Eight District Six sites get national heritage status

Trafalgar High School has been granted national heritage status along with seven other sites in District Six.

Eight historical sites in District Six have been granted national heritage status.

Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, The Seven Steps, Trafalgar High School, Harold Cressy High School, the Zeenatul Islam Mosque, the Moravian Church, Al-Azhar Mosque and the Jewish Cemetery were all declared national heritage sites at the end of last month by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA).

The process started in 2006 when District Six was nominated for national heritage site status, according to Ben Mwasinga, the agency’s senior manager of heritage conservation.

“However the site was extremely complex, and there were multiple processes taking place at the time, including the land-restitution process,” he said. “So it was decided that we would phase the national-heritage declaration, so those eight sites were part of the original buildings not destroyed by the apartheid government.”

The sites were part of the historical memory of District Six, he said.

The selected sites are in the heart of District Six, between Tennant and Searle streets to the east and west and by Nelson Mandela Boulevard and Keizersgracht Street to the north and south.

Heritage practitioner Quahnita Samie, from Vidamemoria Heritage Consultants, who worked with the SAHRA on the process, said she felt that her involvement had helped to honour the legacy of her grandparents, Abduraouf Samie and Kulsum Samie, who were forcefully removed from District Six.

“The significance of District Six cannot be contested,” she said.

Salwa Southgate, the principal of Trafalgar High School, which celebrated its 110th anniversary last year, said the school now occupied its rightful place in the country’s history.

“This emotionally charged occasion resonates very deeply with us all as it is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit and its ability to triumph in the face of adversity.”

Father Filippo Ferraro, from the Holy Cross Catholic Church, said many of their parishioners had been part of the old District Six.

“The memory of District Six is still alive and many people who were part of the old District Six still talk about restitution.”

Shafick Ismail, chairman of the Harold Cressy Alumni, said the declaration was a tribute to the school’s teachers who had endured during difficult times under apartheid.

“This is not just about acknowledging the building but the institution that Harold Cressy became who groomed young people into amazing people.”

Former principals such as Victor Richie and Lionel Adriaan had been part of that generation and continued to support the school during their retirement, he said.

Chrischene Julies, from the District Six Museum, said that while they were happy that important sites had been recognised, the SAHRA had missed an opportunity to declare all of District Six a national heritage site – something the museum had long pushed for.

“Unfortunately our heritage legislation, as implemented by SAHRA, has not been able to realise this vision of a wholesale declaration of the area.”

The Holy Cross Catholic Church still has parishioners from the old District Six.
Harold Cressy High School
The Zeenatul Islam Mosque celebrated its centenary in 2020.