District Six was a multi working-class Area just off the center of Cape Town, to the South of the Castle. Today it is an almost vacant lot, shown on maps as the Suburb of Zonnebloem. Before being torn apart by the Apartheid Regime, during the sixties and seventies, District Six, was an impoverished but lively community of 55 000, predominantly Coloured People. It was once known as the soul of Cape Town, this inner-city area harboured a rich Cultural life in its narrow alleys and crowded tenements. After its demise, the district became mythologised, as a rich place of the South African imagination, inspiring novels, poems, jazz and the blockbuster musical, by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen, District Six. (The latter being an ex resident!)
It was named the sixth District of Cape Town in 1867. Originally established as a Community of freed Slaves, Merchants, Artisans, Labourers and Immigrants. District Six was a centre with close links to the City and the Port. However, by the beginning of the 20th Century, the History of removals and marginalization had begun!
The first to be “resettled” were the blacks were, forcibly displaced in 1901. The more prosperous began to move to the Suburbs and the Area became the neglected ward of Cape Town. In the 1940's plans were formed by the Cape Town Municipality to demolish houses under slum clearance, but it was only after the declaration of District Six, as a White Area under the Group Areas Act in 1966, that extensive demolition began. Resistance by Inhabitants was intense and the last Residents only left in the mid-1970s.
The area, together with Sophiatown, in Gauteng became a local and international symbol of the suffering caused by apartheid. A ‘Hands Off District Six’ campaign prevented Private Development and for many years. The Land remained vacant, until in the 1980s Housing for Police and Army Personnel and a Cape Technical College were erected. After the 1994 Democratic Election, claims for restitution were made by families, which had been forced out of District Six. A large number of them have been given the option to resettle in District Six, or accept financial compensation!
S. Jeppie and C. Soudien (eds.), 1990. The struggle for District Six Past and Present