History of Cato Manor

Cato Manor was established in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) and is situated 5km west of the Durban city centre. The Township was known for its rich cultural and political heritage. Cato Manor had been inhabited since the 1650s when the area was occupied by numerous small-scale chiefdoms. Among them was the Nqondo clan who were replaced by the Ntuli clan in 1730.

The township was named after Durban’s first Mayor, George Christopher Cato. In 1843 the land which later became Cato Manor was given to him as compensation for another portion of land previously used for military purposes. It was also intended as a reward for his years of personal dedication to community service and recognition as Durban’s first Mayor in 1865.

Background, the Beginnings of Cato Manor

In 1914, Cato subdivided the farm into a number of smallholdings which he then sold to prominent residents who developed country estates. The landowners leased and sold plots to Indian market gardeners, among themformer indentured labourers or their descendants. This took place in the years following their release from labour contracts on the sugar plantations. Thus, the Indian market gardeners were the first occupants of Cato Manor, and they in turn leased plots to African families who were prohibited from owning land at the time.

The Cato Manor settlement developed steadily, particularly during World War II which broke out in 1939. During the war years there was a huge influx of people to Durban, especially African labourers. After 1948, the estimated number of informal dwellers in Cato Manor alone was in the region of 30 000.

The arrival of Africans in Cato Manor as well as in the greater Durban area in 1920 was as a result of increased industrialisation and urbanisation, which had an overwhelming effect on Durban’s economy.This became clear in 1932 when Cato Manor was incorporated into the Borough of Durban, and more than 500 shacks were erected. Tensions between the new settlers and the authorities ran high and illegal beer brewing, which became a source of livelihood for many, was a major factor for the friction. Brewing low-alcohol sorghum beer or utshwala (a Zulu name for beer) was a significant part of African tradition.

Lack of housing and the erecting of shacks in Cato Manor became a lucrative business for the Indian owners as was the turning over of a larger portion of the land to market gardening. Indians and Africans came into frequent contact with each other in both their working and social lives, and a vibrant, hybrid culture evolved. However, things were also bitter between landowners and tenants, particularly over allegations of rent-hikes and forced overcrowding. This contributed to the race riots of 1949.

1949 Race riots

By 1949 tension had grown between African and Indian residents living in close proximity to each other in Cato Manor. On 13 January 1949 a racial incident occurred in Grey Street, sparking  a spate of violent anti-Indian attacks that extended to Cato Manor. This began when an Indian stallholder caught an African boy stealing and punished him for the offence. In response, Africans started looting Indian shops, residences and businesses, and in consequence Indian landowners lost their properties to African shack lords and traders.

The riots continued with African mobs roaming Cato Manor and viciously assaulting Indian residents. There were 6 000 shacks in the area that housed between 45 000 and 50 000 people. The authorities took two days to defuse the situation, which had resulted in 137 deaths and left several thousand critically injured. Following the riots, Indian landlords and traders were replaced by African traders and shack lords.

The Group Areas Act

In 1952, the Durban City Council acquired land from Indian landowners to erect an Emergency Camp to house homeless African people, later to become known as 'Umkhumbane' after the local river. The camp’s population reached 'unmanageable levels' within five years, and the municipality encountered many problems controlling the homemade distilled liquor called 'shimeyane', the only source of income for unemployed African women. In March 1954, the Cato Manor Emergency Camp was officially established.

In 1954, the Group Areas Board urged that Cato Manor be proclaimed as a White group area. After implementation of the Group Areas Act, the entire population of the area was uprooted and relocated to the townships of KwaMashu, Umlazi and Chatsworth. These areas were culturally diverse despite the racial restrictions imposed by the Act. In 1958, Cato Manor was officially proclaimed a White area and massive removals were under way. The Mayville and Cato Manor branches of the Natal Indian Congress assisted residents in resisting the removals, convening mass meetings and other forms of protest.


Sighart Bourquin, Director of Bantu Administration in Durban, headed the removal process. The first removals from Cato Manor occurred in March 1958. By August 1958,  as ection of the area known as ‘Raincoat District’ was largely vacant, although the removals were delayed by groups (mainly traders) who lodged complaints and took legal action to stop the demolition of their properties. In reaction some reconstructed their homes. Bourquin 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, although he supported the removals. 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.

