Last month I spent a couple of days in Cape Town on either end of my weeklong stay in Stellenbosch. I was reminded yet again of what a lovely city Cape Town is. At some point I really need to stay for longer than three days at a time.
I managed to do quite a few cool things during my short time in Cape Town, the best of which was a street art tour in District Six and surrounding areas with Juma’s Tours.
The History of District Six
The history of District Six is tragic and makes no sense, except in the non-sensical context of apartheid South Africa. Similar to Sophiatown in Joburg, District Six was a culturally vibrant area — located close to the center of Cape Town — populated by mostly non-white South Africans of various races. Following the Group Areas Act (enacted in various forms in 1950, 1957, and 1966), which legally mandated South Africa’s racial groups to live separately, the apartheid government forcibly removed District Six’s 60,000 residents to the Cape Flats and other townships during the 1970s.
Of all the enraging aspects of apartheid, there is nothing I find more enraging than forced removals. In District Six, 60,000 men, women, and children were forced out of their homes, beaten, prodded with guns, loaded onto the backs of trucks and dumped into sandy wastelands on the far edges of this beautiful coastal city. Most of these 60,000 people lost all of their possessions and never saw their homes again. Most of them continue to live in poverty and have never been compensated for their losses.
Like Sophiatown, District Six was razed to the ground after the forced removals. Unlike Sophiatown, it was never rebuilt. Despite District Six’s desirable location, most of it remains empty to this day.
Part of District Six was renamed Zonnebloem after the forced removals. It looks like this street sign was recently changed back to the original name; I can just make out the word “Zonnebloem” under the new sticker. The “Non-poor only” bumper sticker provides interesting commentary on post-apartheid Cape Town.
I still need to visit the District Six Museum for a more in-depth understanding of the area’s history. In the meantime, it was great to walk around with Juma and see some beautiful street art.
Juma’s Art Tour
Our group met Juma at Truth Coffee in the Fringe, a neighborhood on the edge of District Six. Juma is a street artist himself and does art tours in District Six, Woodstock, and various townships around Cape Town.
My boyfriend is a graffiti artist and tour guide so I’ve done lots of graffiti/street art tours in Joburg. It was interesting to do a tour in Cape Town and compare the two cities. Cape Town seems to have a more diverse range of street art but less traditional graffiti than Joburg.
(Depending on who you talk to, graffiti and street art are two different things. Graffiti tends to be word-based, spelling out the name of the artist, and street art is pretty much any kind of art on the street.)
We started in the Fringe and made our way west to District Six.
As we neared District Six, Juma pointed out a few buildings that survived the forced removals.
Signs outside a long block of flats that remained standing after the District Six removals, and are now fully occupied again. The concrete basin above the sign was once used for washing clothes. I imagined a woman standing at that basin 50 years ago (before the ugly aluminium security fence was there), washing her family’s clothes and chatting with her neighbor next door.
We walked past two huge pieces by Faith47, the most famous South African graffiti/street artist.
I’m keen to do more of Juma’s tours, particularly in Woodstock where there is tons of street art. Hopefully the next time I’m in Cape Town — hopefully when I find time to stay for a full week.