Reflection on District 6 Trip - Part 1

The window enticed me with a false idea of warmth and sunshine so I bought it, wore a short sleeve and headed out to wait for the bus. As I stepped out, I was buffeted from side to side by blows of Cape Town wind. I found my hands hugging my body in an attempt to shield it, so I went back inside to get a jacket… If only I knew that the day would bring with it even more shocking surprises and insights about the city—beyond the confusing weather.

I never really researched Cape Town apartheid history specifically. To be honest, I didn’t know what or where ‘District 6’ was. It sounded so mysterious, like some hidden classified location. The name also reminded me of a movie I heard about, but that was ‘District 9’. The curiosity was building up.

We arrived, and we were given an introductory talk (sort of a keynote address) from one of the co-ordinators. The next activity was engaging as it required each one of us to select random puzzle pieces, and then search for the table to which the piece belonged. It was quite deeply insightful because the tables were representative of the different social groups artificially constructed during apartheid. I was separated from the friends I initially sat with, and ended up in the ‘imprisoned political activists’ group while other students were allocated to other groups. Some even enjoyed the privilege of the ‘white’ group —sitting while we stood!

The museum tour was even more enlightening. Our guides had first-hand experience of the forced removals as they were residents of District 6 at the time — although much younger! They enjoyed the healthy mix of cultures, religions and races. People cared for one another and although life wasn’t ideal, they were happy. All this was taken away. Their lives and homes were disrupted by an oppressive regime that divided the country. Family members were separated from each other, with decades elapsing before being reunited. We hated pictures of unsightly trucks used to transport residents away to obscure locations. We observed pictures of what District 6 looked like before and after buildings were demolished. We saw signs and banners that separated human beings on the basis of skin colour. It was emotional. How can a man harbour so much hatred for another man because of nothing but God given physical differences?

The site walk around the District 6 followed. There was not much to see apart from St. Mark’s Chapel (thankfully it wasn’t demolished) and houses that were being built for the residents that were chased away. It was refreshing to see that efforts are being made to address the past injustice. We headed back to meet other groups, listened to a final talk on the events of the day and wrote down our reflections.

I wonder if things will ever return to the way they were in District 6. I wonder how many of those families will be located, and even how many those that are located will choose to come back. I wonder if all our efforts to promote racial unity in this country will not be in vain. I guess all we can do is continue having conversations, building bridges and praying that God help us achieve a true Rainbow nation.


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