As a history major, Tasha Sandoval says she values the way oral histories can illuminate the personal side of historical events. With this in mind, she chose to volunteer for the District Six Museum, which is located in and named for the infamous Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town.
The museum was established in 1994 to help District Six’s former residents heal from the trauma of being forcibly removed by the government and resettled to barren outlying areas of the city. Through the 1960s and 1970s, 60,000 non-whites were forced to leave their homes, which were razed to let white people move in.
Part of the museum’s purpose has been to provide a meeting space for the former residents of District Six, many of whom are quite elderly now, Tandoval explained. “The museum was founded on the idea of restitution, that ex-residents can reclaim their land,” she said. The museum also shows exhibitions of photos and artifacts, offers walking tours of the district, and collects oral histories from former residents.
Tandoval said the best part of her experience was helping run a “memory methodology workshop” for a group of older women who had lived in District Six before the resettlement. The women met regularly to work on a tapestry, which they were embroidering with their favorite recipes. The tapestry, when finished, will hang in the museum. “They work on stitching and they have audio sessions,” Tandoval said. “They start by talking about a recipe or food, and then go into a bigger story, for example how they married too young or were forced to grow up too fast.”
Tandoval said she missed this group and the close ties she formed with the women. She’s considering starting a sewing group with a group of elderly women in Brunswick, inviting them to weave their recipes and stories into a communal quilt.