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TitleConference on the History of Opposition in Southern Africa
TitleNatal 1959: the women"s protests
AuthorYawitch, Joanne
SubjectRiots -- South Africa -- Durban
SubjectBeer -- South Africa -- Durban -- History
SubjectWomen, Black -- Durban -- Economic conditions -- Congresses
SubjectBlacks -- South Africa -- Durban -- Social conditions -- Congresses
SubjectApartheid -- South Africa -- Durban -- History
Format13 pages
AbstractIn June 1959 there were widespread riots and disturbances in the Durban African area of Cato Manor. The fundamental causes were socio-economic; arising from such factors as poor living conditions and widespread poverty. But it was the exhaustive beer-raids on illegal stills that provided a flashpoint. It was illegal for Africans to brew their own beer; instead they were obliged to purchase it from the municipal beer-halls - the money then being used for the development and administration of African facilities, (l) Amongst the inhabitants of Cato Manor and particularly amongst women who traditionally brewed the beer, this caused much dissatisfaction. However, discontent was prevented from reaching breaking -point by the police strategy of ignoring illegal brewing as long as amounts did not exceed more than k to 8 gallons, and also by only carrying out very perfunctory raids. (2) Another dimension was added to the beer-hall issue in the form of complaints by women that this was not the traditional way of doing things. They said that men should obtain beer from their women instead of frequenting the beer halls, and more importantly, by patronising the beer-halls, men were depriving their women of what little money they could have paid them. (3) In this complaint centering around the fact that an element of traditional life was being disrupted, is contained another issue of basic importance to the Natal riots in general. The policies of the government as implemented by the Durban Corporation in the case of Cato Manor meant the fragmentation of a traditional and still important social order. The economic function of the women of Cato Manor, and ass will be seen later, of most Natal women was being removed. In addition to basic deprivation it was this factor that can to a large extent be seen as the reason for the intensity and militancy of the women"s attacks on the beer-halls and on Corporation property. Cato Manor was an area unique among the locations and townships of Durban. Its inhabitants had moved there in the years just after the war without any official sanction. Cato Manor was unplanned, and as a result of its spontaneous creation far less controlled and policed than any of the townships set up as a result of government planning. Because of this freedom Cato Manor was a haven for all those who were illegally in the urban areas, or whose livelihood contravened the multitude of rules and regulations governing the lives of Africans. Cato Manor"s large population of shebeen queens owed its existence to this lack of control. (4) In 1958 there had been considerable discontent and unrest in Cato Manor over the attempt to implement shack-removal schemes, thereby clearing the slum and transferring much of its population to the new township of Kwa Mashu. At Kwa Mashu where rents were higher and which was also less centrally situated than Cato Manor, there was far more rigid control. Removals would have in effect meant that. Cato Manor"s large illegal population, including the shebeen Queens and petty traders, would have been deprived of their livelihoods or endorsed out of the urban areas. (5) It was in this context that threats of a Typhoid epidemic in June 1959 caused the Durban Corporation to decide to radically increase and improve sanitation measures in Cato Manor, and to eliminate any conditions conducive to the breeding of flies. The refusal of the inhabitants of Cato Manor to do away with the large quantities of illegal liquor negated the health measures taken by the authorities. Finally, municipal labourers were ordered to enter Cato Manor and destroy all stills. The resentment aroused by this action caused a large group of women to march on the Booth Road Beerhall on June 17th whereupon they chased out the male customers and destroyed the beer. (6) The rioting spread rapidly to other Durban beerhalls and a large proportion of the Corporations property was destroyed. In addition, a successful beer boycott was launched. In Cato Manor violence had subsided by the beginning of July at which time it had already spread to such areas as Verulam and Umbumbulu. Six weeks after the initial rioting essential services had not yet been restored fully in Cato Manor. By the beginning of August unrest was rife in many of Natal"s smaller towns as well as a large section of the rural areas.
Publisher(Students") Development Studies Group of University of the Witwatersrand