Cato Manor

By Allan Jackson - April 2006

Cato Manor in Durban once attracted attention from around the world because it was where rioting broke out in 1959 in protest against the city's beerhalls and the looming prospect of mass forced removals in which the residents would be uprooted from their homes in terms of the notorious Group Areas Act, and resettled in townships.

The area was granted to George Christopher Cato in 1865, perhaps as a reward for his years of community service and for the fact that, in 1854, he had become Durban's first Mayor. The land was sub-divided in the early 1900s and leased to Indian market gardeners, many of whom were either former indentured labourers, who had come to South Africa to work on the sugar plantations, or their descendents.

Black Africans started moving into the area in the late 1920s and renting land from the market gardeners so that, by 1932 when Cato Manor was incorporated into the Borough of Durban, over 500 shacks had been built on the land. Tensions between the new settlers and the authorities ran high from the start and for a reason which I, at least, found very surprising.

The reason was beer and, in particular, the bitter dispute about who had the right to brew and sell the low-alcohol sorghum beer, or utshwala, which was such an important part of black culture. Towards the end of the 19th century growing numbers of black people moved into Durban and did not have the time or space to brew their own beer.

Entrepreneurs stepped in to fill the gap and there was soon a thriving industry including some large-scale brewing operations but a lot of the beer was brewed by women, who earned their livings by bringing it in to town and selling it to the thirsty populace.

The authorities in Durban were keen to have black people around town for their labour but they were concerned that the relatively small white community would be overwhelmed if uncontrolled black urbanisation was allowed. They therefore introduced what became known as the Durban System, which sought to control the influx of black people by requiring them to have permits to be in town.

The Durban System would have cost ratepayers a lot of money but the authorities worked out a way to make it self-financing. They were the instigators behind the passing of the Native Beer Act of 1908, in terms of which municipalities in Natal were given the sole right to brew and sell beer within their boundaries.

The Durban municipality soon began to brew its own beer and sell it through a network of beerhalls, which it established. The first municipal beerhall opened in 1909 and soon the system was reaping huge profits. Nothing was to be allowed to threaten this situation and every effort was made to stamp out the illegal brewing and sale of beer through regular police raids.

Great numbers of people lost the means to earn their livings through this policy and, even if they did not stop brewing beer, there was always the risk of a raid. This and the fact that beer in beerhalls was expensive, led to great bitterness and outbreaks of violence, including one in 1929 in which a number of people were killed.

Cato Manor grew in leaps and bounds during World War II when there was a boom in Durban's economy and a vastly increased demand for labour. By the end of the war there were probably 30000 squatters in the area and, during the 1949 riots, Indian landlords and traders were replaced by black traders and shack lords, who included Esau Makatini, J Shange and Isaac Zwane.

The local economy was vibrant and self-employed people pursued their trades freely, which they were prevented from doing in town by the Jobs Reservation Act. In the background, however, the dispute over the brewing and sale of beer simmered away and the municipal beerhall in Cato Manor was the focus of much ill feeling, particularly among the women who felt that it was stealing their livelihoods.

Illegal brewing still went on, of course, and children on watch would shout "meleko, meleko, meleko" (milk, milk, milk) whenever the police appeared. This explains something that I had never understood, which was why milk was always referred to in our home as "imoto yama phoyisa" (police car). Janet Ngcobo, our domestic, had a hard time feeding me my cereal and milk and she would yell "meleko, meleko, imoto yama phoyisa" and plunge the spoon into my mouth.

Tensions were running high in Cato Manor at the end of the 1950s because the government had passed the Group Areas Act, in terms of which the residents were to be moved and resettled in townships, particularly in Kwamashu. Many knew they would not qualify for residence in a township and would be repatriated to their place of origin in the country. Adding to tensions was the fact that rents in the townships would be double what the residents were paying in Cato Manor.

Resentment about that and the beerhalls came to a head on 17 June 1959, when women, who had gathered outside the Cato Manor beerhall, forced their way inside, beating the men drinking there and wrecking the place. Rioting continued the next day and beerhalls in other parts of town were attacked. One group led by Florence Mkhize and Dorothy Nyembe attacked a beerhall, where Florence dunked her underwear in a vat of beer while Dorothy urinated in another.

Four people died and seventy nine were injured during the riots but things did calm down a bit after that. The resistance to the forced removals continued and reached a climax on 23 January 1960, when nine policemen were butchered by a mob in Cato Manor.

The incident was so horrifying that it took the heart out of the resistance to the forced removals, which gathered pace, with the last shack in Cato Manor being demolished on 31 August 1964. There is also a suggestion that the killings were one of the factors leading to the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960, when police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, killing 69 and wounding 180.

The removals were done under the control of Sighart (S.B.) Bourquin who was Director of Bantu Administration in Durban and who, even though he supported the moves, wrote to the City Council on 23 June 1959 to say that something had to be done to improve the lot of workers in Durban so that they could afford the rents in Kwamashu. He pointed out that none of the City Council's own staff, if married, and few of those working for the South African Railways and Harbours could afford the rents.

Cato Manor was eerily quiet and deserted after 1964 and that's how I knew it in the early 1980s, when I attended a shooting club in the area; only an occasional plant-overgrown ruin hinted that it was once a thriving residential area. In the last few years, Cato Manor has again become the focus of a lot interest from around the country, and the world, but, this time, it is being studied as a model of how urban development should be done.

Cato Manor has a prime location only seven kilometres from Durban's CBD, with easy access to the harbour and major roads. The location was so good that people began to settle in the area again and the Cato Manor Development Association (CDMA) was formed in the 1980s by academics and other role players, to act as a delivery vehicle for much-needed infrastructure projects.

Until its closure in 2003, the CDMA was responsible for the delivery of a number of projects with the help of finance from the European Union. These included primary schools, a clinic, a market and innovative multi-purpose centres at Cato Crest and Wiggins, incorporating a community hall, library, and primary and high schools. The Cato Manor Area Based Management (ABM) Programme was instituted later the same year by the eThekwini Municipality to carry on with overseeing the development of the area.

Under Area Programme Manager Mhlengi Gumede, the ABM is involved with all aspects of the development of Cato Manor including community safety and security, economic development and job creation, and liaison between service providers and the community. An ongoing project is to stimulate business investment, particularly in the Booth Road area, and another is an Entrepreneurial Support Centre (ESC) which acts as an incubator for new businesses.

It is hoped to begin work soon on a major Interactive Cultural Centre incorporating an interpretative centre, a theatre, and venues for cultural and craft activities. The ABM concept has proved so successful that it is regularly visited by researchers from around South Africa and abroad, and the Ethekwini Municipality has started three more ABMs to serve other areas.


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