many states, nations and times. Maybe the systems and the methods aren’t exactly the same but the separation, disrespect and insanity are.

[2] Display at the District 6 Museum in Cape Town, SA.

Hello South Africa…

… well hello Cape Town anyway…

Compared to living in India, I feel like I am back home in the states again. Many things feel familiar to me, more “western” … yet I am not at home, I am in South Africa, the province of the Western Cape and even more specifically the city of Cape Town. And things are not the same. Life here is owned by its people, its rhythms, its flavors, its sights, its history and its politics.

I’m just starting to soak some of it in…