A Day in District Six
On the border between the city centre of Cape Town and its artistic Woodstock, District Six is a symbol of Apartheid whose streets form an overflow of history. Previously known for its vibrant energy, the neighbourhood was home for varied communities. Black South Africans, Cape-Malays and Indians cohabited in the area until 1966, when it was declared a White area triggering the relocation of around 60,000 people to the Cape Flats, in places such as Gugulethu, Heideveld or Bonteheuwel, now known as townships. Intrigued by the rich history of what used to be called the soul of Cape Town, my friend and I took a day to explore and learn more about District Six.
How to get there?
Once In Cape Town is very close to District Six. You can take an uber for R26 which will drop you right in front of the museum, or take the 106 (or 107) MyCiti line, stop at Groote Kerk and then walk to District Six. You can also opt for a nice 15-20-minute walk through Company Gardens if the weather is on your side. We chose the last option but instead walked to the city centre to take part in a free walking tour.
Free Walking Tour. Source.
We started our adventure around District Six with a Free Walking Tour. Starting from Greenmarket Square, these tours happen twice a day and are undertaken by a local guide. If you are only in Cape Town for a few days or you are unsure on how to find your way to the city centre, Once takes you around District Six as a free activity. Check the activity board at reception or talk to one of our Chief Entertainment Officers to know when the next tour is. To book a room at Once in Cape Town, click here.
The walking tour is based on Apartheid, not solely on District Six, but takes you through the Capetonian sites directly related to the historical period, which includes the neighbourhood. Throughout the tour, we got to learn more about what life was like in the area. The guide focused mainly on life before the removals. It was home to a lively and open-minded community. As a matter of fact, the neighbourhood was known as Kanaladorp, ‘kanala’ meaning ‘help one another’ in Malay. Its cultural life was rich. Live jazz music, theatre performances, busy streets,...an environment that inspired South African art in many forms after the removals: novels, poems, music and cinema.
“We loved each other in District Six,” Ebrahim said. “When my Christmas comes, they call it Eid. All my friends, Jewish, African, Christian, Hindu, you name it, they would put on a fez, and they would go with me to my mosque. I think that made District Six such a great place.” - Ebrahim, former resident. (Source.)
District Six Museum.
We left the rest of the group to visit the District Six Museum and dive deep into the past of Kanaladorp. The entrance cost us R40 each and gave us access to two floors and a lot (a lot!) of written information. The museum let us truly immerse in the history of Apartheid and the role District Six played at the time, making it the perfect follow up to the walking tour.
Deportations continued until 1982 but they were only the first step to a multilayered racial set of laws. Former residences were demolished and replaced with housing given to white South Africans who also got access to better education and jobs. To this day, metre squares and metre squares of land are unused and fail to be reclaimed by former residents for lack of any proof, most of which was bulldozed with the houses.
Former District Six residents in their current house in Elsies River. (Source)
Charly’s Bakery’s & Lekker Vegan.
After this trip around the museum, we realised it was time to grab some food. We ran to Charly’s Bakery hoping to get a slice of what is considered the best cake in Cape Town. Although it was closed, we took advantage of the bakery’s beautiful facade to take part in a quick photoshoot. We went up Harrington Street and stopped at my ultimate favourite capetonian eatery, Lekker Vegan (check our vegan blog for a review). Walking up the street, we can easily feel the vibrant energy District Six is fighting to get back. Cute cafés, stylish restaurants and busy bars, the historically-rich area is gaining back its reputation as a key place to hang out in Cape Town.