Between the 21st of January and the 13th of March 2010 we were invited to spend a three-week research residency in Cape Town, developing a series of site-specific interventions that would take place during the Infecting the City festival. The residency was funded by the Goethe Institute of South Africa.
Initial area of investigation
The naming and (re)claiming of space
Throughout history places within Cape Town have been repeatedly renamed, an appropriation and personalisation of space that follows a pattern of conquest and political upheaval. The power of language is used to claim a cultural heritage, a process closely linked to a feeling of belonging or displacement.
How do place names in Cape Town reflect demographics of power, culture, segregation, etc? How do individuals, political bodies and informal collectives continue to rename places that are of particular significance? When is this re-branding constructive and empowering and when is it counterproductive?
The research process
During the first two weeks of our residency we interviewed a variety of historians, politicians, activists, pedestrians, taxi drivers and local residents. We started to build a picture of how names in Cape Town have been changed and allocated throughout history, what issues people have with the current status quo, how recent name-changing processes have been conducted and received, and what the government’s policy is regarding future name-change and name allocation.
Two issues kept emerging from our interviews. 1. The continued existence of offensive or inappropriate street/place names, and 2. The lack of any reference to Cape Town’s indigenous heritage, and the need to accept, understand and experience a plurality of identity.
The District six museum, Faizal Gangat (Director of ‘Tour Capers’), Owen Kinnerhan (Ward councillor), Patric Tariq Mellet (Independent heritage activist), David Hart (Historian at the city heritage department), Jim Hallinan (Historian at the city heritage department), Peter Hart (Independent historian), Lizo Ndzabela & co. (The Direct Action Centre for Peace and Memory), community leaders in Gugulethu, Glen Arendse (The Khoi Khonnexion) and Ursula Arends (Independent researcher).
Bradley van Sitters (!Huni !Gurub) of the Khoe San Active Awareness Group, Zinzile Nannan, Garlic Brown, AFA Negus (!Nanseb), Judah & Levi from the Franschoek Medicinal Herb Garden, Simeon Goldstone & Naftali Bushwak from Atlantis, Jethro Louw of the Khoi Khonnexion, Craig Joubert and P. Dâusab (Khoe and San National Language Body)
Paul Booth (City Planning Department), Adrian McKay (Architect), Dave Cullum (Parks and Gardens), Jutta Frensch (Cedric’s Lodges), Norbert Furnon-Roberts (Waterkant Residents Association), Nomaza Dingayo & Hannetjie du Preez (Western Cape Provincial Library Services), Mrs Laurens & co. (Cape Town Archives), Thulani Nxumalo (District Six Museum), Ronelle Rudman (Historian), Grant Sutherland (Talk Show TV Café)
Issue 2. The lack of any reference to Cape Town’s indigenous heritage, and the need to accept, understand and experience a plurality of identity
“Growing up in Cape Town I asked myself where do I fit in all of this? There is no reference of self, as an indigenous person of this country. If you walk down the streets of Cape Town you see a celebration of European dominance” (Bradley van Sitters of the Khoe San Active Awareness Group)
Our identity is framed and formed by the world we live in. In Cape Town this world does not reflect the plurality of our identity. The streets, statues and spaces of Cape Town’s city centre are named almost exclusively using the language of a European or colonial heritage, and there are virtually no direct references to an indigenous Khoesan heritage. Over 1000 years of indigenous heritage remains (formally) unrecognised within the public domain, despite this being etched (sometimes unknowingly) into the faces, languages, and know-how of many Capetonians today; Heritage that represents the ancestral roots of the city.
“A lack of understanding towards our roots results in xenophobia. … Nothing will fall apart if we recognise this different reality” (Patric Mellet, heritage activist)
There are statues depicting the likes of Jan Van Riebeeck, Cecil Rhodes, Bartholomeu Dia, Jan Smuts, or the Boer War, but no monuments that commemorate the previous inhabitants of the Western Cape, inhabitants that were displaced, suppressed, and at times exterminated by colonial benefactors; A period of history we are still left to reconcile with.
Following our initial period of research we wanted to address this imbalance within the city centre. We started collaborating with Bradley van Sitters from the Khoe San Active Awareness Group, to develop acts of public recognition and reconciliation that reflect on the ancestry and cultural heritage of Cape Town, while exploring alternative approaches to the creation of public memorials/monuments.