Palpable remnants of District Six documented
DECADES before District Six was flattened by bulldozers, farmers toiled on the land there. This is documented in a book, which will be launched in December.
A labour of love by author Jim Hislop, the book on the renowned suburb delves into the history of the area between 1700 and 1850.
The work follows Hislop’s first book, which was published four years ago and deals with the early buildings of Observatory. He planned on tackling Woodstock, but was intrigued by District Six because he said not much had been written about the area’s early history.
The area where District Six is situated originally consisted of “market garden estates” (small farms) such as Zonnebloem, which provided provisions for ships and the growing Cape settlement. Residents of these semirural estates were European settlers and workers.
Hislop said he found the early inhabitants of the area, comprising landowners, immigrants, freed slaves, artisans and washerwomen, reflected the demographic later found in District Six.
“What I found interesting is the mix of people was there from the start. It was a cross-section of Cape Town society that lived side by side,” he said.
The suburb was named District Six in 1867 when Cape Town was divided into municipal districts.
is self-published and is being printed locally, with the help of sponsors. It is divided into sections which deal with the early estates, the early homesteads and the first streets of District Six.
Retracing the streets proved a challenge because when the suburb was declared a whites-only area during apartheid, “they just flattened everything”, Hislop said.
He found remnants of Hanover Street, and the book includes maps of the old and new street grid; familiar street names such as Tennant, Pontac and Chapel are recorded.
Hislop said “a nice surprise” was the discovery of archaeological items such as buttons and fragments of porcelain, which could still be found on vacant land in District Six.
He found descendants of former residents visiting District Six, sitting on their haunches, scratching for items that tied them to the area.
“You can see when people have an emotional connection to the place. Decades later, that pain (from residents being forcibly removed) is still palpable,” he said.
He has dedicated the book to the 60 000 people who were thrown out of District Six after it was declared a whites-only area under the Group Areas Act in 1966.