About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The Durban Riots

For some weeks prior to the Cato Manor riots, and after an outbreak of typhoid, Municipal authorities in Durban had been conducting a "cleaning-up" campaign in the area, during which a large quantity of illicit liquor had been found and destroyed.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, 17 June 1959, a demonstration was staged at the Cato Manor Beer Hall by a group of African women who destroyed beer and drinking utensils. The women were dispersed by the police and the beer hall was closed. The police remained on guard throughout the night.

On the following day, Thursday 18th, groups of African women staged similar demonstrations at beer halls situated elsewhere in the City, including Dalton Road and Victoria Street. African men present at the beer halls were attacked and warned that they were not to drink Corporation beer.

At 2.30 p.m. on the 18th, Mr. Bourquin, Director of the Bantu Administration Department, met a group of about 2,000 women at the Cato Manor Beer Hall.(1) Police had been in attendance throughout the morning, and Mr. Bourquin was accompanied by members of the police. Spokesmen for the women expressed some of their grievances, and Mr. Bourquin addressed the assembled crowd. At the conclusion of the meeting, the police warned the women to disperse. When they failed to do so, a police baton charge took place. Scenes of general disorder and rioting followed, during which a number of shots were fired. The African women were joined by men, some of whom had returned from the city by bus.

<M> Raml Daily Mail report, 5 October 1959.

(i) Assembly, 19 June 1959, Hansard 20 Col. 8547.

At approximately 5.30 p.m., rioting crowds commenced to destroy Municipal vehicles and buildings at Cato Manor. Corporation buildings at Chesterville, an adjoining Location, were later burnt down or damaged, and also a number of buildings housing welfare, health and community services.

Mr. Bourquin has since estimated damage to buildings at the sum of over £.100,000, which included "the Bantu Administration offices, shops, storerooms and huts, the Chesterville Community Centre, a Municipal shop block in Lyttlcton Road and the Corporation's Recreation Hall". The Minister for Justice, in a statement in the House of Assembly, said that 25 buildings had been burnt out, and 7 damaged.(I)

Corporation officials who had been present at the Cato Manor office at the outbreak of the rioting were escorted from the area by police. Members of the police force maintained a watch at the Beer Hall throughout the night. An attempt was made to prevent the destruction of the Cato Manor office. Thereafter, it would appear that no further police action was taken to attempt to prevent the burning and looting of property within the area. A fire engine was prevented by Africans from entering the area.

Reliable African observers have reported that the crowds who participated in the burning and looting of buildings included groups of teen-age youngsters of both sexes and a "strong hooligan element". Tt has also been suggested that the reason for the destruction of premises of voluntary welfare organisations may have been the fact that they were connected in the minds of the African public with "white officialdom".

At approximately 10.30 p.m., a police picket at the Beer Hall was attacked by Africans who were driven off by Sten-guns. Three Africans were killed.

No official casualty list has been issued, but a Press report on the 19th June stated that three Africans had been killed and 14 Africans admitted to hospital with injuries, mainly bullet wounds. One European policeman was injured by a bullet.(3)

The casualty list for the Durban Riots in 1954 comprised 142 deaths and 1,087 injured persons.*'1

<=> Aucmhly. 19 June 1959. Hansard 20 Col. 8546.

<') Daily News 19 June 1959.

f-O Report of Enquiry into Riots in Durban, U,0, 36/49.

African unrest continued on the following day in the form of various demonstrations and arrests throughout the City. A group of women in Greenwood Park were disarmed by the Police, and the Umgeni Beer Hall was placed under police protection. Women demonstrated outside a Beer Hall in the Mobeni industrial area. Later in the day, women demonstrators at a Beer Hall at Rossburgh were arrested by the police.

Sporadic demonstrations and manifestations of African unrest continued for several weeks, in areas throughout the City, and a number of arrests were made by the police.

Ex-Chief Luthuli, President General of the African National Congress, issued a press statement appealing for peace at Cato Manor and for a return to normality as soon as possible. He stated that the grievances of the people should be formulated and submitted to the authorities. He promised that the African National Congress would do all it could to find a solution to the com-plaints.<C)

The Paramount Chief of the Zulus also appealed to his people to remain calm and not to act irresponsibly. He urged that grievances should be lodged with the authorities through the proper channels/"'

Beer halls were temporarily closed by the Municipality because of the lack of support. Municipal bus services to various African areas were withdrawn after repeated attacks on vehicles.

