Cato Manor & Apartheid Town Planning

Madala Kunene

Madala Kunene

Recently we spoke about the role that music played in telling the story of apartheid, and helping to raise awareness around what was happening in the country at the time. KwaZulu-Natal guitar wonder, Madala Kunene, is another artist that has used music as both a political and cathartic instrument. The title of his 2015 album, 1959, is a reference to the forced removals that took place in the 1950s and ’60s in Cato Manor, Durban, with 1959 being the year that Madala and his family were taken from their homes, and relocated to the then relatively new township of KwaMashu. Speaking of the trauma of the forced removals, Madala says:

People can’t imagine what it’s like when you see bulldozers demolish your home in the middle of the night. The worst thing was that when they moved us, they came at night and packed my family into the back of a truck and then went to another area to pick up another family there and so on. So you were not just separated from your home, you were stripped of your friends and neighbours in the process. It was a very calculated act.

The relocation of the residents of Cato Manor was one of the outcomes of the Group Areas Act (GAA), a series of three acts (1950, 1957, and 1966), and their various amendments (the Group Areas Act, 1966 was last amended in 1984). The GAA was one of the cornerstones of apartheid, providing structure for the government’s philosophy of ‘separate development’. The effect of the GAA was was to make it illegal for non-whites to live in the most developed urban areas, with the result that ‘coloured and native’ men and women had to commute long distances from their homes in order to be able to work in areas that would require them to carry pass books in order to enter. The GAA was also supported by the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act, 1959, which created ‘self- governing’ Bantustans or homelands for African people. In terms of the Act only a small percentage of the land was allocated to non-whites, who comprised the vast majority of the population, with the white minority owing most of the country’s viable land.

A collection of images of the Cato Manor forced removals, Umkhumbane Museum Memories, Choromanski Architects

A collection of images of the Cato Manor forced removals, Umkhumbane Museum Memories, Choromanski Architects

The GAA was applied retroactively, meaning that people who were already living in the areas that were suddenly deemed to be ‘white-only’ were forcibly removed from their homes. Adding to the problems was the fact that rental costs in townships like Kwamashu, where ‘natives’ were only allowed to rent property but not buy it, would sometimes be double that which were previously paying in Cato Manor. The forced removals in Cato Manor were carried out under the leadership of the Director of Bantu Administration, Sighart Bourquin. Despite supporting the process, Bourquin wrote to the City Council on the 23rd June 1959 to say that something had to be done to improve the lives of the workers in Durban so that they could afford the rents in Kwamashu. He pointed out that none of the City Council’s own staff could afford the rents.

Resentment over the removal of people from their homes, and the municipal beerhalls that were destroying the livelihoods of the women living in Cato Manor who brewed and sold beer, came to a head on the 17th June 1959 when riots broke out resulting in the death of four people and the injury of dozens more. 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 31st August 1964.

The Group Areas Act was finally repealed on the 30th June 1991 by the Abolition of Racially Based Land Measures Act, 1991, and today Cato Manor is once again a thriving community. A photographic exhibition documenting the history of Cato Manor is on permanent display in the KwaMuhle Museum, which forms part of the Durban Liberation Heritage Route.

Images courtesy of and

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