District Six

District 6 Museum, Cape Town, South Africa

District Six Museum, Cape Town, South Africa

I first learnt about the poet Tatamkhulu Afrika when his poem ‘Nothing’s changed’, about post-apartheid South Africa [http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/tatamkhulu-afrika-nothings-changed-and-district-6/10291.html], appeared in a GCSE English anthology that I taught to fifteen-/sixteen-year-olds around 1999-2002.

The video-clip that came with the anthology [http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/tatamkhulu-afrika-nothings-changed-and-district-6/10291.html] revealed that, despite his pen-name, given to him by the ANC’s militant wing Umkhonto We Sizwe, he looked like a white man.

Tatamkhulu Afrika (1920-2002) was actually of Egyptian and Turkish descent, adopted by White South African parents who concealed his ethnic origin in order to give him better opportunities under apartheid.  As an adult he rebelled against this, converted to Islam and lived in the cosmopolitan community of District Six in Cape Town.

The poem expresses his anger at the destruction of District Six after the government declared it a white-only area and razed the buildings, exiling the polyglot population to the bleak Cape Flats area, a fifteen-mile rail journey from the city centre.

During the time I was repeatedly working with ‘Nothing’s changed’ with classes of teenagers, I happened to take a trip to South Africa and spent time in Cape Town.

I made a point of persuading a tour-guide to take me to the District Six Museumhttp://www.districtsix.co.za.

The Museum is in a Methodist chapel (one of the numerous places of Christian worship that were left standing) and the coloured guide was a veteran of the injustice.  Showing us a display of identity cards, alongside a whites-only park bench and a whites-only taxi-rank sign, he was able to point to his own picture.

It’s hard to comprehend the bitterness and anger that apartheid generated, and impossible not to admire the way that the new South Africa, for all its imperfections, has travelled so far in the twenty years since the abolition of apartheid.

 

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