Durban's first mayor, George Cato, was granted land at Cato Manor in compensation for a beachfront property which had been expropriated for military purposes. Cato and his descendants farmed this land until the turn of the century, after which it was subdivided into a number of smaller farms.

During the next 30 years the landowners tended to hire out or sell plots of land to Indian market gardeners. By this time, isolated clusters of shacks occupied by Africans had begun to appear along the banks of the Umkhumbane River. Under the then Union's laws, Africans were prohibited from owning land or building homes in an urban area, and were regarded as "temporary" sojourners.

Cato Manor was incorporated into the municipality of Durban, which meant that the shack settlements became "illegal". However, the authorities turned a blind eye, and people continued to pour into the area. Indian landowners found shack-letting to be more profitable than market gardening, and Indian businessmen set up shops and bus services.

A shack settlement, Cato Manor, 1950
The squatter population had swelled to 17 000.

The so-called "Durban Riots" broke out, following an incident in which a 14-year-old African boy was allegedly assaulted by an Indian man near Durban's Indian market. This sparked off two days of anti-Indian violence which spread to Cato manor, where Indian-owned shops and houses were razed. most of the Indian residents fled.


Following the riots, Indian landlords returned to collect rents, or let entire plots to Africans who then erected more shacks and sub-let them. By 1950 there were 6 000 shacks in the area, housing between 45 000 and 50 000 people.

A Cato Manor shack area prior to the establishment of a Controlled Emergency Camp - circa 1955

Government instructed the municipality to begin developing a new housing scheme for Africans at KwaMashu, and to set up a temporary transit camp in Cato Manor.


Attempts to begin moving people to KwaMashu met with stiff resistance and tensions in Cato Manor rose. Increasing pass and liquor raids led to teh Beerhall Riots.


Nine policemen were killed by a mob in the Emergency Camp. This event tipped the scales against Cato Manor, and the rapid clearance of the entire area began.

Flames arising from the Native Administration Offices, set alight by angry demonstrators, June 1959

Cato Manor was left largely vacant. A few scattered houses, shops, the beerhall and several Hindu temples remained.


The few remaining residents formed the Cato Manor Residents' Association, to resist further removals and racially-based housing developments.


Mid 1980s:
Major portions of Cato Manor were officially identified for development for Indian people and some formal houses were built at Wiggins.

South African Police monitor the clearance of shacks at Ezinkaweni, February 1960
Early 1990s:
Waves of informal settlement occurred in Cato Crest.
The broadly representative Cato Manor Development Forum was established after lengthy negotiations.
The Cato Manor Development Association was formed, to begin implementing the re-development of Cato Manor.

Chronology courtesy of Prof. Iain Edwards
Books, photographs and other documents on the history of Cato Manor can be found at the Campbell Collections
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