Cato Manor museum a landmark reminder of upheaval
from FUTHI MBHELE in Durban
DURBAN – FROM the outside, the Cato Manor Heritage Centre looks like a building abandoned a long time ago.
Inside, it is rich with history, which has endeared the facility to locals in this working-class area that is synonymous with the spirit of defiance against the oppressive Durban System.
The museum boasts a collection of photographs, artworks and other media that documents that turbulent period in history.
Cato Manor township comprises a unique multi-cultural community, informal settlements and various religious sites.
It is best (and worst) known for its dramatic history of forced removals.
Through large black and white prints, the Cato Manor Heritage Centre vividly exhibits the stark realities of the forced removals, rebellion, riots and suppression.
A 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.
This provides 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.
A tour guide narrated how Cato Manor was named thus, after Durban’s first Mayor, George Christopher Cato.
The area was granted to Cato in the 19th century.
In the early 1900s land was leased to Indian market gardeners.
Shacks occupied by black Africans began to appear.
“During the 20th century Cato Manor was a place in turmoil and after the 1949 riots most Indian residents left the area,” the guide said.
In 1960, resistance to the Group Areas Act caused the deaths of nine policemen in Cato Manor.
“The area was cleared and remained largely vacant for some time,’ the tour guide continued.
Cato Manor became recognised when Black Africans came to settle in during the 1920s, and rented land from Indian landlords who were there since the early 20th century.
To earn a living, people started brewing beer and selling it in the streets of Durban to the workers.
“The local authorities welcomed people in town for labour but had fears of being overwhelmed by their population,” the tour guide explained.
She said towards the end of World War II, about 30 000 squatters had built their shacks in the place, which started even bigger riots between 1949 and 1950 when the Group Areas Act was passed by the government.
“The apartheid government decided to forcibly remove residents from the area,” the tour guide narrated.
People were forced to move to townships like KwaMashu. Indians moved to places like Chatsworth and Phoenix.
“The forced removals from Cato Manor are considered the Durban equivalent of what took place at District Six in Cape Town and Sophiatown in Johannesburg,” the tour guide said.
– CAJ News