Asa Salie, 67, vividly remembers the bustling Hanover Street when District Six was still her home.
Her parents would amble along the pavement as they did their weekly shopping while fresh fruit and vegetable hawkers called out their specials to potential customers and locals huddled around the smelly fish market for the catch of the day.
Buses would wind through the narrow streets as people flocked to the business hub, Salie recalled.
“You could find everything there: socks and haberdashery at the Little Wonder Store, uniforms at Waylicks, crockery and cutlery at Banks, next to the famous Seven Steps. Oh, everything happened in Hanover Street – it was the heart of District Six,” she recalled.
Music lovers found their bargains at the record store while movie buffs like herself would flock to the Star Bioscope.
“I even saw Cliff Richard when he performed at the Star,” an animated Salie reminisced.
But all these memories were not made on what is today Keizersgracht, she said.
The road was on Thursday “renamed to its original name” – supposedly Hanover Street – after a motion was passed by the City of Cape Town in a full council meeting.
But a simple search of a map of District Six would show that the business hub of the historical community was situated on land now owned by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the pensioner charged.
“They built a student residence over Hanover Street,” said Salie, now the chairperson of the District Six Civic Association.
Keizersgracht was formerly Aspeling Street, Salie recalled, which is why the Al Azhar Masjied on Keizersgracht was still referred to as the Aspeling Street mosque.
Bonita Bennett, director of the District Six Museum, said Keizersgracht followed the Hanover Street contour after the street grid was destroyed.
“At best, Keizersgracht could be renamed ‘New Hanover Street’ so that a false history of the geographic site is not perpetuated, as there is an actual remnant of the original Hanover Street which still exists,” she said.
Life history interviews conducted and archived by the museum are filled with memories of Hanover Street, as are interviews about musical and cultural life in the District, Bennett explained.
“The significance of Hanover Street is unquestionable. The museum also believes that the names of streets and other landmarks in District Six are of great relevance to the way that the history of the area is acknowledged, and its tragic past is memorialised. Renaming forms an important part of restitution.”
The name change request was made by the District Six Working Committee in June.
Committee chairperson Shahied Ajam said Keizersgracht was developed on many streets after the forced removals, destroying the ones the former residents used to know.
“But [the geography] is not the issue. We wanted something tangible, in relation to coming back to District Six. We identify with Hanover Street; our people are not familiar with Keizersgracht. So to have this back, even as some sort of iconic gesture, is okay,” he said.
Ajam maintained that even if Keizersgracht was not entirely Hanover Street, it had formed part of it.
Following a public participation process, almost 1 200 comments were received.
According to mayor Dan Plato, 96% of responses supported the proposed name change.
During his address at Thursday’s meeting, Plato said he was “looking forward to seeing this council undo one of the many injustices of the apartheid regime and provide the community of District Six, as well as many families and households across the Cape metro with a reason to celebrate and relive the fond memories that they still have of life on Hanover Street”.
When asked if the mayor was aware that this was not, in fact, Hanover Street according to research and former residents, city spokesperson Priya Reddy said “the opposing views were also considered”, leaving the matter in the hands of Council to make its decision.
Bennett said the museum was concerned about a number of factors, which led it to offer its qualified support for the renaming of Keizersgracht.
“We call upon the Mayor to take into account processes that have gone before and that have been left in abeyance by the City. This relates in large part to the development of a Hanover Street precinct,” she said.
In addition to requesting Keizersgracht to be renamed “New Hanover Street”, she said the renaming should be “integrated into the broader process of redevelopment and naming streets as houses are built on them”.
“Some plans for this already exist. In fact, there have been suggestions made by the museum when approached to do so in relation to the current Site Q [restitution development]. These include a resurrection of the existing remnant of Hanover Street, the development of Hanover Square, and renaming Keizersgracht as New Hanover Street.”
According to Bennett, a Heritage Impact Assessment prepared 16 years ago by Lucien Le Grange following extensive research suggested principles to be integrated into the redevelopment, which included the preservation and reconstruction of the Hanover Street corridor.
Bennett said that in 2014, a contestation arose with CPUT about their intervention at the site where a part of Hanover Street could still be seen.
“The memorial cairn at this spot was built by the community over many years, on the edge of the remnant of Hanover Street. CPUT had decided to build a student residence on this site, altering and largely destroying this site of ritualised remembrance which was of such significance to the community,” Bennett said.
“The engagement with CPUT is incomplete, and the museum will be calling on the mayor to attend to this matter, significant because most of District Six was destroyed when homes were obliterated, rendering material traces such as the Hanover Street remnant even more precious because of their rarity.”
CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley said CPUT has “always acknowledged the pain that was caused when the then Cape Technikon was built on the site”.
“In March 2018 the university renamed its Cape Town campus to the District Six campus. The renaming represented much more than simply a name change for the sake of it. Instead, we view it as a notch on the timeline of an ongoing integration project,” she said.
“The university sees the value in our students being constantly conscientised about the space that they inhabit and the renaming is just one project in a larger academic roll out already taking place. This includes having the history of District Six incorporated into first year orientation and using our many service learning projects to uplift the surrounding community in meaningful ways.
“The District Six Museum remains an important stakeholder in these continuous engagements.”
Bennett said the museum “supported the broad principle of Hanover Street finding a significant place within the rebuilt District Six”.
“But our strong reservations have led us to believe that this is not the correct action at this time. Strange as it might seem because of our belief in honouring the past through names and rituals, we are not convinced that we can support this particular renaming, believing that the fragile District Six community have a right to have all aspects considered in this process.”