This is another of the Museum’s projects which had its beginnings in the February 2016 period, when the fiftieth year since District Six was declared a White Group Area on 11 February in 1966, was commemorated. It was also linked to the campaign to have District Six declared a National Heritage Site (NHS).
An installation of suitcases entitled Remembering 60 000 Forced Goodbyes was added to the permanent exhibition in the Museum. Primarily, the suitcase motif formed the aesthetic framework which drove the visual elements of the campaign. The suitcases themselves have become an educational tool for ongoing story-telling, creative workshops and intergenerational exchanges.
Using their personal memorabilia and stories to narrate their life experiences in District Six before being forcibly removed, a number of former residents used suitcases packed with some of their items, as visual aids to illustrate their stories. Some of the initial contributors were: Noor Ebrahim who lived at 247 Caledon Street, Ruth Jeftha whose family shared a communal house at 35 Stone Street, and Nomvuyo Ngcelwane whose family lived in a one-bedroom house at 22 Cross Street.
The suitcase in this context is used as a literal container to signify what former residents carried with them – both physical objects and intangible memories – on their traumatic journeys away from their destroyed homes. The contents of each suitcase provide visitors with a glimpse into some of the bits and pieces that might have been precious to them.
This exhibitionary intervention has since linked to a number of other components, of which an intergenerational oral history project called ‘Tell Your Story to a Born-free’, is one. It has also given rise to a travelling suitcase exhibition with additional stories from the following ex-residents and returnees: Susan Lewis, Faranaaz Gilfelleon, Mogamat Benjamin and Jasmina Salie whose suitcase stories have been exhibited at various libraries including Crossroads, Langa, Manenberg Hanover Park, Nyanga and Gugulethu, where they have inspired a number of people to tell their own stories.