Look at D6 holistically

Bonita Bennett, director: District Six Museum

On behalf of the District Six Museum community of former and returned residents, I write to Mayor Dan Plato at the request of the Seven Steps members of the District Six Museum, which is an honorary club of ex-resident elders.

They have been an important backbone of the museum as well as the dispersed community of District Six, since the club was formed on Heritage Day of 2008.

Over the years of their engagement with the museum and also through their own private rituals of remembrance, they have developed notable literacy in spatial memorialisation and have contributed towards the museum’s international acclaim in this field.

Life history interviews conducted and archived by the museum are filled with memories of Hanover Street, as are interviews about musical and cultural life in the District.

The significance of this street is unquestionable.

Names of streets and other landmarks in District Six are of great relevance to the way that the history of the area is acknowledged and its tragic past is memorialised. Renaming forms an important part of restitution.

Much research and conversation that has gone into the Hanover Street project.

There is the actual remnant of Hanover Street that still exists, and which has been a site of contention as CPUT encroached on this spot when they erected student residences on its edge in 2014. As title deed holders, CPUT made a commitment to work with the community to memorialise the street. There have been ideas to resurrect this actual fragment of Hanover Street (which lies above the Keizersgracht axis) and extend it path into Site Q, and to integrate “new” and “old” Hanover streets into this next phase of the restitution process.

The Seven Steps members wanted me to provide you with this broader context for the renaming, with the additional request that you engage with them through the museum.

They would like to discuss how all naming processes within the redeveloped District Six can be considered holistically and not in a piecemeal manner.

Theirs is not a position expressed at whim, but has emerged over a long period of engagement with place-based memory practices.

It is closely connected to the application to have Zonnebloem renamed back to District Six. Previous proposals relating to the development of a Hanover Street precinct go back a number of years.

In summary, they include:

1. Renaming Keizersgracht “New Hanover Street” as it is not actually Hanover Street, but it does follow the street’s contour after the street grid was destroyed. This would ensure that a false history of the geographic site is not perpetuated.

2. This renaming should be integrated into the broader process of redevelopment and naming streets as houses are built on them.

3. The memorial cairn at this spot was built by the community over many years, on the edge of the remnant of Hanover Street.

CPUT had decided to build a student residence on this site, altering and largely destroying this site of ritualised remembrance which was of such significance to the community.

The engagement with CPUT is incomplete, and we call on the mayor to attend to this matter- significant because most of District Six was destroyed when homes were obliterated, rendering material traces (such as the Hanover Street remnant) even more precious because of their rarity.

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4. The Heritage Impact Assessment of 2003 prepared by architect Lucien le Grange and his team after extensive research, has suggested principles to be integrated into the redevelopment.

They include reference to the “preservation and reconstruction of the Hanover Street corridor”.

The District Six Museum supports the broad principle of Hanover Street finding a significant place within the rebuilt District Six, but our strong reservations as expressed above have led us to believe that this is not the correct action at this time.

It is also an act that it likely to be divisive. It also stands to be a wonderful opportunity to build that elusive cohesion we all seek, if engaged adequately and authentically.

Mayor Dan Plato responds:

The City of Cape Town received the request to rename Keizersgracht to Hanover Street from the District Six Working Committee in June 2019. This request was presented to the mayoral committee who recommended that the matter be submitted for public participation to allow the whole of Cape Town to submit their comments and views.

Approximately 1 200 residents and interested parties submitted comments during the public participation process which ended on July 26.

An overwhelming 96% of the participants supported the proposed name change.

As a result, the request for the name changes was then put to a full multi-party council sitting, who supported the public’s call for the renaming.

I agree that the redevelopment of District Six, a task that has primarily fallen upon national government, be looked at holistically, and I will be inviting all interested stakeholders to further engage with us on how the City of Cape Town can best support the community going forward.