Hanover Street renaming divides District Six 

The national government and City of Cape Town held a street renaming ceremony on Heritage Day in September, but Keizersgracht Street is not the original Hanover Street.

Hanover Street in District Six was where residents used to gather to shop and socialise, fostering a sense of belonging and community. Nazlie Connelly, 55, used to live on Hanover Street. So she knows that Keizersgracht Street – the road the national government and the City of Cape Town are renaming Hanover Street – is not the original Hanover Street.

Connelly, a talkative and bubbly former District Six resident, told Minister of Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza this at the renaming ceremony on 24 September, Heritage Day. 

She walked up to Didiza, who was standing near the new Hanover Street sign: “This wasn’t the original Hanover Street. Are you aware of that?” 

“Why are you saying that? This [renaming] could not have been done without the community,” responded a confused but still smiling Didiza.

“Hanover Street was over there,” said Connelly, pointing in the direction of Table Mountain, to the original street. “They guessed it [when renaming].”

Didiza replied: “It means that some of you guessed it. The community makes their own contribution [to the renaming process].”

“I’m sure a lot of people know it’s not Hanover Street,” said Connelly.

“Why did they support it?” asked Didiza.

“I didn’t support it,” said Connelly. “And I come from Hanover Street.”

Didiza then headed to City Hall – up the road on Darling Street, into which Keizersgracht leads – with Cape Town mayor Dan Plato and others to continue the renaming celebration. 

Residents, including Connelly, stayed behind in District Six and took selfies under the Hanover Street sign. 

Disputed street

The street in question is the main artery in District Six, a suburb on the fringe of Cape Town’s inner city. It was renamed Zonnebloem after the apartheid government forcibly removed about 60 000 residents and declared it an area for white people only. Legislated racial segregation was still in force.

Officially, District Six is still Zonnebloem. But former residents have begun returning to the area since homes slowly started being rebuilt under land restitution efforts. They call the area by its old name, which they say carries multiple meanings and feelings. 

Using the name District Six instead of Zonnebloem is about reclaiming the place they once called home. It is about piecing together their lives and identity, decades after apartheid bulldozers destroyed their homes and relegated them to the Cape Flats, they say. 

24 September 2019: Phase three of the government housing project in District Six remains incomplete after the original contractor reneged on the deal. Another contractor has been appointed. Photograph by Yazeed Kamaldien
24 September 2019: Phase three of the government housing project in District Six remains incomplete after the original contractor reneged on the deal. Another contractor has been appointed. Photograph by Yazeed Kamaldien

The national government and City’s inaccurate renaming of Hanover Street has further divided the already splintered stakeholders in District Six. 

Organisers said the renaming ceremony was meant to be a balm for families who are still waiting to return to District Six. In good faith, they organised a Cape minstrel troupe and band, a former resident spoke about his experience growing up in the area and a local imam offered prayers to bless the occasion. But it may have backfired and simply caused confusion among some residents.

‘Incorrect’ renaming

Around the corner from City Hall, at the District Six Museum on Buitenkant Street, a quieter commemoration of Hanover Street unfolded simultaneously.

Museum director Bonita Bennett said they decided to focus on the “original Hanover Street” and had former residents create artworks that told the story of their street. She was baffled at the “incorrect” renaming and what this means for the preservation of memory.

“This museum is a post-apartheid memorial for District Six. For 25 years, we have been protecting the heritage of the area. This [renaming] programme did not involve us,” said Bennett.

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Her comments indicate a lack of inclusivity in the renaming of the street, despite Plato saying the City had elicited 2 000 responses during the public participation process. He told the gathering at the ceremony that the public had “responded in a dramatic fashion. It was one of the biggest inputs we received as part of public participation.”

Bennett said: “We have sent him [Plato] research packs. I contacted him a month ago … They sent me an invitation two days ago. This feels very shallow. It’s got implications for the real Hanover Street.”

Geography, remade

The Cape Technikon, which was built during apartheid for white students and then merged with various colleges to form the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, built its campus over most of the original Hanover Street. 

There is, however, a small section of the road that still exists. The museum organises an annual Walk of Remembrance to this remnant of the street, where former residents gather to remain connected to their heritage.

“It does bother me that the geography of District Six has been refashioned. It feels again like the layering over our history,” said Bennett.

“It makes it difficult to work with authentic memory when you change a landscape. That’s what apartheid did. It’s cynical to take things that are important to people and put it in another place.

“They should have based this renaming on the correct facts. Part of Hanover Street does still exist and it is not Keizersgracht Street,” she said.

Symbolic gesture

Shaheed Ajam is the chairperson of the District Six Working Committee lobby group for restitution. He spearheaded the street renaming with an application to the City of Cape Town.

When asked about the inaccurate location and what it means for the future understanding of place-making and memory of District Six, he walked away, replying: “I’ve answered that question a million times.”

24 September 2019: Private housing developments are going up in District Six while claimants wait for homes as part of the government’s land restitution process. Photograph by Yazeed Kamaldien
24 September 2019: Private housing developments are going up in District Six while claimants wait for homes as part of the government’s land restitution process. Photograph by Yazeed Kamaldien

He was stopped again and eventually he answered: “The name Hanover Street should be back in District Six, if not in the real geographical area … This is symbolically needed to heal and unite the people.”

For Connelly and other former District Six residents, healing and unity will not come from a street renaming but something more tangible, the rebuilding of their homes.

“This [renaming] is really a waste of time and money,” she said. “We need our houses. That’s what we need.” She was referring to the fact that her family’s 1996 land restitution claim to return to District Six has seen no results to date.

Housing developments

Phase three of the District Six housing development project has come to a standstill because the building contractor reneged on the deal.

Unable to offer much insight into the situation regarding phase three, Didiza said, “We appointed another contractor and I may not be able to tell you when it will be finished. Work is in progress.”

In the meanwhile, private developers are going ahead with at least two high-rise apartment blocks in District Six. Homeless people have set up shacks on the empty land that the City allocated for restitution. 

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“We have been working with the community since 1995,” said Didiza. “This was among the first [land restitution] claimants that we addressed.

“The City donated 42 hectares of land where people had been removed. Today, apart from the renaming of the street, we agreed with the city council that we must work together to ensure the return of people to District Six.”

“I’m not impressed,” said Connelley. “She’s got a vague idea of what’s happening in District Six.”

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