District Six Museum’s Critical Pedagogy: Making Spaces to Heal Community Memories

Laura Gibson

Abstract


Cape Town’s District Six Museum houses the memory of the 60,000 people forcibly removed from the area when the apartheid government of South Africa declared it for white use only in 1966, and razed it to the ground. Significantly, the museum has chosen to work with the memory of an eclectic and cosmopolitan community, which runs counter to an apartheid discourse that categorised groups along strict racial lines. The museum’s mandate is in line with former President Nelson Mandela’s vision of the inclusive South African rainbow nation that has confronted and reconciled its traumatic history. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that followed apartheid’s demise gives context for the museum’s emergence as it emphasized providing a space for victims to express painful memories that had previously been silenced by the state. Being able to vocalise one’s memories is considered an important part of an individual and South African national healing process.

This paper is concerned with how the District Six Museum gives space for expression of memories and engages in and facilitates this ongoing healing process. Crain Soudien (2006) and Anna Bohlin (1998) have started to explore the critical pedagogical techniques used by the museum to (re)construct memories in such a way that it can form narratives that are unconstrained by apartheid categories of race and so produce an inclusive, anti-racial body of knowledge and community. This paper will contribute further to this research by looking closely at the pedagogical techniques used by the museum in four specific exhibitions. The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, perpetrated along the perceived racial lines created by apartheid, highlight the currently incomplete process of healing South Africa’s memory. Thus, the District Six Museum has an ongoing role in providing spaces for dialogue that challenge a persisting discourse and memory centred on race.


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