Repository logo

Memories of everyday life and forced removals in South Africa: a case study of Cato Manor, Durban, c. 1930-1960.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study interrogates the historical geography of Cato Manor in Durban which, like District Six in the Cape and Sophiatown in Gauteng has a deeply entrenched history of community destruction under the infamous Group Areas Act of 1950, which pioneered forced removals. Passed by the orchestrators of apartheid, the National Party (NP) government, this Act destroyed many established multi-racial communities to serve its purpose of building separate communities based on racial categorisation; that is, Whites, Africans, Indians, and Coloureds. Cato Manor, popularly known as Mkhumbane and located a few kilometres from Durban, was witness to forced removals where a long-settled community of Africans and Indians, and a small number of Coloureds, who had lived together for many years were resettled and relocated to townships such as KwaMashu and Umlazi for Africans, and Chatsworth and Phoenix for Indians. The study examines Cato Manor’s historical development and offers insights into the legacy of segregation from the pre-apartheid era. In examining everyday life in Cato Manor/Mkhumbane, a picture emerges of how former residents developed a sense of place, establishing religious institutions, schools, community halls and various welfare support organisations, notwithstanding the myriad of challenges they faced. Mkhumbane emerged as one the epicentres for the production of a vibrant popular culture among Africans in Durban. Beer brewing and the consumption of beer was a central component of this culture and was the main economic strategy through which many urban African women survived. The bosses and apartheid authorities wanted African men to drink, but on their terms. They sought a monopoly of the beer trade by brewing the beer and selling it in their beer halls and did not tolerate home brewing by women as it constituted an economic threat to the state, and gave women a freedom that the state could not countenance. Beer became a compelling reason for raids in townships and hostels across the country. When women’s livelihoods came under threat they took to the streets to protect their socio-economic interests. The 1949 riots were a major episode in Cato Manor’s history. Memories of the tensions between African and Indian communities from 1949 continue to impact race relations in the contemporary period, and this study investigates how this conflict is remembered today. One of its concerns is the evolution of the Group Areas Act in Durban and how its implementation contributed to the destruction of Cato Manor, the relocation of its residents, socio-political, economic and cultural conditions in KwaMashu where many Cato Manor residents were resettled, how the forcibly removed residents negotiated challenges in their new environments, and how this process of relocation is remembered by displaced people. Oral history is an important research tool in this study. While there are many macro studies on the impact of forced relocations nationally, this study focuses on a sample of individuals at a personal level, and, using the qualitative methodology of oral history, reconstructs the impact of forced relocations at a micro level to enhance understanding of the removals. In addition to oral history, local newspapers in the Zulu language form a key part of the interpretation of the life and times in Cato Manor. The study considers the reliability of oral history as a source of information, its value, and how it can transform how we study the past when it is moved from the margins to the centre of historical research. It is a vital means to capture respondents’ memories as well as their experiences of the near past. Oral history can play a crucial role in documenting the story of marginalised communities and in the process adding to social history narratives in the KwaZulu-Natal region.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.