In its simplest terms, the return of people to District Six has significance for the country as a whole, and for the Museum in particular. The struggle for the land which formed the backdrop to the Museum’s formation continues into the present, albeit in a different form. Having started its institutional journey by committing not to rebuild District Six, but to work with its memory, it is bound to support the process of 'reinventing' District Six for the present. In making the application to have District Six declared a National Heritage Site in 2006, SAHRA (South African Heritage Resources Agency) and District Six Museum chose to foreground the displacement of people in developing the statement of significance. This feature was selected even though there might have been others such as its musical culture or its contribution to literature as just two examples.
The site's past and present is used as a symbolic lens through which to learn about and understand experiences of so many other communities in South Africa: South End, Sophiatown, Marabastad, Cato Manor, Fietas, Malay Camp, Protea Village – a longer list of communities disrupted by forced legal displacement can be added to this. District Six has also been celebrated in literature by writers such as Richard Rive, Alex la Guma and Bessie Head; in the paintings of Gerard Sekoto, Tyrone Appollis, Kenny Baker and Sandra McGregor; in the photography of Jackie Heyns, Wilfred Paulse and George Hallett. It is known for having provided a creative home for musicians such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Mervyn Africa, Trevor Jones and Robert Sithole.
It is both the real and symbolic value that continues to feed the dynamic significance of District Six. The current emphasis on the land and sites is not new. In 1993 the Museum hosted a public meeting at which two key projects were discussed. The one was to create a Memorial Park at the site of Horstley Street, and the second project was to establish the District Six Museum. In this sense, the intention to memorialise the site has been in the making since its formative years.
In August 2003 the Museum's long-term strategic plan was launched to signal the shift from a memorial project of land and cultural restitution, to an emerging site museum. This Hands on District Six event introduced plans for the establishment of the Sacks Futeran Complex as a cultural, homecoming centre for the new District Six, the intention to develop a Memorial Park, and plans to work towards the development of a Cultural Heritage Precinct on the broader District Six site.
Provision is made in the National Heritage Resources Act No. 25 of 1999, for grading and protection of places regarded as being part of the country’s rich heritage resources. In its preamble, the act declares that: This legislation aims to promote good management of the national estate, and to enable and encourage communities to nurture and conserve their legacy so that it may be bequeathed to future generations…. Our heritage celebrates our achievements and contributes to redressing past inequities. It educates, it deepens our understanding of society and encourages us to empathise with the experience of others. It facilitates healing and material and symbolic restitution and it promotes new and previously neglected research into our rich oral traditions and customs. (NHRA No. 25, 1999: Preamble)
The process of land restitution provides several opportunities for developing the area as an ongoing cultural heritage site integrated with the process of urban regeneration in the city. One of the major challenges lies in the need to ensure that the process of restitution serves as a place for ongoing reflection on transformation, and on citizenship