Walking into the South African National Geo-spatial Information office in Mowbray, Cape Town you pass a counter with these eight aerial photographs of District Six laid out on it. District Six, located in the city bowl, was a cosmopolitan mixed-race neighbourhood but under the Group Areas Act it was declared a whites-only area. It was demolished almost entirely by the apartheid government over the period from 1968 to 1982 and it’s residents forcefully relocated to peripheral areas of Cape Town. Despite the destruction and removal the land was for the most part not developed and much is still vacant because the land claims filed by the families previously resident in the area have not all been settled yet. I spent a long time looking at these images on a recent visit to the office and found them desperately sad.
Earlier this year I lived in a house that is just visible on the edge of the aerial photographs in what is now called Zonnebloem. I often walked or cycled through the empty patch of land that was once District Six. The aerial photographs were a powerful reminder that the experience of walking through this neighbourhood could have been very different.
There is, however, an emotional distance in the way the aerial photographs represent the destruction of the District Six community. The images below offer a street-level view of the community that might give us more of a sense of what living in and walking through the streets of District Six might have felt like.
The sense of humanity in the photographs makes the emptiness of the aerial photographs just that much sadder.
Aerial photographs reproduced under Government Printer’s Authorisation (Authorisation No. 11770) dated 24 May 2017. Copyright held by the the Chief Directorate: National Geo-Spatial Information.
Cloete Breytenbach photographs reproduced with permission from the UCT Special Collections. Copyright held by the photographer.
Jansje Wissema photographs reproduced with permission from the UCT Special Collections. Copyright held by Cape Provincial Institute of Architects.Read older posts from this section