City Council services to Cato Manor, including public health, sewerage and water were suspended for seven weeks after the riots, because it was feared that the safety of Municipal employees might be endangered.

At the beginning of July, the City Council and police decided to intensify action against illegal liquor brewing in Cato Manor. A press report stated that by 9th July, nearly 86,000 gallons of shimiyane had been destroyed, and 55 persons had been arrested on liquor charges.<7>

Background to the riots in Durban

As no public enquiry has been held, no definite authoritative findings exist on the causes of the riots. It is, however, clear that these are manifold and inter-related. Various opinions have been expressed in the press and elsewhere, but in the absence of evidence properly weighed, it is impossible to do more than sketch the socio-economic background to Cato Manor and to list some of the many grievances that have been mentioned.

<3). Daily NrH'i. 19 June 1959.

!'>. Ually New*. 20 June 1959.

(7). Daily Ne«-s. 9 July 1959.

Events flowing from the destruction of illicit liquor at Cato Manor, and from the campaign on the part of African women to prevent men from patronising Municipal beer halls, clearly 'sparked off' the riots at Cato Manor and the subsequent widespread demonstrations and unrest. Grievances expressed by Africans have included the fact that permits for home-brewed beer covered only family consumption and that, although beer was important in the traditional life of the Zulu people, it could not be offered to relatives and guests. Men were forced to entertain in beer-halls, which made inroads into low earnings and created the danger of arrest on the way home for over-indulgence.

Jt is also well known that a class of professional brewers and 'shebeen queens' exists at Cato Manor, who make their entire living from the production of illicit liquor. In addition, and because of the prevailing poverty, considerable numbers of other women have succumbed to the temptation of supplementing their incomes in this way. Destruction of liquor thus holds economic implications.

Mr. Bourquin, Director of the Bantu Administration Department, in a letter to the Town Clerk dated 23 June 1959, stated that in his opinion, whatever the nature of the contributory and superficial factors might be, the basic and ultimate reason was an economic one, i.e. the poverty of the urban Bantu and the discrepancy between his earning capacity and his cost of living. He said that the women had talked about kaffir beer and illicit liquor, transport and housing, shack removals and influx control, the keeping of livestock and the keeping of husbands, gambling dens and of shebeens. "Only here and there did the real, naked reason break to the surface: money or rather the lack of it".

Mr. Bourquin urged the City Council to make immediate and substantial increases in the existing wage of £10 8s. Od. per month paid to its 7,700 unskilled African employees. He pointed out that not a single one of these workers could all'ord the rent for family housing at Kwa Mashu. He addressed a similar appeal to private employers, warning the public that the slums of Cato Manor would remain as long as the average earnings of African workers placed decent living and housing beyond their reach; and that, as long as these slums remained, so would the danger of violence, arson and bloodshed remain.

(Since this date, a hearing of the Wage Board lias taken place in Durban and a number of increases in African wage rates have been made by employers. These are dealt with later in this Survey.)

Hardship and resentment arising from shack removals at Cato Manor were among grievances expressed by the African community. A special meeting between the Calo Manor Welfare Advisory Board and the Bantu Administration Committee of the City Council was held on Wednesday, 17 June (the day preceding the riots), when the Board's dissatisfaction was expressed concerning aspects of the removal scheme.

The very dense shack settlement of Africans in the Cato Manor area developed largely as a result of the increasing tempo of industrialization during and after the war years. Industry was expanding rapidly at a time when building operations had come to a standstill. Sanitary services were non-existent and conditions generally were appalling. In the early 1950's action was taken by the Municipality and a section of Cato Manor was proclaimed as an Emergency Camp as a temporary measure to alleviate some of the worst slum conditions. Basic services were provided in the form of sanitation, water, communal ablution blocks, roads, etc., erection of new shacks was controlled and regulations were promulgated regarding the administration of the Camp.

However, all improvements and developments were on a temporary basis because Government policy had determined that the area should be proclaimed for future White occupation under the Group Areas Act, and that the existing African population should be removed as soon as possible.

