Cape Town, South Africa

About Heritage Drive of District Six

Route: Buitenkant Street to Chapel Street
Description: this is an excellent way to explore District Six, other than the yellow route of the City Sightseeing Bus
Length: roughly 4 km
Time: a morning
Overnight: City Bowl
Our tip: You could just as easily make this route a walk as it is not long, depending on the weather and how much time you want to spend on the road versus exploring the District Six Museum, Fugard Theatre, mosques and chapels.

Cape Town's vibrant and deeply historical District Six is one of the most interesting, and emotionally charged, areas in Cape Town. Resting at the foot of Table Mountain, close to the harbour and the City Bowl, District Six is the name of a former inner-city working class suburb.

It is the subject of a musical, a museum, and the memories of 60 000 people forcibly removed from their homes to live on the 'Cape Flats' whilst their homes were demolished by the apartheid government, who was threatened by the obvious harmony with which Indians, Coloureds, Portuguese, Greeks and Jews ( immigrants, merchants, slaves and labourers) lived side by side.

District Six no longer exists. It is divided up between the suburbs of Walmer Estate, Zonnebloem and Lower Vrede, but its memories, artefacts, photographs, paintings, books, historical material and audio-visual recordings are preserved in the museum.

Some former residents have been returned to new homes built in 2003, by the District Six Trust. By the end of 2015 another 2 000 homes will resettle the 1 135 families who lodged land claims between 1995 and 1998.

But the District Six Working Committee finds the development inappropriate, and at least 8 000 further cases lie with the Department of Land Claims. The committee wants to build houses within a framework of memory; with respect to what was, rather than treating resettlement as a 'housing problem'.

Start your journey at District Six Museum on the corner of Albertus and Buitenkant streets. Just around the corner from here, on Caledon Street, is the Fugard Theatre, named after the South African playwright and actor, Athol Fugard.

To your left is what is called The Fringe - between Roeland, Darling, Buitenkant and Tenant Streets - a design, media and ICT creative hub. The attempt to gentrify and develop this area that falls largely within District Six came under fire from the District Six Working Committee, who felt the Cape Town Partnership and City of Cape Town needed to engage more inclusively.

It is worth exploring for its quirky designer studios, coffee shops and book stores.

Head to the corner of Darling and Buitenkant streets and turn right up Darling, which becomes Keizersgracht (formerly Hanover Street). District Six had twenty-one churches, three mosques, three major synagogues and two smaller ones.

On your right up St Marks Road is St Mark's Anglican church, although it is all but swallowed by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). The building (1887) is the second as the first chapel collapsed. On the side of the church is a commemorative tablet for District Six.

Just a little further up Keizersgracht is Al Azhar Mosque, the oldest mosque in District Six, in Aspeling Street, founded in 1887. The mosque is still in use today.

If you take a right up Russell Road the Moravian Chapel is on your right, halfway up. This was known as Moravian Hill but today is part of the CPUT campus. The pretty chapel was built in 1886 and has a porch with separate entrances for women and men. It too is in use today.

A large portion of the land to your left and right remains bare; all that is left of District Six. A dry, overgrown space everyone passes on Nelson Mandela Boulevard in and out of the city.

The New Apostolic Church is in Harder Close a little further along Keizersgracht towards Woodstock, the Holy Cross Church and the Roman Catholic Church are in Searle Street (to the left a little further on Keizersgracht).

Across the road on your right is the Zonnebloem College and Estate. The main house dates from around 1800.

Head down Searle Street under the highway, down past the shopping mall on your left and turn left into Chapel Street. This runs through to Hanover Street (now Keizersgracht).

Look out for the double-storey red-brick Primary School that dates from 1912, and a few of the little terraced cottages in Francis and Osbourne streets give you an idea of how the rest of District Six once looked. The lanes between the terraces were 'sanitary lanes' (today they are gated) used to collect 'night soil' before sewerage was set up.

Sir Herbert Baker designed St Philip's Anglican Church in Chapel Street in 1898, but the name of the street comes from St Philip's Mission Chapel (1885), a little further along. And the Zeenatul Islam Mosque is on Chapel just as it bends back to join Keizersgracht.

Interestingly these churches and mosques have survived, despite the move of residents to the Cape Flats, thanks to the dedication of the religious leaders and their congregants.

All three mosques are still in operation and most of the churches. The synagogues no longer function but the city's Jewish Museum, in Bouquet Street near The Company's Garden, has preserved information about them.

Need to Know

WhereThe route starts in Buitenkant Street to Chapel Street, City Bowl, Cape Town

WhenBest during daylight hours.

How muchFree

OvernightThe closest town is District Six, in Cape Town

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