Friday, August 31, 2007

The District Six Museum

Today we went to the District Six Museum and we met Noor, the founder of the museum. So what, or more appropriately where is District Six? District Six is now a large empty area on a hillside in Capetown, it was a thriving neighborhood. Noor is a South African man of Indian descent. He is sixty two years old, his story and the story of District Six are inextricably linked.

District Six was a place where all kinds of people lived. Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Colored, Black, but no one who was White. That was the problem. The area was a prime location, looking out over Cape Town towards the water. In the early Sixties the government sent out notices to the residents of District Six that they were living in violation of the law and that the district was to become an all white area, they were told to move, they had lost ownership of their property, and it would be bulldozed. Now the impact of that is a bit abstract, until you talk to someone who experienced it.

Noor was born in a house in District Six. This house was his family's home in South Africa since they had been here. His entire life was contained in this area. He stood across the street and watched as the bulldozer came and transformed his family's home into a pile of rubble. He wept as he watched all that his parents had worked a lifetime to build being destroyed. He spoke of a time when people of different religions all celebrated their friend's holidays, how they attended the various places of worship and prayed together out of mutual respect for the religious beliefs of their friends and neighbors. He told how families were broken up. A Colored man is married to a black woman, they have three children, the children are dark. The Colored father is moved to a Colored township, his Black wife and Black children are moved to a Black township, to visit them he is required by law to go to the police station and get a permit for each visit. This is the madness of Apartheid, this is the world of our play.

There is enormous irony here, today South Africa wants to be a kind of multicultural model and yet they had that model in the early sixties in District Six and they didn't value it, in fact, they destroyed it. The demolition of District Six is the backdrop of the world of The Blood Knot. The world of our play is a world in which color means everything. Where you can live, what you can do, who you can see, also how you are seen by the world. Black people were required by law to carry a "passbook," other people carried identification cards indicating their racial category, and this was required of all South Africans, but for black South Africans the circumstance was a little different. If you were black you had to have your passbook on your person at all times. If a policeman asked to see it and you didn't have it, you were arrested and fined, and if you couldn't pay the fine you were imprisoned until it was paid. Your skin color was the fence around your life, you couldn't go over it or under it, you had to live inside that fence.

Today District Six is an urban wasteland, no one lives there. Many want to see it established as a monument park, so the injustices of the past are never forgotten. Perhaps they will succeed, perhaps not.


Pictures from the District Six Museum:

No comments: