South Africa Durban Riots 1949–The Destruction of Cato Manor and Murder of People of Indian Origins
AFRICA, 2 Aug 2021
History Repeats Itself: The Sad Odyssey of Indian Suburb of Cato Manor–Land Expropriated by the Whites and Destroyed by the Blacks
28 Jul 2021 – South Africa is a nation for Southern Africans and not for anybody else is the recent sentiments expressed by the African majority, amidst the current political tensions in South Africa, following the multicity civil unrest and rampant looting. These inflammatory sentiments were orchestrated by the yet unnamed individuals, by the government, following the rampage by Black African mobs destroying, looting and engaging in arsonist spree in the provinces of Kwa Zulu-Natal and Gauteng between 09th and 12th July 2021. This is also verbalised in a statement made by the former member of the Economic Freedom Fighter party of Julius Malema, Mr. Jackie Shandu, who has been charged for an alleged hate speech he made on the steps of the Durban City Hall, “….one Indian, one bullet, remarks.
While Mr Shandu has now retracted the statement, as words spoken “in a fit of rage”, the deep-seated hatred for minorities in South Africa, is excluding the already marginalised Indian community, who were instrumental in the fight against apartheid and white supremacy, are now subjected to reverse apartheid and discrimination. The Indian community members, including ladies, not only made great personal sacrifices, but also lost their lives in the liberation struggle. This struggle commenced even before Mahatma Gandhi initiated his passive resistance movement while in South Africa. Gandhi’s twenty-one years in South Africa made him realise that Indians were not equal citizens of the empire, and it was this far-flung outpost of the empire that his nationalism was born. In the original video Mr Shandu is seen addressing a small crowd and shouting “one settler, one bullet, one Indian, one bullet.”, which has profound anti-minorities sentiments in the current inflammatory environment and incites further violence and killings of South African Indians amidst rising inter-racial tensions and anxiety, in the country.
The year 2021 marks the 72nd anniversary of the horrific attacks on the Indian minority by the African majority, during the Durban Riots in January 1949. Presently, the oral history recorded by some, permanently scarred and elderly, 80 plus-year-old, Indian geriatrics, of both genders, who were present at the time of the uprising of the Africans living in Mkhumbane district of Cato Manor, attacked the Indian populations living in the Mayville District of the suburb of Durban, most savagely and viciously over three long days and nights, commencing on 13th January, reaching a savage intensity on the night the 14th of January 1949. The events of this massacre of Indians, are still vivid in the memory of a Mr Bisson Mahabeer, a former resident, with his parents of Cato Manor, who relived the memory of this rioting to the author, in a recent interview. This oral historian was seven years of age at the time of the riots in 1949.
Ironically, the same happened on Friday, 09th July 2021 when the African in Durban and Johannesburg took to the streets, on a frenzied rampage attacking and destroying businesses, food supermarkets, trucks, vehicles, warehouses, residences, burning schools, looting 120 Automatic Teller Machines, to the value of ZAR20 million, each machine costing ZAR300,000 to replace, killing innocent people, all because of the incarceration of the former President Zuma, for contempt of the court.
The similarities between these two senseless riots are strikingly alike. Reportedly, both these episodes of violence were instigated by third force, instigators. In the 1949, uprising, it was reported by oral historian that the attacks were orchestrated by the Whites of Durban, who used the Africans to get attack the Indians. The underlying factor was that the Indian community were flourishing in their businesses, to the detriment of the White owned enterprises, very much the motive behind the Tulsa massacre in the United States in 1921. In the 2021 civil unrest, which was a multicity violence, the instigators are mostly unnamed, but it is reported that a member of the Hawks Division of the law enforcement was also an instigator, as tracked by his imputes into social media. Both these ravaging attacks were principally directed against the minorities, their properties, businesses, vehicles, and their personal selves. The similarities also concern the delayed responses by the law enforcement officers during both these attacks, over 72 years apart. In the current wave of civil unrest, the ruling party, African National Congress and the Minister of Police did not deploy law enforcement officers to contain the violence, because he “did not want another Marikana”, as he categorically stated on live, national television.
