1960 Cato Manor massacre: Nine to the grave, nine to the gallows
Durban - Cato Manor is famous for the race riots of 1949 and the women-led beer hall protests a decade later.
“But what about the slaughter of nine police officers on a patrol to seek out illegal breweries and people violating influx control laws on January 24, 1960?” asks historian Mphumeleli Ngidi.
“Nine and nine,” he pointed out – nine of the nine slain police officers’ attackers faced the gallows.
While some of the police were buried locally and others in their home towns, the bodies of their attackers were buried by the state after their executions.
In January this year – 60 years after the incident – they were exhumed from their pauper’s graves and brought back home for respectable ceremonies.
Ngidi feels there is not much time left to hear first-hand stories of those times.
“Soon there will be nobody left to tell them,” he said this week, before delivering the 2020 Dr Killie Campbell Lecture on the killings and what followed them.
Ngidi’s research on the incident, for his PhD, has seen him following leads to elderly people who witnessed those times as children. From uMgababa to Chesterville, KwaMashu to uMlazi, as well sifting through newspaper clippings, he built up his knowledge from stories and songs he heard in his own childhood.
“People knew the area that stretches from where the Pavilion Centre now stands to the Howard College campus, including the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital, as uMkumbane,” he explained.
With the threats of removal under the Group Areas Act and day and night policing of beer-brewing, that was the mainstay of the community’s economy, it took a small incident to prompt people to form an angry mob to attack the nine cops seeking shelter in a house.
“Five African and four white policemen’s faces could not be identified, they were so badly attacked using stones and pangas,” said Ngidi.
“It was part of the war against apartheid, when you sum it up. It was against the Group Areas Act.”
For years, children in Cato Manor had regularly warned their mothers and other brewers of the presence of police cars by shouting “meleko” (isiZulu for milk).
“Police vans and milk delivery vans had much the same design,” said Ngidi.
A song came about of one of the policemen who was killed, and had been known to be particularly brutal: “Dludla, Dludla, onumlom’obomvu (Dludla, Dludla, you have red lips)”. Red lips were a symptom of someone who consumed too much gavine – a potent and illegal home-brewed spirit.
Ngidi, who is a history lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said interviewees spoke nostalgically of Cato Manor as a peaceful and viable community. They were reluctant to admit the presence of gangsterism and tension between Africans and Indians. And the squalor.
He recounted how a resident of neighbouring Chesterville spoke about a section of Cato Manor, known as Esinyameni – the Place of Darkness – which was home to a homosexual community.
“People (from other areas of Cato Manor) interacted nicely with them. Everyone went there for stokvels. There was a lot of money around. They said one could pick up money off the floor.”
Ngidi picked up that there was a clear understanding between the gays and the rest of the community.
“You didn’t mess with them – their marriages, their ceremonies, and lots of things happening in Esinyameni – or you could end up being hit (by the gays).”
Ngidi supports a government initiative to offer compensation to those who were forcibly removed from Cato Manor to KwaMashu, Inanda and Lamontville. Indians went to Chatsworth.
“They were suddenly far away from work, they had rent issues. Too many challenges. Many have been too old to remember house numbers and sites they lived on, so sometimes it has been a problem.
“They speak about uMkumbane with pride. They would love to return (to what they remember) because life was nice there.”
Ngidi said it was important that anti-apartheid Struggle heroes, who were not as renowned as people like Nelson Mandela, be remembered, as should stories around incidents such as the one in January 1960.
“This history needs to be told and re-told,” he said.
The Independent on Saturday