From Community Memory
History of Cato ManorSituated about five kilometers from the centre of Durban, racial segregation.
Famous residents included musician Sipho Gumede, politician Jacob Zuma, activist Florence Mkhize, businessman Prince Sifiso Zulu, Drum journalist Nat Nakasa and trade unionist George W. Champion who saw Cato Manor as a “place where Durban natives (Africans) could breathe the air of freedom.” So legendary was its reputation that novelist Alan Paton wrote a play called Umkhumbane set in Cato Manor.
1949 Race Riots
Despite the daily contact between the Indian and African residents, who lived in close proximity to each other, racial tensions did exist. Charges of exorbitant rent where often leveled by Indian landlords against their African tenants who had to cope with terrible living conditions, characterised by intense overcrowding. In " Working Class Hero", playwright Kessie Govender explores the Indian exploitation of the African community in Cato Manor.
Ronnie Govender's "At the edge" and other Cato Manor Stories describes the 1949 riots, which were sparked off by an incident in Grey Street where an Indian stallholder had caught an african boy stealing and had punished him. Africans began attacking Indian shops, businesses and residents. The riots quickly escalated into a race-war with some white people stirring up the trouble. The situation deteriorated with African mobs roaming the streets of Cato Manor attacking Indian residents on sight. That evening the arson, looting and raping increased. The smell of petrol and paraffin were in the air and the night sky was lit up by soaring flames. Indians with cars were fleeing. It took two days for the authorities to get the situation under control. By this stage many shops and homes had been destroyed, 137 people killed and thousands more injured.
In the 1950s, rural Zulus moving to Durban for work sought out Cato Manor as a convenient place of residence. Nkosi elaborates in Mating Birds," In Cato Manor, African women lived mainly by brewing an illicit concoction called skokiaan, which was often laced with methylated spirit to give it an extra kick. This dangerous and mind-destroying brew was then served daily to black workers, who, every evening, as soon as they left work, flocked to their favourite shebeens, where they thirstily imbibed the stuff". The Durban Municipality encountered problems controlling illegal brewing, which was in competition to their Municipal beer halls. Constant pass and liquor raids conducted by the police in Cato Manor agitated residents creating a potentially explosive situation.
1959 Beerhall Riots
By the mid-1950s, the area had become a political hotbed, with Chief Albert Luthuli garnering support for the African National Congress (ANC) by linking Cato Manor’s problems to the greater struggle against Apartheid. Mi S’dumo Hlatshwayo, a child of Cato Manor and influenced by its politics, later went on to write struggle poetry – collected in Black Mamba Rising – that mobilized workers against the government. Commenting on the classification of the Africans in Apartheid South Africa, Hlatshwayo wrote:
Today you’re called a Bantu,
Tomorrow you’re called a Communist
Sometimes you’re called a Native.
Today again you’re called a foreigner,
Today again you’re called a Terrorist
This random classification extended to place where the government would conveniently reclassify areas to suit their needs.
KwaMashu, Umlazi and Chatsworth began. These were strenuously resisted by Cato Manor’s residents, with protest centred on the hated Municipal Beerhalls, symbols of the Apartheid government. These riots, which later became known as the Beerhall Riots, culminated in the mob killing of nine policemen.
In response, Cato Manor was torn down – a community and its history destroyed.Ronnie Govender wrote, “we have built our home, our schools, our temples, our mosques and our churches with love and hard work. It is wrong for the government, in which we have no say, to take from us what is legally ours. This is legalized robbery.”
Even though the area was now a ‘white zone’ it remained a wasteland with scattered Hindu shrines, the foundations of buildings and the occasional fruit tree to remind us of this once vibrant community.
Cato Manor Writers, KZN Literary Tourism, 2008.