Similarly, the Nationalist Government of South Africa in 1949, which had embarked on the Group Areas Act did not try to curtail the carnage against Indians as they also wanted a “Final Solution” to the problem of non-whites in South Africa. The apartheid regime, subscribed to the philosophy of discriminative racial policies and believed in racial purity of the White minority in South Africa. This policy was the based on the teachings of the Third Reich, in Nazi Germany. In fact, there were Nazi sympathisers in South Africa during World War 11. The end results were similar, resulting widespread carnage, death and destruction, as the aftermath of both these episodes of civil disturbances. The reasons for both these dark episodes in the inter-racial history of South Africa is that the people of Indian Origins are regarded as exploiters of the African people and therefore they are justified in committing heinous crimes of rape, murder, wonton destruction and widespread mayhem on defenseless minorities and other non-South African Black people in the country. This was savagely exemplified by the particularly vicious attacks on migrants from other countries in Africa and abroad, during xenophobic violence which some of the local population specialise in, on a periodic basis.
This aggression demonstrated by inter-ethnic and intra African killings is probably based on historical narratives, as reported by Horowitz, who might have exaggerated the claims, as refuted by some researchers. When Queen Nandi of the Zulu nation died of dysentery on October 10, 1827, King Shaka put on his war regalia and proceeded to scream his anguish. The entire tribe of 15,000 Zulus erupted into wailing and shrieking. On Shaka’s orders, several people were executed on the spot, and a general massacre broke out. King Shaka also impaled several of his senior people rectally. Tradition held that upon the death of someone of Nandi’s stature, several servants and attendants would be wounded or killed, but in this case, the event became a cover for many people to settle old scores. No fewer than 7,000 people died in the massacre. Queen Nandi was buried with 10 maidens, who were executed for the Queen’s journey in the afterlife. However, as some polemicists have reported, is probably hyperbolic. King Shaka himself was killed on September 24th, 1828, by his half-brother Dingane.
Throughout history, violence of any kind is often preceded by conditions of human torment through a protracted period of conducive festering. No act of violence happens without some degree of premeditation. It is absolutely disparaging to note the level of violence and suffering, that humanoid have inflicted on fellow humanity. This has happened during early Egyptian times, when army deserters were fed, live to hungry crocodiles. The pagan Romans fed the early Christians to wild animals for the amusement and entertainment of the emperors and the plebeians. Christian men, women and children were tarred and set alight, to provide illumination for the night games in the iconic Colosseum, in Rome and elsewhere. In the Middle Ages, Individuals were sawn after hung head down, dissenters and criminals were flailed, or hung, disemboweled, quartered and decapitated. In early 19th century, the British executed rebels, tying them in front of cannons, which were then fired. The widows, then went along, gathering the body parts of the deceased, strewn across the fields either for cremation or interment, as per their religionist afflictions. In fact, the civilised British embodied by Sir Winston Churchill, said the following about Gandhi, “”It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor.” in 1930.
Cato Manor, is located five kilometres west of the Durban city centre, It is a suburb of Durban, in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal, in South Africa. It has an interesting history. The township was known for its rich cultural and political heritage, and regrettably, at present it is reduced to an informal settlement, breeding gangs, lawlessness, lack of service delivery and criminal activities. It is also the centre of xenophobic attacks when these attacks against a mixture of Malawians, Zimbabweans and Zambians who have migrated from their respective countries after 1994, when liberation was achieved under President Nelson Mandela and there was a massive influx of African migrants, including drug cartels from Nigeria.
Cato Manor is named after, Sir George Christopher Cato, a British citizen who was appointed the first Mayor of Durban in 1865, when South Africa was a colony of Great Britain, after the Anglo Boer Wars during which the original white colonisers of Dutch origins were defeated. Sir George Cato, had acquired, prime land on the Beachfront in Durban. This land was later needed by the military, in view of its strategic position on the waterfront, to set up an army base, which was called The Natal Command. This building is still there, as a Listed Heritage Building and cannot be demolished. The property was bought from the eThekwini Municipality in 1995., by the South African film mogul, Anant Singh, to create a movie studio, but no further progress has been made in that direction, 27 years later.
However, since the beachfront land was needed by the military, the City Council, exchanged the land for another large are of land away from the city centre. Inn 1843 the land which later became Cato Manor was given to him as compensation for another portion of land, on the beachfront, previously used for military purposes. The new land was also given to Sir Cato, as a reward for his years of personal dedication to community service and recognition as Durban’s first Mayor.
In 1914, Sir Cato realized an unfilled need for housing amongst the Indians, who were brought to South Africa, by the British to work on the sugar cane plantations, after slavery was abolished, as indentured labourers, in 1860. These Indian were actually slaves brought down under the guise of indentured labourers, for their working conditions were appalling. By the early 20th century, these labourers had completed their contracts and were free to purchased and acquire land from Sir Cato. In addition, another migration of free Indians took place to South Africa, from mainland India, later on. These were merchant class of Indians, who were able to purchase the land which Sir Cato had 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 them, the former 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, by law, 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 influx of Africans in Cato Manor, as well as in the greater Durban area in 1920 was because of increased industrialisation and urbanisation, which had an overwhelming effect on Durban’s economy. This was most evident by 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 erection of shacks in Cato Manor became a lucrative business for the Indian owners, as was the conversion of a large 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.
