District Six

District Six was a multi working-class area just off the centre of Cape Town, to the south of the Castle. Today it is an almost vacant lot, shown on maps as the suburb of Zonnebloem. Before being torn apart by the apartheid regime during the sixties and seventies, District Six, was an impoverished but lively community of 55 000, predominantly coloured people. It was once known as the soul of Cape Town, this inner-city area harboured a rich cultural life in its narrow alleys and crowded tenements. After its demise, the district became mythologised, as a rich place of the South African imagination, inspiring novels, poems, jazz and the blockbuster musical, by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen, District Six. The latter being an ex resident.

It was named the sixth district of Cape Town in 1867. Originally established as a community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. District Six was a centre with close links to the city and the port. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the history of removals and marginalisation had begun. The first to be “resettled” were the blacks, forcibly displaced in 1901. The more prosperous began to move to the suburbs and the area became the neglected ward of Cape Town.

In the 1940s plans were formed by the Cape Town municipality to demolish houses under slum clearance, but it was only after the declaration of District Six as a white area under the Group Areas Act in 1966 that extensive demolition began. Resistance by inhabitants was intense and the last residents only left in the mid-1970s.

The area, together with Sophiatown, in Gauteng became a local and international symbol of the suffering caused by apartheid. A ‘Hands Off District Six’ campaign prevented private development and for many years the land remained vacant, until in the 1980s housing for police and army personnel and a Cape Technical College were erected. After the 1994 democratic election, claims for restitution were made by families, which had been forced out of District Six. A large number of them have been given the option to resettle in District Six, or accept financial compensation. 

S. Jeppie and C. Soudien (eds.), 1990. The struggle for District Six past and present.

Group Areas Act

(1950) Enabling the state to declare any defined area for occupation and property ownership by members of a single race as defined in the Population Registration Act. Exceptions were made only for servants or other employees of residents.

The Act only became fully effective after numerous amendments to it in the 1950s which gave the state full powers to forcebly remove property owners. It was applied mainly to urban areas and led to the destruction of such multiracial communities as Sophiatown in Johannesburg and District Six in Cape Town. It also resulted in the forced removal of more than I20 000 households overall and the appropriation of their property with only limited compensation.

Black people whose living areas in towns were already restricted by the Natives (Urban Areas) Act, were less affected than Coloureds and Indians, while comparatively few whites were moved.

The Act was repealed in 1991.

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