During the pre-war years, the Municipality had been faced with a huge African housing problem.

In 1950, the Natal Housing Board, in co-operation with the Government Native Affairs Department and the Municipality, undertook to build six villages, each to contain about 430 dwellings, in the Umlazi Mission Reserve to the south of the city. When two of these villages had been completed, the then Minister of Native Affairs directed that the scheme should be discontinued for the reason that it was wrong in principle for the Government to build a township in tribal territory to serve the Durban municipal area.

After a long period of negotiations and delays, the Minister persuaded the Municipality to undertake a housing scheme at Duffs Road, about 12 miles north of the city. Further long delays took place before the land was acquired and the new township of Kwa Mashu planned, so it was not until 1958 that the first families moved in.

Meanwhile, building in existing locations could only take place on a limited scale, and Africans who could not obtain municipal houses had to find other accommodation as best they might.

Until recently no removals could take place from Cato Manor because of the lack of alternative housing. In February 1959, only about 45,800 (or less than one-quarter) of the 200,000 Africans estimated to be in Durban were living in Municipal houses or hostels. The Corporation estimated that 10,362 families of 40,723 persons were then living in 4,419 shacks in the emergency camp of Cato Manor, whilst 5,045 families of about 21,000 persons were occupying 1,750 dwellings in neighbouring areas of Cato Manor.

The scene in the shack areas of Cato Manor is one of sordid and over-crowded living, extreme poverty and frequent ill-health caused by malnutrition and unhygienic conditions.

The Corporation, since the new Kwa Mashu housing scheme was started, has been attempting to clear those shack settlements outside the Emergency Camp and to move as many people as possible to the new Township. It is, of course, the intention that the entire area will eventually be cleared.

The one very great difficulty is the fact that rentals at Kwa Mashu are not subsidised by the Government because of its present policy of providing only economic loans for housing. Rents vary between £3 3s. Od. and £3 5s. Od. per month, and are thus beyond the resources of the great majority of Cato Manor residents. A survey of 500 families in Cato Manor in 1956 showed that 61 per cent earned less than £10 per month. Families moving to Kwa Mashu have an added burden in the form of increased transport costs, and women find it more difficult to undertake part-time domestic work and laundering in order to supplement income.

Considerable numbers of shacks arc owned by women, who derive their livelihood by letting rooms. They may supplement this income by part-time work, or by illicit trading or brewing. To these women, shack clearance means economic ruin, even if they are permitted to remain in the urban area.

Until the housing back-log is overcome, a man does not qualify for family housing unless his wife arrived in Durban before 1956.

Only persons and families who qualify under Section ten of the Natives (Urban Areas) Act are granted alternative accommodation of any type. Many Africans have settled in Cato Manor who do not qualify to remain in terms of Section ten. Wives have come from the country to join their husbands, and widowed parents have come to live with sons and daughters. Urban women who have lost their legal right to remain when becoming widowed, divorced or deserted have stayed in the urban area, often with a number of children.

Many households at present living in Cato Manor shacks include fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, and various oilier relatives who arc not in registered employment and Ihus not entitled to remain in the urban area. Men who have lost their employment and failed to find other work have sought shelter with relatives in the shack areas rather than leave (lie city, as required by the law. Many Africans have lived in the towns for very long periods, and have thus lost all ties with the reserves' and rural areas.

The Director of the Durban Bantu Administration Department stated in a public address to the Institute of Race Relations" in Durban on 15 September 1959/8)

"A Municipal Department of Bantu Administration can be concerned only with the provision of housing for those , Bantu who make up the City's labour requirements and who' are required to provide essential services to their compatriots within the urban area. Any Bantu who are surplus to these, requirements are not the responsibility of the City Council. They are not wanted, and must leave or be removed from the urban area."

Dissatisfaction on the part of African women regarding the i shack clearances at Cato Manor was manifested in February 1959, when a large group of women and children squatted outside the oflkcs of the Bantu Administration Department for several days. A meeting between the Mayor and representatives of the women took place on 27 February, during which policy and procedures: of shack clearance were discussed.

