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PhD in Urban Planning Lecture: Joe Schaffers

Mon, Apr 1    6:30pm

Dr. Joe Schaffers (District Six Museum) delivers the inaugural PhD in Urban Planning Lecture, “Forced Evictions, Memory, and Hope: The Story of District Six, Cape Town” with an introduction by Tom Slater (Professor of Urban Planning, GSAPP).

This lecture will be hosted in Wood Auditorium at Columbia GSAPP and live-streamed on GSAPP’s YouTube channel.

Prior to the 1950s, Cape Town was one of the least racially segregated cities in sub-Saharan Africa, but all that changed in dramatic fashion under the apartheid system (1948-1994). In this lecture, Dr. Schaffers tells the story of what happened to the people of District Six, an extraordinarily vibrant and diverse neighborhood in the heart of Cape Town that was destroyed by apartheid. From 1966 to 1984, the District Six community was torn apart following the declaration of apartheid urban planners that it would become an area for the “sole occupation of the white race group.” This policy was implemented in order to turn valuable urban land to more profitable uses and to realize the apartheid dream of turning the central city into a White city serviced by cheap Black labor that would, under no circumstances, be allowed to live and play in that white city. Informed by Dr. Schaffers’ lived experience and 25 years of experience as an educator in the District Six Museum, he elaborates what happened to more than 60,000 residents of color who were forced out of their homes in District Six. It discusses how displaced people attempted to rebuild their lives as they were scattered among so-called “colored townships”, miles away from District Six and from each other, and as their history and identity was taken away from them. Dr. Schaffers places strong emphasis on the importance of memory, community, and hope to human well-being in the face of massive dispossession, inequality and suffering. Schaffers also discusses the prolonged process of land restitution claims post-1994 in South Africa’s fractured democracy. The story of District Six is unfinished, and he offers his thoughts on what a socially just Cape Town might look like.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Schaffers was born in 1939 in District Six, Cape Town. A graduate of Livingstone High School in Claremont, where his teachers were anti-apartheid activists, he felt a duty to serve people who were, like him, displaced from District Six. He made a career switch, from working in a large fishing consortium in Cape Town to working as a Health Inspector for the City of Cape Town municipality for 34 years. He covered every area where displaced people were forced to go, improving standards of living, and helping people deal with the psychological trauma of forced eviction. He was awarded several commendations for his work, and received the Chairperson’s Award for Service Excellence in 1993. In 1998, he began working at the District Six Museum, sharing accounts of forced evictions and their psychological, economic and social consequences. He has educated hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Museum about apartheid human rights violations, the dangers of racial domination and stigmatization, and the importance of place, community, home, and hope. In 2022 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Edinburgh for his lifelong dedication to preserving the memory of District Six, and in 2023 he received a Civic Award from the City of Cape Town “in recognition of dedication and generous service to the community.”