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Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Republished: District Six baptism record project launched Featured

WORKING TOGETHER:  CPUT is participating in a new project which aims to develop a virtual memorial based on the baptism records of St Mark’s Anglican Church. WORKING TOGETHER: CPUT is participating in a new project which aims to develop a virtual memorial based on the baptism records of St Mark’s Anglican Church.

A conversation between two CPUT staff members and the rector of an iconic District Six church lit the spark for the development of a virtual memorial based on baptism records. 

The St Mark’s Anglican Church, situated on the District Six Campus, survived the forced removals in District Six and has become a symbol of resilience to many.

Father Austen Jackson said that since he came to St Mark’s in 2016, he’d had a vision of building a memorial for the people who were baptised at the church between 1871 and 1983, which was the last year people were removed from District Six.

He shared this vision with the congregation from time to time and during a meeting mentioned this to Jacqui Scheepers, CPUT’s manager of Community Engagement and Work Integrated Learning, and Nicholas Pinfold, lecturer in Town and Regional Planning.

“We spoke about how CPUT could help us with this and Nicholas immediately said they would be able to help us and that his colleagues have been thinking along the same lines in terms of using maps to recreate a historic community,” said Jackson. Siddique Motala, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering and Surveying who has been involved in the mapping of District six for many years, also came on board.

The other partners on the project are the University of Michigan through its Global Information Engagement Program and the District Six Museum.

“We thought of a virtual memorial, something interactive, that involves the names of the people. We want to ensure a life for these records in future,” said Jackson.

Motala said not only could the process add to our understanding of District Six but importantly it could also help in the restitution process as it could serve as proof of residence in District Six.

The baptism records were digitised in 2012 and have now been passed on to three students from the University of Michigan.

“They have been looking at how they can convert the digitised records into numeric digital records that can be used in an attribute table that is attached to a map in a GIS (Geographic Information System),” said Pinfold.

Michigan student Jackson Huang said that originally the hope was that they could run the records through software and extract the information but they’ve had to take a more manual approach.

“Because the records are handwritten and in so many different people’s handwriting this was not possible. This was a diverse community with different languages and different versions of names because of the way language changes over time so we’ve had to take the manual route,” he said.

The students started on a 400-page volume that stretches from 1950 to 1957 and has thus far completed half of it.

Pinfold said Town and Regional Planning students have been getting familiar with District Six as it was in 1968 (when the demolitions began) by digitising the buildings, flats and other units and doing a 3D model of it. They’ve also done a land use map with different colours denoting different uses to get a sense of what the activities were in the area at the time as well as of the density of the dwellings.

Motala’s undergraduate students are also involved in the creation of the master map of addresses as they were in 1968 while postgraduate students are using a subset of the master map to create the baptism records.

The CPUT students will also ensure the continuity of the project once the Michigan students returned to the US.

Pinfold said the project would be an ongoing service learning and community engagement project.

“The campus is slap bang in the middle of where D6 was we have a responsibility to give back and let our students understand the context.”

Written by Ilse Fredericks

Email: Frederickskennediji@cput.ac.za