The vibrant, Afro-Indian culture that came into being from this shared space became a trademark of the area. Its Zulu residents knew the warren of shacks, shebeens and shops that grew into Cato Manor, as Umkhumbane. It is still in existence today, but is no longer consisting of shacks and shebeens, but houses for middle income residents. The area is named after the stream on whose banks the shantytown evolved. Cato Manor survived and thrived for many years, as a rough-hewn community in direct contradiction to the apartheid government’s policy of racial segregation. Africans, Indians and a sprinkling of so called coloured races lived happily, side by side, with no acrimony. Famous residents of Umkhumbane included musician Sipho Gumede, politician and former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, activist Florence Mkhize, businessman Prince Sifiso Zulu, Drum journalist Nat Nakasa and trade unionist George W. Champion who saw Cato Manor as a “place where Durban natives (Africans) could breathe the air of freedom.” So legendary was its reputation that novelist Alan Paton wrote a play called Mkhumbane, set against the backdrop of the multiracial Cato Manor. The music for this play was composed by an African, Todd Matshikiza and it opened in Durban on March 29th, 1960. It was a turbulent period in South African history and the play’s opening was framed by major events in what was a time of great political change. However, there were ongoing tensions between the Indian landowners and Black tenants, particularly over allegations of rent-hikes and forced overcrowding. This contributed to the race riots of 1949.
On March 21st, 1960, one week before the opening of Mkhumbane, 69 protesters demonstrating against the carrying of pass-books were gunned down by police in Sharpeville. This was called the Sharpeville Massacre. On March 28th , Chief Albert Luthuli burnt his own passbook in protest at the shootings and declared a day of mourning. On March 30th , the day after the play opened, the Nationalist Government declared a State of Emergency, arresting more than 18,000 people, detaining Luthuli and confining him to his home in Stanger, KwaZulu Natal. On April 1st the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 134 condemning the Sharpeville massacre and by April 5th both the ANC and the PAC had been banned. On April 9th David Pratt, a white farmer, attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Verwoerd by shooting him twice in the face. The playwright, Alan Paton traveled to New York later that year to receive the 1960 Freedom Award from Freedom House, but on December 5th, upon his arrival to South Africa, at Johannesburg airport, his passport was withdrawn by the South African authorities. It was a status that would remain in effect for the next 10 years.
With an expanding post-World War II economy, Durban had seen a massive influx of rural black workers coming into the city seeking jobs and by 1952 Mkhumbane, with its close proximity to the city centre, had grown into a vast informal settlement of 90,000 people. Though vibrant, living conditions were poor and crowded and the settlement increasingly became the site of significant conflict between residents and governing authorities.
In 1909 the Durban City Council established a revenue system of selling alcohol to the black population exclusively through a series of Beerhalls. The acquiring of alcohol from sources other than these official Beerhalls was declared illegal for black South Africans and the residents of Mkhumbane resented such control over what had been regarded as a tradition. Illegal brewing developed as a result, and in response the South African authorities regularly raided what were considered to be illicit businesses and made numerous arrests. Protests at such police action resulted and often led to violent clashes.
The Durban riots were an anti-Indian pogrom that took place between 13–15 January 1949, primarily by African people targeting Indians in Durban, South Africa. The two days of rioting were exceptionally violent resulting in rape and massacre of Indians, looting, burning of their properties, claiming 142 lives and creating 40,000 Indian refugees.
On the evening of Thursday, 13th January 1949, ethnic Indians in the center of the Indian business area of Durban were assaulted by black Africans. The riots began at Victoria Street, in the heartland of Indian commercial center. The assailants began to attack individual Indians, stoning vehicles driven by Indians and looting Indian stores while chanting “Usutu!“. The violence was initially limited to destruction of property and looting which subdued after a few hours of rioting. An account by a police detective present at the riots states that there was an organized element to the riots within the Zulu community and “The talk was that the time had come to rid the country of the Indians.”
