Remnants of Racism in South Africa

Hoa and I took a brief tour yesterday of the notorious District Six neighborhood, not far from central Cape Town. District Six was ordered demolished in 1968 because it had become a symbol of racial tolerance and interplay in a nation dedicated to Apartheid. The once vibrant District Six is now largely unpopulated, with large stretches of open grass-filled vacant lots connecting city streets.

It was on Feb. 11, 1966, that the South African government declared District Six to be a “whites-only” area under what was called then the Group Areas Act. At that time the area had become a mixture of races. Indians, Blacks, mixed race couples, and others were living together in the neighborhood and seemingly getting alone quite well. This interaction did not, of course, fit in well with the racial ideologies of the South African government, which declared District Six to be a slum, fit only for clearance, not rehabilitation.

The government also portrayed the area as crime-ridden and dangerous; it claimed that the district was a vice den, full of immoral activities like gambling, drinking, and prostitution. Though these were the official reasons, most residents believed that the government sought the land because of its proximity to the city center, Table Mountain, and the harbor. And because the largely peaceful interaction of the races didn’t look good. So it was that starting in 1968 inhabitants of District Six were forcefully removed from their homes - and their lands bulldozed over.

By 1982, more than 60,000 people had been relocated to sandy flat township complexes some 25 kilometers away. During the forced removal, the government, as brutal as it was, did not have the heart to bulldoze local churches and mosques, which still stand today.

Apartheid ended in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, in the last three decades, international and local pressure made redevelopment of the area impossible. So District Six now sits on the edge of Cape Town and stands out as a visible monument to the horrors of apartheid. In an effort to preserve the memories of District Six and create a monument to the thousands of people around the country forcibly relocated under apartheid, the District Six Museum Foundation was established in 1989. In 1994, the District Six Museum came into being.

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