WHEN 60,000 PEOPLE LOST THEIR HOMES | Sharon Henry
“I think this is a very important museum,” Noor Ebraheim tells us, “especially for the children because they don’t know what happened – of what we went through during Apartheid years, so we have to tell the story.”
Tour guide, Noor, 73, has told his story to many people from around the world including Michelle Obama, Morgan Freeman, Swedish and Spanish King and Queens, the great Nelson Mandela, and now us.
He’s an excellent storyteller who brings history to life, his passion has you hanging on every word of a story so unjust it brings a lump to the throat.
The End Of A Multi-Faith Community
We’re inside the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa, a building that was once a church of a community Noor lived in.
Until the 1960’s District Six was a thriving, mixed neighbourhood close to the city centre where Jews, Muslims, Christians, Indians, Hindus, Africans, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese lived as “one big happy family.”
The harmony was shattered in 1966 when the ruling National Party Government declared District Six ‘for White People only’ and within the following 11 years 60,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes, the buildings demolished. They were moved miles away to the Cape Flats and further segregated into different townships for Coloureds, Indians and Blacks. Mixed-race couples and even offspring were forced to live apart if skin colours differed.
A young man of 32 at the time, Noor tells us, “many people died of broken hearts.”
Walking The Streets of District Six
The District Six Museum acts like a time capsule, preserving its people and culture through collections of photos, stories and artefacts. It really gives you the feeling of the way it was in happier times. Huge tapestries sewn by ex-residents hang from the ceiling and a tower stands tall made of the original street signage from the bulldozed neighbourhood – donated by the man who flattened it. A large map painted on the floor shows the former street layout and the names of families are handwritten at locations where their homes once stood.
“Everyone got on well in District Six and the reason – we never looked down on somebody else’s religion,” smiles Noor, “we all celebrated together, it was an amazing feeling.”
Although District Six was declared a whites-only area, no one moved in and today the area mostly remains vacant.
Setting Up The District Six Museum
Noor and other ex District Six residents with land claims have been given the opportunity to move back through a government scheme to redevelop the area. “I want to come and live here again,” he says, “but it’s taking so long, this government is supposed to build 4,000 houses. For the last 15 years they’ve only built 159.”
The District Six Museum was set up post-Apartheid in December 1994 with Noor as a founding member. Its significance in remembering this event in history is monumental.
“People can’t understand when I say, whatever the government did to us, we don’t hate them, we forgive them – because now we are free,” finishes Noor.
I stepped into this museum quite ignorant of the District Six story and leave with a heavy heart. As Noor said, it is important this story be passed on to future generations and never forgotten. Listening to his first-hand account is a moving experience and his forgiveness is extremely humbling. Reminds me of a Maya Angelou quote I like:
“History despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
For an easily accessible educational attraction, a visit of the District Six museum is strongly recommended. For a personal experience it’s definitely good value booking a guided tour with an ex District Six resident. Guided tours cost R45 (approx £2.60) per person and self-guided tours, R30 (approx £1.76.)
Many thanks to Cape Town Tourism for booking us on the District Six tour. Opinions, as always on this blog, are our own without bias – it was a truly memorable experience.