On Friday, African leaders from Cato Manor organized rioters from workers’ hostels and from social networks such as the ingoma dancing troupes and boxing clubs. Taking advantage of the slow police intervention, the assailants attacked the Indian business area with an assortment of improvised weapons, attacking both property and people. Numerous reports suggest that European whites cheered the African assailants and joined in looting Indian stores. Donald L. Horowitz notes in his book, The Deadly Ethnic Riot: “A number of European women urged the N….. [Africans] on to ‘hit the coolies [Indians]’. Thereafter they went dancing up the street with the N….. The pictorial record shows Europeans actively inciting the N…., or evincing all the signs of enjoyment at their excesses.”
By early evening the government troops blockaded the Indian districts in central Durban after which the focus of assaults shifted to the suburban areas of Cato Manor, Clairwood, and the Jacobs area, where numerous acts of murder, arson, rape, and brutal attacks as well as looting took place.
Rampaging African crowds burnt houses, stores, raped Indian women and girls and bludgeoned to death Indians of all ages and sexes. An article in the Indian Opinion, established by Gandhi while in South Africa, recounted the devastation: “Huddled under the flames of one of the burning shops were four Indian women and a dozen weeping children. The male owner was in a grotesque attitude on the front path, knifed in several places and dying. A younger son staggered in the road with his head split open. This was one of the hundreds of pathetic sites that were witnessed in Cato and other districts of Durban.”
Friday night saw the peak of the violence when Africans hurled paraffin tins into Indian owned buildings and families were burned alive.
By Saturday, the military and police were mostly able to establish order although limited violence occurred in Pietermaritzburg a few days later. It is also documented that The Indian Government issued a stern warning to South Africa resulting in the local authorities containing the violence against the Indians.
The riots resulted in the massacre of mostly Indians in which 142 people died and 1087 people were injured. 300 buildings were destroyed, and 2000 structures were damaged. It also created 40,000 Indian refugees, followed by a wave of suicides among Indians, as a result of the disintegration of their families, economic failure, stress, humiliation and racist discrimination. The reported suicides were mainly amongst the Indian ladies who according to custom, their honour is more important to them than life if sexually molested by the marauding Africans. Hence these ladies, old and young opted to self-terminate than lead a life of dishonour, in the society.
The systematic killing, destruction, looting and rape was committed by some of the individuals who worked for the Indian farmers, as it is happening presently, on the farms in South Africa, where elderly White farmers are mercilessly killed. This is analogous to the description made by Hannah Arendt, at the trial of the German Otto Adolph Eichmann, a World War 11 criminal who was delightfully responsible for the killings of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. Arendt found Eichmann an ordinary, rather bland, bureaucrat, who in her words, was ‘neither perverted nor sadistic’, but ‘terrifyingly normal’. He acted without any motive other than to diligently advance his career in the Nazi bureaucracy. Eichmann was not an amoral monster, she concluded in her study of the case, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Instead, he performed evil deeds without evil intentions, a fact connected to his ‘thoughtlessness’, a disengagement from the reality of his evil acts. The rampaging Black mobs in both the 1949 and 1921 riots in South Africa acted in the manner conducive to “Banality of Evil”.
However, the prominent international sociologist, Professor Dasarath Chetty, issued a statement, on the current riots, on behalf of the Moral Regeneration Movement, in a communication received by the author . The document confirms the following:- “According to the Sunday Tribune (25 July 2021) the riots could cost the country about 50 billion rand in lost output, 40000 businesses have been affected and 150,000 jobs have been placed at risk. Stock worth about 1.5 billion was lost in Durban alone. Although the full extent of the damage is yet to be revealed, about 200 malls were targeted, 100 malls were burnt or significantly damaged by fire; and some 3,000 shops were looted during the protests, while 200 banks and post offices were also vandalized. In addition, the looters targeted 150,000 informal traders, about 1,400 automatic bank teller machines were damaged, 11 warehouses and eight factories were extensively damaged and 139 schools, 8 banks and 37 delivery trucks were looted, destroyed and burnt. Most tragic of all was the loss of 339 human lives whose bereaved families we sympathise with and share in their pain.” The document further proceeds to state that “Long simmering racial tensions, driven initially by colonialism and then entrenched by Apartheid segregation, the breeding ground for suspicion, distrust, envy and hate again reared its ugly head, mainly in parts of Durban and Pietermaritzburg with the real and perceived threats leading to loss of life. The fragility of intergroup relations in South Africa was again exposed pointing to two challenges: firstly, a foundering of the nation- building project so valiantly embarked upon by President Mandela’s first democratic administration; and secondly, the questionable successes of subsequent social cohesion projects and programmes implemented against a backdrop of largely unchanged social and economic conditions for the vast majority of poor South Africans, victimised and criminalised by a