Today is international Museum Day. ICOM: s theme for this year is Museums and contested histories: Saying the unspeakable in museums. MNI will shine the spotlight on a few museum’s who work with these issues everyday, and that are “promoting peaceful relationships between people”.
ICOM describe’s this year’s theme in these words:
“The acceptance of a contested history is the first step in envisioning a shared future under the banner of reconciliation. Saying the unspeakable in museums looks at how to understand the incomprehensible aspects of the contested histories inherent to the human race. It also encourages museums to play an active role in peacefully addressing traumatic histories through mediation and multiple points of view”. – ICOM
District Six, Cape Town, South Africa, was developed exactly for this purpose.
The word Reconciliation become commonplace in our vocabulary during the, long, difficult, but ultimately brave and necessary Truth and Reconciliation Process of post-apartheid South Africa. Growing up in Europe and North America during the 1960-1980’s, the Apartheid-regime, the boycott of South Africa, Soweto, Sharpville, Nelson Mandela, Steven Biko, Desmond Tutu and many others, was constantly in the news. Many of us – even non-political people – were involved in one way or another. If nothing else we wore “Free Mandela” T-shirts and signed up for various anti-Apartheid organisations during the massive concerts arranged in that weird commercial-political era of the 1980’s. Those concerts did not only feature Simple Minds, Peter Gabriel, U2 etc., but some of the biggest African musicians. (see more on this, below).
Meanwhile in South Africa, deaths, violence, discrimination, hardship, and incarceration was part of the everyday life for 80 % of the population. It is unimaginable that the apartheid-system could continue for so long, but it did and it is important to learn about how it was organised and functioned. But it is also important – for South Africans in particular but also for others, to experience whatever positive that can come out of this awful history.
In South Africa, the District Six museum is telling the history of apartheid, but is also working to create something positive for the present and the future. District Six was a municipality of Cape Town. It was a mixed community until 1901 when the black South Africans were the first to be forced out. In 1966 it was declared a “white area” and in the 1980’s the remaining population were forced to move out and the entire area was bulldozed (like Sophiatown and other areas). Rather than rebuilding the community, the museum was set up to work with the memories of the District Six experience and with that of forced removals. But the museum was also established to “reinvent District Six for the future”.
“The museum represents a living memorial and is more than just a static display. Through this space we have created an arena which enables us to reaffirm our identity, celebrate our heritage and confront the complexities of our history”.
Vincent Kolbe, ex-resident and founding member of the Museum (Credit District Six website)
The District Six museum is an interactive space and also put much efforts into working with youths. The website provides a lot of information about the area, the apartheid-regime and the present. It also shares many photographs, as well as virtual tours of the exhibits. District Six is definitely on the MNI bucket list!