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Images of Southern Africa - Cape Town

Cape Town panorama

In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck (an official of the Dutch East India Company), founded the settlement of Cape Town. It represented the beginnings of a society that was to extend across the southern part of Africa, opening an era of European discovery and expansion. Cape Town was established to provide refreshment and supplies for ships sailing around the Cape to the Dutch East Indies and Far East. The darker patch in the centre foreground of the photograph is the Company Gardens. This is all that remains of a 43-acre garden laid out for growing fresh vegetables for the sailors.

The panorama was taken looking towards the north with the reclaimed land of the docks to the west and Table Mountain to the east. The high rise buildings of the city centre can be seen, as can the cleared area of District 6 in the centre of the photograph.

In the early nineteenth century when, after 1838, the British in South Africa freed large numbers of slaves. Coloureds (the 4 million Afrikaans-speaking descendants of slaves brought to South Africa by the Dutch) formed a vibrant, multi-cultural working class community in this area close to the city centre, where there were opportunities for work. Following the passing of the Group Areas legislation in 1950, all non-Europeans were moved into the suburbs beyond the railway lines. During the mid-1960s areas such as District 6 were destroyed, and 60,000 people forced to leave their homes. Many were sent to the Cape Flats area where housing provision was inadequate. In simplest terms, the Act led to the formation of what has been called the ‘apartheid city’ with its highly segregated residential areas based on colour.

In 1970, in an attempt to attract developers who they hoped would turn it into a modern suburb, the Government renamed the District 6 area ‘Zonnebloem’ (zone in bloom). Protesters successfully dissuaded development and the area remains largely undeveloped. However, in early 2004, some original owners as well as descendants of the evicted moved back into new homes in the area. The history of District 6 is commemorated in a museum staffed by guides who were displaced from the area. The museum, like Robben Island, represents a place of pilgrimage for many people.

Today Cape Town is a thriving city of over 3 million inhabitants who are attempting to come to terms with the post-apartheid era. Although the segregation laws no longer apply forces such as income still make integration difficult. Areas along the Atlantic coast, west of Lion’s Head, remain predominantly white, while areas further from the city centre, e.g. Langa (see Langa Township, Cape Town), Nyanga and Khayelitsha, are black townships.

Ideas for further exploration:

  • Examine the history of the area known as District 6. In what ways does its history reflect the policies introduced under the apartheid system?
  • Using an atlas or maps on the internet find out how much of Cape Town is shown in this panorama. In which directions does the city extend beyond what can be seen in the image?
  • The city appears to be expanding into the foothills of Table Mountain. What aspects of the geography of the city are currently preventing its further expansion in this direction?
  • Imagine you have just been appointed as Director of Planning for Cape Town with a brief to develop the area formerly known as District 6. Working in a group, suggest ways of its development and present these to the class.

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