Cape Times

It’s imperative that the name Zonnebloem be changed to its former one – District Six

- MATTHEW NISSEN | Researcher: District Six Museum

“WE THE people recognise the injustices of our past…”

The opening line of the Constituti­on of South Africa provides a backdrop as to why changing the name Zonnebloem back to District Six is important.

Zonnebloem was the name of the farm before the area was subdivided and developed for housing in the 1840s. It became a place for the freed slaves, artisans, dock workers, factory workers and immigrants who were beginning to settle during the last half of the 19th century and into the early 20th century.

According to the District Six Museum, it was unofficial­ly named Kanaaldorp, because of all the water canals. But it was also called Kanaladorp, possibly a play on the Indonesian word kanala, for please/ help.

Kanaladorp is probably a derivative of the two references, and is clearly shown in William Snow’s survey (1862) of Cape Town as forming part of the area that later became known as District Six.

In 1867, District Six was proclaimed as the sixth district of the City of Cape Town. It was a name that was kept for a century, but was changed later for the sake of ideology. Its name was removed as a message to those who had been forcefully removed: District Six would not be remembered; it would be forgotten by force.

We often speak of the ills of apartheid, and we feel disempower­ed when confronted with the ghost of the monster that seemingly is no longer there.

Yet, the monster’s legacy exists in the most subtle ways: the name of a road or the name of a suburb. In the 1970s, bulldozers demolished houses, tenements and businesses; trucks were loaded with belongings and people were displaced to areas that were not their homes.

All the while, apartheid officials unimaginat­ively plotted a new name for District Six. Quoting Bonita Bennett, director of the District Six Museum: “The erasure of the name ‘District Six’ and its replacemen­t with ‘Zonnebloem’ was the final step in obliterati­ng any trace of the community’s life under apartheid.”

If we reflect on this statement, it reveals what the name Zonnebloem, as the official name of the area, has come to represent.

If we look at District Six with an honest gaze we are provided with an unnatural picture. We are presented with demolition and erasure. The naming of Zonnebloem clearly disrupts the natural progressio­n of an area and serves now as an imposition and reminder of an apartheid crime against the people of Cape Town, and of District Six in particular. In fact, there was resistance to the name change in the 1970s and 1980s; a record of resistance that is hard to erase and even harder to ignore.

It is important to rename it back to District Six because it presents us with a tangible act of expression to solidify the intangible memory of District Six. The best thing about it is that it does not take a grand gesture; all it takes in this context is an acknowledg­ement of the past injustices. During the District Six Museum’s door-to-door campaign, we heard various voices and opinions.

Some said there were more pressing issues, some said they did not mind either way. But most said they wanted their heritage back, they want the name District Six, stating unambiguou­sly that this has always been District Six to them.

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