Winter Arrives

After a string of beautiful days in Cape Town, winter has finally arrived.  I was woken up in the early morning hours yesterday by rainfall slamming down on the roof of my house, and the dampness and cold lingered throughout the day.  Despite the sudden turn of weather (which this year I am prepared for, equipped with waterproof shoes and a nice rain jacket) and despite the long hours, I am enjoying my first full week at work.

Each Monday, the museum closes early at 2pm for some sort of staff development activity.  This week, we all headed to the Greenpoint Commons Visitor’s Center, the site of Cape Town’s World Cup stadium that is now under construction.  In addition to getting a bird’s eye view of the construction effort (the stadium looks really nice and is slated to be completed in Dec 2009), visitors to the center are also treated to a one-man show about the history of the Greenpoint Commons area and its role in the development of soccer in Cape Town.  It was the site of the first soccer match in the city back in the late 1800s, and up until the height of apartheid, it served as a major gathering space where teams from across the region came to play soccer on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  After the enactment of forced removals, these social networks were disrupted and soccer at Greenpoint Commons became only a memory of the past as soccer clubs were split by race and relegated to their respective settlement area. (This is actually the focus of the “Fields of Play” soccer exhibition at the District Six’s Homecoming Center).

Tuesday and Wednesday were focused on developing my research project for the museum.  After discussions with the staff and some initial planning, we have decided that for the next seven weeks or so, my research will center on how best the museum can integrate its main building exhibition with the soccer exhibition (which is located in the Homecoming Center two blocks away) in anticipation of the World Cup next summer.  In answering this question, I will be examining the visitor experience at the main exhibition, surveying tour operators and tour companies about their plans for 2010, investigating larger tourism efforts undertaken by the city of Cape Town and the province of the Western Cape.  The project is a difficult one because the District Six Museum is more than just a “tourist museum.”  Instead, it is a site of conscience with priorities greater than profit and crucial stakeholders like the former residents of District Six.  In essence, any plan for next summer must balance many factors and competing interests.  It will be a lot of work…wish me luck in the process!

Thursday, the museum hosted a luncheon meeting for the “Seven Steps Club,” a group of former residents of District Six.  Aside from serving a social function, the meeting also allows the museum staff to disseminate information about its current initiatives and seek input for improvement.  This month, the meeting featured a presentation from the museum director and an architect about the future plans for the District Six Homecoming Center, which is halfway completed.  A former factory and warehouse, the building has been renovated of the past years.  Parts of it, like the area housing the soccer exhibit, are completed.  Others areas, still need quite a bit of work.  The final plans, which were presented yesterday, look pretty impressive and will provide a warm, welcoming community space that will help to further preserve the memory of the District Six community.

I especially enjoyed the meeting for two reasons.  First, I have not really had a chance to meet many of the former residents of District Six.  Having worked at the museum and read about many of their stories, it was incredible to hear about their experiences first hand.  The second reason is a bit comical.  Each former resident was issued a “Seven Steps Club” membership card, and I was put in charge of taking each person’s picture for their card.  When explaining that each person would be having their picture taken for their membership card, the museum director joked that the photographer (me) had come all the way from the United States just for this.  The joke didn’t register, as everyone in attendance thought that she was being serious.  They then began to give me a round of applause.  Apparently, at the end of the meeting, one of the residents asked Bonita, the director, when I would be returning to take pictures again.  Needless to say, all of the staff members and I shared a laugh about this when everyone had left.

Outside of work, things have been doing well.  Tuesday night, I went with a few people to the University of Cape Town Symphony Orchestra concert.  The students were very talented, and visiting the UCT campus gave us a chance to meet some South African friends.  Wednesday night we went to a bar to watch the UEFA Champion’s League Final between Manchester United and Barcelona.  Thankfully, the team I was rooting for (Barcelona) won 2-0.  It is interesting to see just how passionate South Africans are for sports, especially soccer.

Before I conclude, I just want to talk about one thing that has been on my mind a lot this past week.  Last year, I frequently wrote about the stark wealth and racial inequality prevalent in South Africa.  I still find it unfortunate but fascinating to observe.  Some South Africans (mostly whites) are incredibly wealthy and enjoy a standard of living that rivals and even surpasses that of most Americans.  They parade around with expensive 25-Rand lattes, designer watches and fancy clothes.  Others South Africans live in shacks inadequate housing and survive on nearly 25 Rand a day.  And while the worlds that they inhabit are in different in so many ways, there are places that they meet: on trains, in parks, and on the streets of Cape Town.  It is in these shared spaces that the new South Africa is brought to life, and it is in these shared interactions that hope for the future, however bleak at times, still resides.

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