political trajectory that has fostered shameless individualism, materialism and conspicuous consumption. These have become the values of the new South Africa as neo-liberal economic policies widened the divide between rich and poor living in close geographical proximity but in parallel universes.” His report has largely disregarded the justification for rape killings and unimpeded violence against a peaceful sector of the community, both in 1949 and again in 2021. Rape as an instrument of subjugation is now classified as a war crime. The document fails to acknowledge the existence of a two-tiered class of Black Africans after liberation. The author will be publishing the document, as a follow up report to the present publication. Suffice it to state that the elite, foreign educated group of well-heeled South African Blacks have engaged on a trajectory of amassing massive wealth, by any means, to the detriment and total exclusion of fellow, poorer disempowered, rural and labourer class Blacks, over the past 27 years, after liberation. This economic disempowerment, no service delivery and nullifying the spirit of Ubuntu cannot be attributed to colonialism, apartheid and least of all a justifiable reason to unleash unprovoked violence against People of Indian Origins, in South Africa. The Indian Community is the only sector of South Africans, who ironically assisted the very Black people, who were the perpetrators of the violence and looting, both, immediately post riots by setting up social and medical assistance, to the unemployed Blacks, as well as providing employment opportunities, in the long term. The author himself is engaged in a “Community Health and Indigent Programme Services” since 1996, to render free medical care to disadvantaged communities in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Presently, a free Medical Assist Call LineTM has been inaugurated to provide remote medical care during the SARS Cov-2 pandemic, during which South Africa is experiencing the deadly Delta Virus spread, as the Third Wave of infections, affects the country. South Africa now has the SARS pandemic, HIV/Aids, TB, vicious crime and severe economic constraints, as a result of the recent riots and ongoing corruption at the highest levels of the democratically elected government. This is the basic cause of the civil unrest, whereby the dissension, frustration, despair, disillusionment with the ruling party and despondency is vented against the minorities.
The Durban riots of 1949 were analysed as not an expression of permanent antagonism between Indians and indigenous Africans, but an explosion of deeper frustrations in a society where rapid urbanisation and forced proletarianisation had subjected large sections of both communities to ‘conscious poverty’. However, the July 2021 riots clearly contradicts the analysis. There is a deep-seated acrimony, based on the functioning of the reptilian brain, the limbic system, in reality, generating the hate and vengeful actions generated by the violent mob.
The Bottom Line is that there is deep seated resentment and hatred against the South African People of Indian origins. The Indian community is often the target of violent crimes, including murders, hijackings and kidnapping. home invasion and now official government discrimination in the form of affirmation action and equity. This is practised in general employment, tertiary education sectors, senior public, civil servants’ recruitment and economic curtailment, officially legislated as Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment. Apartheid has now been replaced by Black nationalism, in South Africa, while this is justifiable, it is certainly contrary to the philosophy espoused by Madiba. This is considered reverse apartheid in South Africa.
The current wave of unrests and statements like “one Indian, one bullet,”, by Black political nationalists, is a clear signal that the Indian community is unwanted, and a day will indeed come, like it did in Uganda, under the then President Idi Amin, when Indians were forced to leave the country and evacuated by the British Overseas Airways Corporation. Similarly, the White farmers were murdered, or their farms were seized and owners were ejected from Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, under the late President Robert Mugabe, resulting in food insecurity, in the former “breadbasket of Africa”.
The reality with the South African Indians is that there will be nobody to evacuate them from the troubled South Africa, which is on the brink of a civil war, as the rift in the ruling party is unquestionably divisive.
 Mr Bisson Mahabeer, an 80 year, Person of Indian Origins.Narration of the 1949 Cato Manor Riots to the author, 29th July 2021.
 Horowitz, Donald (2001). The Deadly Ethnic Riot. University of California Press. p. 346. ISBN 9780520236424. Donald Horowitz Durban Riots European women.
 Swanepoel, Piet (23 October 2012). “On massacres forgotten and remembered”. Politics Web
 Horowitz, Donald (2001). The Deadly Ethnic Riot. University of California Press. p. 346. ISBN 9780520236424. Donald Horowitz Durban Riots European women.
 Soski, Jon. “African Nationalism, Indian Diaspora and Kwa-Zulu”
 “The Durban riots, 1949”. South African History Online.
 Personal e-mail received by author on Thursday, 7/29/2021 10:48 AM, from Professor Dasarath Chetty as a Board Member of the Moral Regeneration Movement, titled: Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM) Statement on Civil Unrest in South Africa, A Crisis of Values, 28 July 2021
Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits):
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.
Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All
Tags: Gandhi, Racism, South Africa
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Aug 2021.
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