Se7en Takes A Walking Tour of District Six…

Have you ever been to District Six Museum before… I hadn’t and it is so well worth the visit.


For our overseas readers District Six is an area wedged between what is now Cape Town harbour and Table Mountain. Historically, District Six was the area between farmers making use of the slopes of Table Mountain and the hive of activity of a busy sea-port.


A cosmopolitan market area, filled with visitors and lodgers, people passing through and trades people who had found their niche and settled in. People from the Europe on the way to find their fortunes in the East and Cape Malay slaves from the East. It was a crowded area full of the richness of life of a cosmopolitan, inner city, sea-port town.


It is still an area positioned between Table Mountain and the busy port of Cape Town. But during the Apartheid era it was declared a “whites only” area and the very mixed group of people that lived there were forcibly, moved to further afield onto the Cape Flats. Overnight, literally families were given notice and forced to relocate within 48 hours, away from their extended families, away from their work away from the city and without access to the city. Homes, schools, shops… were demolished over a period of about twenty years – beginning in 1966 right into the 1980’s between sixty and seventy thousand people were relocated. A campaign “Hands Off District Six” kept the area free from development… and to this day it remains an undeveloped area.


However the vibrant spirit, and the very close cultural ties of the people of District Six meant that they could not be “put down.” Divided, yes, spread far and wide across the Cape, definitely. But their memories and spirit lives on and can be found in the heart of the Fringe District of Cape Town, in the District Six Museum.


The District Six Museum is a museum with a difference, it is powered by very passionate people and folk that will not let their heritage be forgotten. This museum is all about relationships, a living museum… folk that grew up in District Six and those that know the history really well are there to tell you their stories. It is a conversational museum rather than an observational museum.


As you enter the museum, you “land” on a large map of the area and you can pin point streets and addresses of the folk that lived their before the removals.


The museum does have displays, like this one showing typical home in District Six. There is lots to look at for sure and plenty of folk to talk to and show you around…


But they have begun a new project, walking tours of District Six… They bring the whole area to life with stories of life in the old days and memories of times gone by. It is a great way to keep a “pocket” of history alive that you do not want to forget.


Don’t worry about having to walk for miles… they have taxis to drive you to the important landmarks…


They show you the area leading into District Six…


And the surrounds…


Most of the activity in District Six… still happens on the outskirts… there is the technikon campus and city developments along the boundaries, but at this time the area is still relatively empty…


There remain the buildings that were built to buffer the eye of the passing traffic…


To protect the eye of passers by from the total destruction of a small town…


Over time the large areas of destruction have been covered in grass…


One of the first stops of the tour is Horstley Street: The street famous for being part of the first and last removals… The first removals were way back in 1901, when bubonic plague broke out in the Cape. African dockworkers were expelled from the area and relocated to Ndabeni and Langa. In 1982 The Hendricks family, who lived on Horstely street were one of the last families forced to move because of the Group Areas Act.


The great thing about a walking tours that as you get to walk through history you can ask questions… there is a lot to be said for “walking and talking…”


We continued to walk and talk…


On to Hanover Street and the cairn for the Seven Steps: Hanover Street was the Main Street of this bustling community… Imagine: shop fronts, with homes above, draped laundry, trams rolling to and fro, people lingering on the pavements, a colourful, busy main street. The Seven Steps led up into Hanover Street and were a local meeting place. Every year on the 11 February the old residents of the area and their families come to this spot to lay a cairn – as a memorial to a time gone by.


The wheels of change move incredibly slowly in our country and very slowly they are gradually building homes and returning folk and their families to the area…


We were lucky enough to visit Annie, she will be 90 in June…


She grew up playing with friends in the streets of District Six. She went to school there and has lots of happy memories to talk about.


She had so many stories to share…


And a song…


Never mind that there was a string missing… she was undaunted!!!


District Six does have a story to tell, an important story that we don’t want to lose… and it isn’t just the story of District Six… While I grew up with flashes of “District Six” as newspaper headlines, this wasn’t some remote history from centuries ago… this is living history… I lived through it and it is important that the story isn’t lost. The Group Area Act divided families and friends. I know my mom had a best friend removed from the area we lived in… children that we played with in the streets, were moved far away. It was not an era where people had cars or even working phones – I know my children don’t believe that (!), but the world was not the global village it is today. If folk moved miles away back then it was really hard to keep in contact. While my mum and her best friend continued to visit for years and they would get together a couple of times a year, to catch up on their children… It was a heart sore friendship as you can imagine… A friendship built on cups of tea, while your children ride bikes and play hopscotch in the street, is just not the same when you have been separated by law.


