Mark1 Mandela street art piece

Street Art and Cape Town’s District Six

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.

Cape Town view of Clifton BeachI’m a Joburg girl, now and forever. But I must confess Cape Town is really freaking beautiful.

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.

District Six todayDistrict Six in May 2017.

District Six street signPart 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.

Juma on his street art tourJuma talks about Cape Town street art. Juma has a unique background, having been born in Malawi and spending parts of his life in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

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.

Unfinished piece in the FringeAn unfinished piece in the Fringe. Sorry, street art fans: I forgot to write down the names of many of the artists, including this one.

Mark1 Mandela street art pieceA Nelson Mandela mural by artist Mark1. Table Mountain is obscured by clouds in the background.

Street art in the FringeChild-friendly street art in the Fringe. I can’t remember the artist and I can’t remember who took the photo.

As we neared District Six, Juma pointed out a few buildings that survived the forced removals.

District Six flat signsSigns 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.

Faith47 piece in District SixA spectacular Faith47 mural on one of the few buildings in District Six. Apparently the gold paint on the piece glows at night.

Faith47 piece with District Six stoeps in the foreground The steps in the foreground used to be attached to a house. We walked down an entire street like this, with nothing on it except a row of house-less front steps.

Pointing woman by Faith47Another stunning piece by Faith47, as we headed out of District Six and back toward the Fringe.

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.

I wrote this post in partnership with #Stellenblog and Cape Town Tourism. Opinions expressed are mine.

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  • Reply Gail Wilson June 19, 2017 at 6:25 am

    I too need to sometime visit the District Six Museum. Reminds me so much of Fietas where houses were also mowed down then nothing. Such a sad time in our history.

    • Reply 2summers June 19, 2017 at 5:28 pm

      As I just wrote in another comment, apartheid was just so f*cking insane.

  • Reply autumnashbough June 19, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    So they moved the residents just because they could? Not to take the land?

    • Reply 2summers June 19, 2017 at 5:25 pm

      Well…It was really complicated and I’m certainly not an expert on apartheid history. But forced removals happened all over South Africa over the course of many decades (even before apartheid times, before the separation of races was an official policy of the government). While the official reasons always varied, the main motivation, as I understand it, was a simple, brutal desire by the white South African government to get black and brown people out of the “white” areas of the country — e.g., all the cities and basically all the desirable land across the entire country. (This was of course untenable for many reasons, the most pressing reason being that the white people wanted the black and brown people around to do all of their work for them, and this was a difficult arrangement to maintain when the black and brown people were forced to live in horrible conditions many miles outside of town, or in some cases hundreds of miles away in de facto “homelands”.)

      In the case of District Six and other neighborhoods that were torn down and never rebuilt, I’m sure the government did want the land and intended to rebuild it, but for various legal and cultural reasons they were never able to.

      No matter how you look at it, it’s all totally insane. Apartheid was so completely and totally insane — Jim Crow on steroids.

      • Reply autumnashbough June 19, 2017 at 7:15 pm

        Yeah, it sounds awful. And I guess the it’s like the Japanese internment in the United States. There’s no way they will ever get back the property that was stolen.

        • Reply 2summers June 19, 2017 at 7:22 pm

          There have been a few successful land claims, but very few compared to the millions of people (literally) who were affected.

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