At the end of February, and because of mounting African.! tension resulting from shack clearances, the Institute of Race. Relations in Natal initiated a voluntary Committee consisting' of representatives of the Institute, Bantu Child Welfare Society, the Chesterville Child Care Association, and a number of huhY viduals. During March, the Committee made a careful study of the shack clearance scheme and its resultant problems and' hardships. Numbers of family case histories were examined, antf a detailed memorandum submitted to the City Council/"' A few concessions by the Council were later made, for example thatV couples with children who had lived for some years as man and'"' wife should qualify for family housing, even if they were not; legally married.

Shortly after the riots the Institute arranged for a panel of experts to write a series of short press articles on the socio4i economic background to Cato Manor. Copies are available fronTi the Durban office/1"'

Action taken and events after the riots in Durban

The Minister of Justice was asked in Parliament whether htf intended to appoint a judicial commission to inquire into the cause of the riots, and if not, why not. He replied that a judicial commission was unnecessary in view of the fact that (he Durban Corporation was taking steps to institute an enquiry.

Is) Full tu.xl available from Durban Office of the S.A. Institute of Race Relation!* ~ <") Memorandum and reply published by Institute (NCR 33/59). (10) N'.R. 66/1959

Immediately after the Cato Manor rioting Mr. Bourquin had announced that there would be a departmental inquiry, and that he would also welcome a full judicial enquiry/1"' On 16 July, the Mayor of Durban announced his support of an independent judicial inquiry into the causes of the disturbances, and also of a lull investigation into African grievances, once law and order had been restored.*1'1' On the same date, the Bantu Administration Committee stated that it was sympathetic to the view that independent investigations, perhaps by a judicial commission, should be made. It deferred a final decision until more normal conditions had been restored/"' Representations to the Municipality had previously been made by the Natal Region of the Institute of Race Relations urging that if the Government still .declined to appoint a judicial commission, (he Council should institute an independent, rather than a departmental enquiry. The Director of the Institute wrote to the Ministers of Justice and Bantu Administration and Development again urging a judicial commission. Similar representations were made by other bodies and individuals, and editorials in the Daily News and Ilaiif;a Lose emphasized the importance of independent investigations. The f. -latter paper stated that "unless this step is taken we arc heading for more and even more devastating riots in the immediate .future"/1''

' It is of very great regret to the Institute that the Government has not heeded these requests. Furthermore, at the time of writing ho public enquiry had been conducted by the Durban Corporation.

As previously stated, the Director of the Bantu Administration Department said in a letter to the Town Clerk that the main 'cause of the riots was in his opinion economic. He appealed to the City Council and other employers to make an immediate and /urgent increase in African wages. On 20 July, the City Council decided to raise the wage rates of unskilled labourers by £1 12s. 6d. per month, pending the decision of the Wage Board | .Which was shortly to hold hearings in Durban. Mr. Bourquin's appeal was endorsed by a number of leaders of commerce and Industry, by trade union groups and by the Natal Region of the institute of Race Relations. A number of industrial and commercial concerns subsequently announced immediate increases in J African wage rates.

ce Assembly 30 June 1959. Hansard 22 ci>ls. 9^11-2.

(12). Daily News. 20 June 1959.

(I.'). Daily Nrws. 16 July 1959.

(14). Daily News. 16 July 1959.

(13). Htmga tnir Natal. 11 July 1959.

Early in July, the City Council was asked by its Bantu Administration Committee to ban from the Durban area, ial terms of the Natives (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act, nine'' Africans whose presence was considered to be detrimental to t maintenance of law and order. The Nutal Coastal Branch of t Liberal Parly appealed to the City Council not to make use of this arbitrary legal procedure. By a majority of one vote, the City Council decided not to ban the Africans concerned from tha Durban area.

Immediately after the riots, the Bantu Child Welfare Society launched a public appeal for assistance in re-establishing its> ! services. On 22 June, Mr. Ronald Butcher, M.P., Chairman of; the Cato Manor Appeal Fund, the chief source of finance for-- the many welfare bodies operating in the area, emphasized the importance of continuing charitable work. On 24 June, it was. reported that a number of African residents had offered their assistance in re-building seven welfare huts operated by the Cato. Manor Community Huts organization. On November 3, the Director of the Bantu Administration Department stated that restoration of buildings of private welfare organizations was pro ceeding, often with the help of Africans in the area.

