District Six Museum: briefing

Arts and Culture

15 February 2005
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

15 February 2005

Chairperson: Mr S Tsenoli (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Booklet of photographs, "The Last Days of District Six"

District Six briefing

The District Six Museum gave a briefing on its role in the redevelopment of the District Six community, and in shaping a model for community museums. The Museum was represented by its Director, Mr Valmont Layne, Mr Terence Fredericks and Ms Maheerah Gameildien. The Museum emphasised the need for government funding and also highlighted some of the funding problems encountered.


District Six Museum briefing
The Museum was established out of a desire to rebuild the community and preserve its heritage. Members were told that the community was forcefully removed during the height of apartheid regime. The community had been made up of Jewish, Indian and European immigrants, and African slaves. Therefore the District Six community was indeed a multicultural community. When people were forcefully removed, this resulted in townships like Langa and Ndabeni. The District Six community was initially located in the heart of the city. When the apartheid regime wanted to create an ‘all white’ Cape Technikon, the regime claimed that they wanted to clear the area as it was disease infested. The Museum was national site that was assisting government to fulfill its role in democratic state.

When the Museum was formed in 1995, the government concentrated mainly on national museums and ignored the community museums. The board of the Museum lobbied government to provide funding for building community museums .With the "Hands Off District Six" slogan, they had emphasised the need for less government intervention. However, the board now wanted state intervention in the form of funding.

The Museum’s operating costs were estimated at around R5 million, and it currently had a budget of about R1.1 million. The Museum depended largely on outside donors. Their biggest sponsors were from the Scandinavian countries and the National Lottery. The Museum had previously not charged an admission fee. Now local people did not pay, but tourists were charged an entrance fee. The Museum attracted about 60 000 visitors per year. The Museum used to employ volunteers, but now had a staff of 25 employees.

The Museum was also engaged in an advocacy project and in raising awareness about heritage solutions to stimulate ‘community tourism’.

The Museum had helped the District Six community to preserve their heritage, and had also helped the community of Langa to establish its own museum. The communities in Port Elizabeth and East London were currently being helped to establish their community museums. They were also involved in assisting the community to get funding for housing from commercial banks. This Museum represented a pool of intellectuals from the District Six community, in that it was comprised of teachers, priests, archivists and librarians. The Museum believed that it could grow into fully fledged national museum

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) commended the Museum for its initiative to help rebuild community whose residents were victims of forced removals. He proposed that the Museum should provide assistance to the Cato Manor community to establish their own museum.

Mr Matlala (ANC) asked if the museum had any connections with schools. Mr Fredericks answered that schools were involved through an ‘Ambassador Programme’. The programme helps the children to interact with art and oral history. This had been instrumental in bringing children from diverse cultures to know the history of the District Six community.

Mr M Sonto (ANC) lamented that there was little use of indigenous languages like Afrikaans and Xhosa at the Museum. Further, he asked if ordinary people who had once lived in District Six were being involved. Mr Layne replied that the language issue was linked to funding. With more funding, these languages could get sufficient coverage in the Museum. Older people from District Six were involved in writing books for exhibition in both Afrikaans and Xhosa.

Mr Fredericks added that the Museum had been instrumental in producing a documentary series on ‘Woolsey Street’. The series traced the forced removals from 1901 until the displaced families were settled on the Cape Flats where they face gangsterism, drugs and crime.

In June 2004, the Museum had submitted a ‘Legacy Project’ for funding from the National Lottery. The Museum was still awaiting a reply. Therefore funding problems continued to threaten the existence of the community museum. Donors like the Swedish Foundation and the Ford Foundation were not contributing funds towards the operating costs of the Museum. Mr Layne appealed to Committee to create an enabling framework..

The Chairperson stressed that Mr Layne should spell out what he meant by ‘enabling framework’. Mr Layne felt that government should fund the Museum as it was depending on project funds. They were looking into widening their funding sources. The Museum hoped to raise R2-3 million from the national and provincial government. He added that some of the projects covered redevelopment of the District Six community. The board of the Museum was making efforts to get funding for housing at the larger banks.

Dr Mulder stated that the country lacked a ‘museum culture’ and asked if the Museum was doing anything to develop a new model for museums. Ms Maheerah added Members that the Beneficiaries Trust was a sister organisation responsible for integration of individual families into the community.

Ms T Shilubana (ANC) asked when the public had started to pay to pay entrance fees. Mr Fredericks answered that only tourists had been paying since 2004. Ms Shilubana also asked where the dead from District Six community had been buried. Mr Fredericks replied that many had been were buried outside the city center in a cemetery near Goodwood, and in Prestwich Street.

The Chairperson highlighted problems of capacity to speed up the allocation of funding, and the challenge of overcoming bureaucracy. The museum presentation would be discussed at later stage by the Committee.

The meeting was adjourned.



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