District Six was established adjacent to the downtown core in 1867 as the “Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town” – a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. Over the next century the modest area grew into a cosmopolitan melting pot boasting a rich jazz scene. Later, as the dark years of apartheid clamped down on the city, it became a haven for musicians, writers and politicians looking for a moment of escape. In the words of legendary South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, District Six was a “fantastic city within a city. Where you felt the fist of apartheid, it was the valve to release some of that pressure.”
However, by the mid sixties the government had the community in its sights. In 1966, after allowing the area’s infrastructure to crumble for years, the government classified District Six a slum and declared it a ‘whites only’ area under the infamous Groups Area Act. Forced removals began two years later and by 1982 sixty thousand people had been relocated to the Cape Flats township some 25 kilometres away. District Six was razed to the ground and, despite having once been home to a tenth of Cape Town’s population, the area remains barren wasteland to this day.