Artist recreates District Six to support petition

Tokai artist, James Yates recreated scenes of District Six's Hanover Street in 1960 in support of the name change.

A Tokai artist has recreated paintings of a famed District Six street in support of a public petition for it to reclaim its historical name.

After the District Six Working Committee proposed that Keizersgracht Street be renamed to Hanover Street, the City put the proposal out for public comment.

Hanover Street became Keizersgracht Street after District Six was declared a whites-only area and the residents forcibly removed under apartheid. The area became known as Zonnebloem. Many people not only lost their homes but their communities too.

James Yates used to work as a printer in the Cape Town CBD during the 1960s and he shot photographs of the old District Six during his lunch breaks. He has now used those images as reference for a series of paintings.

“I used to walk down and take pictures of the streets, I was like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. As soon as I’d pull out my camera, all the children would want to pose. I’ll never forget the smell of curries and spices and the diverse communities of people that used to live there.”

He said he supported the name change because Hanover Street had sentimental value to those who had lived in the area before the forced removals.

Yates’s paintings capture the charm of what District Six used to be, with its colourful buildings, children playing on the streets, salons and curry shops.

He compared District Six in the 1960s to New Orleans, saying that if it hadn’t been for the forced removals, it would be a great tourist attraction today.

“There were obviously some slums in District Six, but that can never be an excuse to move everyone out. Personally, I think they changed the names so that they could detach people from it.”

Yates has been selling paintings of District Six since the 1960s, but he found they were not as popular as one might expect as many were ignorant of the doomed neighbourhood’s history.

He said that over the years he had interpreted the photographs differently.

“The ones from the 60s look very different to now. In the later years, I’ve become realistic, back then I was more impressionistic. One’s style evolves, as it is with every artist’s normal evolution.”

He has been working on his Hanover Street paintings for the past three months and plans to exhibit them at Kirstenbosch Garden in the summer.

Two of the paintings are of Hanover Street and one is of Canterbury Street.

The public participation process closed this past Friday July 26.

‘I’m very hopeful that council will accept the people’s petition and change it back to Hanover Street. It was honestly the heart, soul and centre of District Six.” Mr Yates said.