On 18 July, the Bantu Affairs Commissioner in Durban held a meeting at Cato Manor when African residents were invited to express their grievances. About 2,000 Africans' attended. In an editorial of 1 August, the newspaper Ilanga Lose Natal commended the Commissioner for his action in \ calling the meeting. It emphasised the importance of mutual'* understanding and co-operation.

On 23 July, senior Government and Municipal officials--; carried out a personal inspection of conditions in Cato Manor.'; They were accompanied by African members of the Cato Manor Welfare and Development Board.

On 27 July'"' the Senior Information Officer of the Department of Bantu Administration and Development in Natal issued a statement on the riots in Cato Manor. He rejected outright the 4 contention of the Director of the Bantu Administration Departs! mcnt of the Municipality that the riots were the result of general -economic need. He criticized the Municipality for inadequate* control in matters such as population influx and liquor brewing. J He suggested that if the housing problem had become too big lot the local authority, it should be handed to the Government fbfj urgent and drastic action. On the following day, the Mayor ofVj Durban replied to the criticisms, and expressed disappointment5 at the fact that a senior Government official should have engaged ,ln public recriminations. He outlined the efforts that had been made by the City Council in the field of housing, and the diffi-:,culties that had been encountered. He stated that mutual '"co-operation was needed between the Government and City Council.'1"

On 2 August, a special meeting of African residents al Cato Manor called by the Welfare and Development Board discussed the re-introduction of health and other services to the area.

On 3 August, a deputation from the Durban City Council held a meeting with the Minister of Bantu Administration in Pretoria, when the Cato Manor situation and the restoration of basic services was discussed.

On 11 August a special meeting took place in Durban between City Councillors and senior Government and Municipal officials, after which the Mayor announced that essential services would be restored immediately. He also announced the establishment of an ad hoc liaison committee which would remain in existence as long as was necessary.

Following discussions between City Council and Government representatives it has been announced that a large new African housing scheme is to be established in the Umlazi Mission Reserve to the south of Durban. It is planned that this will accommodate about 20,000 families and as a matter of urgency, 10,000 sites are to be provided to re-house Africans ..now living in Durban locations, including the Cato Manor area. At the time of writing, transport services to the new township .were being investigated by the Government and a contour survey was being carried out. The area falls outside the Durban Municipality which will act as the agent of the Native Trust. Whilst the scheme has been announced in broad outline, details have not yet been officially released. As the land falls within the areas set aside in terms of the 1936 Native Trust and Land Act, it is believed that Africans will be able to acquire freehold rights to : property.

As a result of the boycott of Municipal beer, profits dropped ..considerably. The profit made from this source of revenue in ; 1956/57 amounted to £193,000 of which £74,000 was spent on . welfare work and £128,000 on African housing. About 30 different welfare and community organizations received grants-.-.,in-aid totalling about £14,000. Financial estimates for 1958-1959 show the planned budget for subsidized milk at £37,000.

As a result of the drop in profits, the Bantu Administration Department at the end of July decided to discontinue temporarily 8 scheme under which milk was sold to location residents on a subsidized basis. Representations to the Municipality were made* by a number of interested welfare organizations. Milk is a very important factor in combating the high incidence of malnutrition-among Africans, particularly children. Leader articles in the* Sunday Tribune (12 July) and the Jlanga Lane Natal (25 July) ' criticized the fact that under the present financial system, welfare ; services were of necessity dependent upon profits made from .; beer. A critical study of the system of financing African services is at present being undertaken by the Natal Region of the Institute. At the time of writing sales of Municipal beer had not,' returned to the previous level.

s. 27 July 1959.

(l») Daily

(«) Daily nch-s. 28 July 1959.

Tribute has been paid to the police from many quarters for their handling of (he riots and disturbances in Durban and other centres in Natal. Ex-Chief Luthuli, in a statement published on 23 August, expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the police for the patience and restraint they had shown.

Some criticism has been expressed at the methods of reporting of the Durban riots in some overseas newspapers. At a meeting in June, the Executive Committee of the Durban branch of the South African Society of Journalists decided to ask its national council to protest to the British Press Council at the poor standard of reporting in certain overseas papers, drawing attention to the slur which reports of this nature cast on the integrity of English South African journalists.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.