UKZN history lecturer Dr Mphumeleli Ngidi researched experiences of African residents who lived in Durban’s Cato Manor for his PhD in Social Sciences.
The area, popularly known as Mkhumbane, was impacted by the Group Areas Act of 1950 – it was one of several multi-racial communities where people were forced by the apartheid regime to move out of the area into townships such as KwaMashu, Chatsworth and Phoenix.
Ngidi used a mixture of life histories and community case histories to explore recollections of life in the old Cato Manor, the human cost of forcible relocation, the removals themselves, and the difficulty of establishing ‘home’ in the new townships.
His study found that former residents of the area experienced shocking living conditions. He noted that ‘forced apartheid-era displacement exacerbated this and had devastating social, cultural, and economic consequences’, while those forcibly removed carried memories of suffering.
His study also examines how Cato Manor developed historically with insights into the legacy of segregation from the pre-apartheid era. In examining everyday life in Cato Manor, his work uncovers a picture of how former residents developed a sense of place in Cato Manor, establishing religious institutions, schools, community halls and various welfare support organisations, despite challenges they faced.
Cato Manor emerged as a centre for the production of a vibrant popular culture among Africans in Durban. ‘Beer brewing and drinking was a central component of this culture and provided thriving businesses through which many urban African women survived.
‘The bosses and apartheid authorities wanted African men to drink, but on their (the bosses’) terms,’ said Ngidi. ‘The authorities and bosses wanted a monopoly of the beer trade by brewing and selling in beer halls – they did not tolerate home brewing by women as in their eyes it constituted an economic threat to the State, and gave women freedom that the State would not countenance. Home brewing resulted in raids by authorities in townships and hostels across the country. When women’s livelihoods were threatened they took to the streets to protest.’
Oral recounts of history became an important research tool for Ngidi. ‘It is a vital means to capture the memories of respondents as well as their experiences of the near past.’ He believes that oral history can play a crucial role in documenting the story of marginalised communities and add to the social history narratives in the KwaZulu-Natal region. He encouraged others to apply oral testimonies in their research.
‘History belongs to the people regardless of their levels of education or social stance,’ said Ngidi. ‘If we want to unearth histories of our societies we must consider the marginalised people and record their voices. Classism should not be the order of society. People are equal but we differ in our responsibilities because we cannot all do the same thing hence we are all important.’
He says oral testimonies of the marginalised are absent from official documents. ‘It is important to continue to undertake such research to give a voice to those who suffered under apartheid otherwise they will remain doubly victimised – brutalised under apartheid, and silenced in the post-apartheid period.’
Ngidi is passionate about the importance of mother tongue use and for this reason included quotations in isiZulu in his thesis. Had the regulations permitted it, he would have preferred writing the entire dissertation in isiZulu.
Ngidi thanked his family, friends, supervisor and colleagues in the School of Social Sciences for their support. He paid tribute to his father Mr Petros Nkosiyami Ngidi, ‘for his faith and trust in me completing my PhD. A school drop-out petrol attendant turned small business owner whose highest completed grade was Standard 1 (Grade 3), my father understood and encouraged me in all that I was doing’. He dedicated his PhD to his late mother, Ms Thokozisile Mavis Nduli.
Ngidi plans to assist more students, ‘especially from previously disadvantaged backgrounds like mine to archive academically. I am the first person in my family to be awarded a doctorate. I hope this encourages more people to take education seriously’.