Photographs taken of District Six by the late architect and photographer, Jan Greshoff, captured the spirit and camaraderie many experienced in the community.
Now Mr Greshoff’s nephew, Martin Greshoff is putting together a book of the accounts of those who saw the photographs and relayed their untold stories of District Six.
Jan Greshoff, an architect by trade, worked in Cape Town in the 1960s through to the 1980s and had a keen eye for photography. He was a close friend of Jansje Wissema, who was commissioned to photograph District Six for the South African Institute of Architects at the time and photographed the area at the same time as her friend – their projects feeding off each other to some extent.
Jan Greshoff was also friends with Ben and Helen Kies, who taught at Trafalgar High School and Harold Cressy High School in District Six and this relationship may have influenced his photography of the area.
“He was aware that Cape Town was changing and wanted to document this change. In his lifetime he did not publish or use his photographs and it was only in 1996 that he donated some 800 images to the then newly founded District Six Museum.
“They were exhibited by the museum in the same year.”
“Jan was a private and modest man and didn’t talk much about his photography. He had no children and it was only after he died (in 2007) that his wife passed his archive of negatives on to us, his nephews and niece, that we discovered the full extent of his archive,” said Martin Greshoff.
Jan Greshoff’s photographs covered many areas around Cape Town, including District Six, the Bo-Kaap, Woodstock, Salt River, the Grand Parade, the harbour, Cape Town city centre and Muizenberg and his pictures sparked Martin’s interest in the community of District Six, which led to the idea of creating a book of memoirs encapsulating the “untold” stories of District Six.
“Just prior to leaving SA in 1980 and inspired by Jan, I took a number of photos of the Bo-Kaap; District Six having been demolished by this time. Later I began reading books on District Six and continue to do so. In 2014 I started a Facebook page so Jan’s photographs could be seen by the communities which he photographed.
“It was through responses and comments made about the photos on this forum that it became clear that Jan’s District Six images provoked many memories and emotions,” said Martin.
The comments about memories shared in District Six about childhood games and places such as the “bioscopes” inspired Martin to create a book containing the untold stories of the residents of District Six.
“The idea was to give those who may not have thought about telling their stories an opportunity to do so and create a tangible record for future generations. It felt important that these memories of an area no longer in existence were captured and preserved for the future and that what happened to District Six was not forgotten but kept alive,” said Martin.
The book, which is still in the making, will publish the accounts of individuals who have volunteered to write their stories and be illustrated using photographs taken by Jan. A date for publication has not been set as there is still work that needs doing in relation to crowdfunding.
Former District Six resident Jenny Daniels, who will be adding her story to the book, said the written stories will add life to the photographs and will also give people a chance they may not have had to speak about their memories.
“My grandparents lived there at the turn of the century and I was born there and moved away when I was 22 years old. I came across the post by accident.
Someone posted one of Jan Greshoff’s pictures on Facebook. It was a picture taken across from the house I was staying at and the caption was incorrect, so I commented.
“The photographs conjure up bittersweet memories. The sweet memories being of my childhood and having a wonderful community that helped make me the person I am today and the bitter being served orders to move out and break down the community,” said Ms Daniels, who now lives in Belhar.
Ms Daniels said she believes that many individuals from District Six received no closure, especially as promises made by the housing institution never came to fulfilment and no retribution was received. However, she believes that sharing their memories will serve to capture their history.
If anyone would like to view the archive of pictures taken by Jan Greshoff, they can view them at https://www.facebook.com/Jan.Greshoffs.Photographs.