The removals were met with resistance, tension within Cato Manor worsened. Along with police raids to contain pass and liquor law infringements, the situation came to a head in 1959 with another widespread wave of rioting and destruction of state property in Durban. These were instigated by the illegal beer brewers in Cato Manor who were anxious that the demolition of their homes also destroyed their only source of income.

Subsequent to these riots, nine policemen were killed by a mob in the Emergency Camp, after which a rapid clearance of the area began.By 1964 most shacks were destroyed at Cato Manor and the area was vacant. On 31 August of that yearthe last shack at Umkhumbane was demolished.

A year later, the African community had been largely relocated to the new townships of KwaMashu, Lamontville and Umlazi and the greater part of the Indian community was resettled in Chatsworth.Although Cato Manor had been rezoned as a ‘White zone’, it was largely vacant by 1968 - a wasteland with only a few Hindu temples still standing and a couple of solitary homes, shops and a beer hall. Stella Hills, a section of Cato Manor, was built up for Whites and the University of Natal acquired much of the remainder of the area.

In 1979the few remaining residents formed the Cato Manor Residents' Association (CMRA); an organisation faced with the immense task to resist further removals and racially based housing developments. Their demands included the auctioning off of existing plots by the Durban City Council, adequate housing for all income groups, with the authorities consulting them on any future plans for the area and its residents.

Previous residents began making attempts to regain their properties.Following this, in November 1979, about one-fifth of Cato Manor was de-proclaimed as a White area and, in May 1980, was gazetted for Indian occupation again.

The Cato Manor Heritage Centre focus on the ‘Durban System’, which was administered and implemented by city officials, links themes explored at the Cato Manor Heritage Centre to the KwaMuhle Museum in Ordnance Road, providing visitors with an ideal opportunity to explore the city’s history by visiting both museums and then by traveling through the area also referred to as ‘Umkumbane’ by locals. The Cato Manor area comprises 2000 ha of undulating landscape located approximately 8kms away from Durban’s city center. Focus on developing physical platform to support growth has been the City’s main concern. Cato Manor ABM has also focused on stabilizing a turbulent socio-political environment which is presented by the social setting of the area, since it is a highly contested area due to its close proximity to the City center. The human development side of the equation has received increasing attention over the years as the infrastructure and social facilities are now largely in place. The development focus has shifted to engage more fully with the upliftment of local communities. The Cato Manor ABM office has concentrated its efforts on social upliftment and economic development in a manner that reduces dependency, increases self-reliance and community cohesion, and facilitates cooperative partnerships amongst government, private sector and the civil society. They have created an enabling environment with enhanced services through the co-ordination, facilitation and integration of services & resources, in order to empower people and improve the quality of life for all within the defined geographical areas of eThekwini.

-29° 51' 36", 30° 56' 60"
Cato Manor Development Association (CMDA) Status Report 2000, History , [online], Available at www.cmda.org.za  [Accessed: 16 March 2013]|
Jackson Allan (2006), Cato Manor , from  The Facts About Durban, April, [online], Available at www.fad.co.za  [Accessed: 16 March 2013]|
South African History Online, Tension Builds: Exploitation, resistance and beer [online], Available at www.sahistory.org.za [Accessed: 29 April 2013]|
McNulty  Niall and Stiebel Lindy (2008), History of Cato Manor, Cato Manor Writers Trail from the KwaZulu Natal Literacy Tourism,20 April,[online], Available at www.literarytourism.co.za  [Accessed: 06 May 2013]|
South African History Online, Cato Manor timeline 1650-2007, [online], Available at www.sahistory.org.za [Accessed: 07 May 2013]|
The Surplus People Reports, Forced Removals In South Africa,  Natal, Vol.1, January 1983,  pp.234-235|
South African History Online, Rioting and destruction in Cato Manor and Durban continues, [online], Available at www.sahistory.org.za [Accessed: 07 May 2013]|
* Please note that some sources states that  George Cato was given the land in 1845 or in 1865