District 6 Museum
Filled with vivid color and imagery from floor to ceiling, the District 6 Museum pays tribute to an entire neighborhood where over 60,000 non-white residents were made to move away in the 70s. Under the Group Areas Act under apartheid, District 6 was declared a whites-only area so non-whites had to move out. The people of District 6 were dispersed towards the townships outside Cape Town.
As soon as you enter the museum, you’ll notice a 2-storey “tower” made up of street signs at the center across the room. You also won’t fail to be hit by an array of images, photos and banners all around you that convey the soul and vibrancy of the neighborhood that used to exist here.
There are several striking exhibits including a map laid out on the main room, 2-storey-high banners and photos, portraits and voice recordings of former residents describing their lives. It’s said that the district was a lively place and the displays project this really well, making the knowledge of their fate even more poignant.
The building, which is over 170 years old, used to be a church which the window at one end of the 2nd floor (and its surrounding images) somehow gave me a sense of.
As I mentioned before, this place is really colorful but it had an impact on me beyond pure aesthetics. It’s impossible to fully grasp how ghastly it is to force out people of an entire area until I was in the museum looking at their pictures and reading their stories.
Frankly, I wasn’t too interested in this museum when I was researching places to visit in Cape Town but the museum really impressed me so I was glad to have gone, albeit as part of my township tour.
Castle of Good Hope
Really a fortress than a castle, this nevertheless imposing star-shaped structure was a military base built in 1666 for the former Dutch VOC (Dutch East India Company) rulers of Cape Town. Now, the castle functions as a multipurpose museum, workshop and a base that is still used by the South African army. After crossing the green-water filled moat and entering the castle’s gates, you’ll see the interior is filled up by a courtyard while rooms line the surrounding walls. The courtyard is bisected by one section that runs from one end to the other end, and you can walk through this section to the other side of the courtyard.
It is also possible to get up and walk along the top ramparts, which are still decked out with ancient cannons. Unfortunately the weather was bad and I had to curtail my stay on top because of rain and get back down without completing the walk around.
The flags of South Africa, apartheid-era SA, Holland and the UK proudly flutter along this wall.
The exhibits on show include displays in the military museum, Cape Town’s New Year Carnival (until Jan. 2011), and the William Fehr collection of old paintings, furniture and other household items that belonged to and exemplify the luxury of Cape Town elites in the 19th century.
The military museum is small but informative, as it was here I learned how Cape Town became British.
There is an impressive display of British regimental regalia including weapons, uniforms, medals and even a full-size horse (stuffed or model, I’m not sure) with saddle and stirrups. Besides that, there are displays on the Khoi-Dutch, Anglo-Dutch battles and Anglo-Boer wars. The Anglo-Dutch battles led to the British taking Cape Town, while the Anglo-Boer war was when the British defeated the Boers/ Afrikaaners (descendants of the Dutch settlers) who had formed republics in the South African interior. The British defeated the Dutch in a battle (Muizenberg) in 1795 near Cape Town, took Cape Town which had been in Dutch hands for over 140 years, then returned it to the Dutch in 1803. Then again in 1806, the British fought the Dutch again (Blaauwberg) and took Cape Town for good, until South Africa’s independence. All this was due to political and military events in Europe and this would turn out to have a major influence on Southern Africa, as the British capture of Cape Town was the springboard for its expansion and colonization of the region.
The castle is near the City Hall and the train station. It took me about 20 minutes’ walk from the Slave Lodge as I had to turn into some side streets, which caused me a little trepidation even though this was Cape Town, and passed a magisterial court.
The interior of the front wall, left, and one part of the military museum.
Cape Town’s City Hall, seen from the street just outside the castle, left, and looking at the same city hall from on top of the castle wall.
So besides the museums that I visited, there are still several good ones that I didn’t have the time to go to.
There’s the Bo-Kaap Museum, located in the colorful Malay Muslim neighborhood of the same name that, not surprisingly, showcases the residents’ heritage, the Gold of Africa Museum that shows off gold artefacts from Western and Southern Africa, the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, which is a memorial to the Jews who were killed in the Holocaust and a few others. To put it frankly, Cape Town just has too much places to check out.