OCA writes in strong support of the proposal to rename Keizergracht to Hanover Street

Mr Frederick Venter
City of Cape Town
Phone: 021 400 1768; Email: [email protected]
Email to [email protected]

Re: Proposed renaming of Keizergracht to Hanover Street

The Observatory Civic Association writes in strong support of the proposal to rename Keizergracht to Hanover Street, as notified by the City.

Our motivations are based on the following:

1. Renaming key points of reference holds potential for preserving and reviving the living and intangible history of communities that were treated with contempt by Apartheid. This malignant spatial planning still haunts Capetonians today. 

2. It is deeply ironic that the Apartheid government gave the name Hanover Park to the matchbox township on the Cape Flats, to whom the evicted peoples of District 6 were dispatched under the Group Areas Act. Hanover thus became part of a traumatic memory of dislocation and dispossession under apartheid rather than remaining an iconic symbol of the vibrant community that existed in and around Hanover Street.

3. Renaming the street will therefore be part of a process of restorative justice that seeks to affirm the place and memory of a precinct devastated by Apartheid spatial planning.

4. The name Keizergracht is not remotely a title that post-apartheid South Africa should continue to valorise. Keizergracht is the middle one of the three main canals in Amsterdam and represents a colonial history that associated with occupation, exploitation and dispossession of indigenous peoples. The Amsterdam Keizergracht was named after Emperor Maximilian of Austria, himself a key figure in the colonial wars of dispossession of indigenous peoples around the world in the 19th Century.  

However, while we support the renaming, we are concerned that a glib interpretation of this development will undermine genuine restitution.

The City of Cape Town has, until recently, denied heritage protections for Bo-Kaap and has shown scant willingness to pursue the cultural protection of other intangible heritage resources, such as those highlighted by indigenous Khoi leaders across the Peninsula, including in Observatory around the Liesbeek River valley.

 We trust that the City’s new-found willingness to recognise the histories and culture of marginalised communities will be extended to all other situations where peoples’ histories have been and are being obliterated in the name of development.

Thus, while we fully support this renaming, we argue that the name change must not act as a substitute for addressing other spatial injustices that persist. The commitment to the renaming must come with a deep commitment for reparations. 

Our recommendations include:
1. An apology from the City of Cape Town for its role in the forced removal of the residents of District Six and the delay it has taken to begin place-making and restoration.

2. A commitment to the establishment of a Cape Town City Precolonial and Apartheid Museum that will recognise, preserve and promote the intangible heritage of the communities who were exploited, dispossessed and dehumanised under the City’s administration, both pre and post 1994. 

3. The City must abandon the false preoccupation with manufacturing a history based on ‘good memories’ as described in the press release. The orality of a place is not merely about whether or not the memory is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but rather that it is immeasurably meaningful, and that it exists. The ‘good memory’ trope falls into a trap of manufacturing a narrative of historical remembrance which chooses to downplay the gross injustices of the past. This is a political bargain with ambivalent aims that both restore a community divorced from its home, while being careful not to aggravate its own colonial vestige and support base. 

4. The City must commit to extending this process to renaming of all streets and places that follow the example of Hanover Street. 

We believe adopting these recommendations is important for consolidating our democracy and for fashioning a common identify as we strive to build a nation that values its peoples, its histories, its diversity and its commitment to human rights for all.

Yours sincerely,
Tauriq Jenkins
Chair, Observatory Civic Association
[email protected]