Cato Manor was first inhabited by small-scale chiefdoms as far back as the 1650s. In 1854, Durban achieved municipal status and George Cato became its mayor, taking occupation of prize farm land near the Umkhumbane River. In the 1880s, Indian people who had been freed from their contracts on the sugar plantations began to settle in Cato Manor. During and following World War 2, African people flocked to Durban to take up employment opportunities and to escape the escalating impoverishment of the ‘reserves’. Many leased land from Indian market-gardeners in Cato Manor on which they erected rudimentary shelters. By the 1950s, around 45 000 to 50 000 urban Africans were resident in congested shacks in the area.

In 1959, the South African apartheid government declared Cato Manor a ‘white’ area in accordance with the Group Areas Act. Violent and large-scale forced removals of nearly 100 000 people from Cato Manor to African and Indian townships on the periphery of Durban were carried out.

For the next 30 years, Cato Manor remained neglected and undeveloped. Despite the mass removals, a small number of residents remained in Cato Manor. In 1979, the Cato Manor Residents Association (CMRA) was formed to oppose further removals, to resist racially based developments and try to reclaim the land.

During the late 1980s, Cato Manor re-emerged as a contested urban space. Its vacant land attracted waves of informal settlement and widespread land invasions took place. Many of the people who settled there had lived in or had family ties with the area, some were fleeing political violence in the townships, while others were seeking accommodation closer to employment centres.

By the early 1990s, Cato Manor had been identified as a development priority by key role players in Durban’s public community and non-governmental sectors. The Greater Cato Manor Development Forum (GCMDF), a widely representative body, was established in January 1992 to guide and advise on the holistic development of Cato Manor. Stakeholders agreed to co-operate in the process of planning and development, to explore the possibilities of co-ordinated development and to work towards the creation of a non-racial, democratic implementation vehicle.

Whilst the institutional mechanisms for future development were being put in place, land invasions continued in earnest. The GCMDF pressed ahead with a programme to acquire land and secure development rights, to obtain funding and to set up an organisation to facilitate Cato Manor’s development. In 1993, the legal form, structure and membership of the organisation were resolved and the CMDA was established as a Section 21 Company. By 1994, it had attained full-time staff capacity.

From the outset, continuing land invasions represented a major challenge facing the newly-formed CMDA. By the end of 1995, there were at least 28 000 people informally housed in Cato Manor. Surveys show that roughly 50% of these people had been displaced by violence, resulting in serious psycho-social trauma and the breakdown of social networks. Other characteristics of the social landscape included a population of which more than 65% were younger than 26, while only 12% had a high school education. A third of the economically active population were unemployed.
The CMDA’s first years of operation were characterised by dealing with a complex and multi-faceted situation on the ground while simultaneously engaging in forward planning in order to lay the foundations for the holistic development of Cato Manor.

The Development Vision
The development vision for Cato Manor envisages the area as a vibrant, high density, balanced, sustainable urban environment appropriately integrated into the surrounding areas, offering a mixture of residential, economic, social and community opportunities, targeted mainly at the urban poor, and easily accessible without the need to own a car.

Project Mission
The mission of the CMDA is to ensure that Cato Manor is rapidly developed into a holistic, quality urban environment, in a manner that leads to the generation and redistribution of economic opportunities, builds local capacity and improves the standard of living of the poor.

The CMDA endeavours to implement its mission in a matter that is innovative, replicable, environmentally sound, non-discriminatory, has a positive influence on the development of the eThekwini Metropolitan Area and will generate models for future urban development projects.

The primary objectives of the CMDP are the creation of an efficient and productive ‘city-within-a-city’ aimed mainly at the poor and marginalised. This is being achieved through the provision of affordable housing and security of tenure; the development of Cato Manor’s infrastructure, including bulk services to reduce disparities created during apartheid; the improvement of access between people’s homes and places of work, social facilities and shopping sites; the establishment of safe and secure living and working environments; the provision of jobs and extensive economic opportunities; and the integration of Cato Manor into the eThekwini Municipality – spatially, politically, economically and socially.

Ultimately, the CMDA targets the delivery of 25 000 dwelling units and the creation of 25 000 permanent jobs.

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