So if you are ever wondering what those vast tracts of vacant land are, as you enter the city, or you ever want to know the story behind District Six… then a walking tour is a fabulous chance to discover it. The Museum is easy to reach, right next to stop 9 on the Red Bus Tour, so you don’t even have to find parking in the city.


The father person and I were invited on this tour, and it was really an evening show casing what the District Six walking tours are all about… would I go again, would I take friends and family and visitors to Cape Town, absolutely.


Would I take my children, who live in a country over-shadowed by a tragic past… absolutely. My children were born in the new South Africa, they know there is a murky past that they find completely unbelievable. Their friends are of all colours race or creed and they don’t stop to think that it may have been any other way… I think it is so important that our children get to experience South African history as it was: “this is what happened, this is how we survived and this is how we came through it.” I know it sounds like a cliche, but a forgotten history is one waiting to be repeated.


So a huge thank you to our fabulous tour guides for a fantastic evening and thank you to Hippo Communications for the invitation. If you would like to know more about The District Six Museum Walks and their tours that share the culture, music and distinctive character of the area then feel free to follow their link and contact them.

22 Replies to “Se7en Takes A Walking Tour of District Six…”

  1. Hi Seven+1, What an incredible post. I remember driving past District Six on the red bus tour when we were in Cape Town last year. I wished we’d gone on one of the walking tours – it was a case of so much to do and so little time! And it was this week last year that I met you and your wonderful family when I visited you. Wish we could visit C.T. again this year and, of course, to visit you all again 🙂 Sending lots of love.

  2. Hi Sherrin, Thanks for stopping by again… We haven’t actually been before but we will definitely be visiting really soon… my kids are always asking about District Six as we pass at least once a week on our way onto the city. Hope you enjoy the long weekend.

  3. Hay Sue… So very good to hear from you!!! A year ago indeed… can you believe how fast time flies!!! You definitely need to visit Cape Town again… I agree so much to do and so little time when it comes to visiting Cape Town… Hope you have a fabulous weekend!!!

  4. Just sent you an inbox mail! 🙂 This post is awesome for so many reasons, not least of which is the beautiful BEAUTIFUL photos you’ve taken. I love the richness of the history of District Six and the museum is one of my favourite favourite museums ever. It’s exactly as you say – a conversational museum. I’ve called it a ‘living’ museum before – simply because it pulses with energy and life. You can’t walk through it without feeling profoundly touched by the lives that continue to be affected by its history. Simply wonderful. 🙂 Thank you for this post – you’ve done such a beautiful job of sharing the heart of the place.

  5. Thanks Taryn, Glad you enjoyed the post… we did have a perfect evening for our walk: crystal clear, no wind – just perfect… and the enthusiasm and spirit of the team was brilliant, not to mention so lovely to meet Annie and hear about her childhood. Definitely worth taking a walking tour!!! Thanks for your enthusiastic commenting and hope you have a fabulous Easter weekend with your family!!!

  6. I remember going to that museum many moons ago (2007 I think) when we last visited SA – it was fascinating, although I don’t remember them doing walking tours back then. Hope you and your family enjoy a blessed Easter!

  7. Hay Julie C, Thanks so much for stopping by!!! Honestly I can’t think why we haven’t been to the District Six Museum before… and really the walking tours are such a fabulous idea for getting a feel for the area. Frankly it is the personal stories that bring it to life… wonderful!!! And yes, I hope you all have a wonderful Easter too!!!

  8. Thank you for sharing this fabulous walking tour! I feel like I was right there walking and exploring too! Your pictures tell such a story!

  9. Katherine Marie, I love that you enjoye this post. I think you would find the history here so interesting, it was a great tour and a wonderful way to learn!!! Thanks for your commenting again and again, hope you have a great day!!!

  10. I agree with Katherine – your photos helped me feel like I was there. I regret that we never went to the museum when we lived in CT…too busy with everyday life, I guess. (Would’ve made a great school outing, if JWCS had had the resources to take us!) Between your post & Taryn’s vivid descriptions in her forthcoming novel (!), it’s something I definitely want to do when we (finally) make it back! I imagine the walking tour just adds to the richness of the experience. I especially love that you got to meet Annie – how cool to hear the stories in person and see redemption happening one small, significant step at a time. 🙂

  11. Oh Laura… I think if you had to visit Cape Town after all these years you will find lots of new and interesting things to visit!!! We would pop you onto the RedBus and let you hop and off at leisure… think you would all love it!!! You are so right a walking tour and hearing the stories and meeting Annie just gave the event a life of it’s own!!! Wishing you a wonderful weekend all the way from sunny Cape Town!!!

  12. I know we would definitely love all the new things and we’d love every minute of doing it, seeing it, and sharing it with all of you! 🙂 One of these days it WILL happen – I believe it! Lots of love from sunny Georgia – spring is finally coming! 🙂

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