Cato Manor–Day 1

Last night was my first night with my homestay family in Cato Manor. Cato is one of the townships (working class areas) outside of Durban. It was originally built by Indian families (brought to South Africa by the British) and was eventually populated almost entirely by Black Africans, who rented the houses from Indian landlords. Under apartheid, there were tons of riots here, particularly regarding the production and sale of utshwala (beer). Shortly after settling in Cato Manor, people started brewing and selling utshwala to make some extra money. In 1908, the Native Beer Act barred people from brewing their own beer, leading to tons of raids by the authorities. Needless to say, the shebeen (speakeasy) owners weren’t too pleased about this, and riots broke out. Things just got worse when the apartheid government passed the Group Areas Act in 1949-50, which forced people to move into different, racially segregated townships like KwaMashu and Chatsworth (for Africans and Indians, respectively). Rioting broke out and the township was the site of tremendous violence in the 1960s, after which Cato Manor was deserted.

Flash forward fifty years and Cato Manor is now heralded as a development darling, courtesy the Cato Manor Development Association. There’s a school and a clinic and a town area. All of us are staying with families here for the next few days, and our first night was incredible. Mama Ruby, my homestay mom, is a wonderful woman–very sweet and very proud of her family, including her ten previous homestay students. Almost as soon as I arrived, she pulled out some old photo albums and began showing off her former students. She made me promise I would write to her once back in the States, a promise I’ll be happy to keep.

I spent most of the night hanging out with my host sisi, 11-year-old Smu (my host bhuti, Buwa, left for Chesterville last night after getting home from university so I only spoke with him for a little bit). Smu is hilarious and we spent  the whole night taking pictures of one another and laughing. Smu got quite a kick out of listening to my awful isiZulu and wrote out a bunch of words for me to practice. She even wrote out  a tongue twister for me to say and nearly died laughing every time I tried to stutter my way through it. If anyone wants to help, it’s “oxamu boxozulela ixoxo yamaxoxo.”

This morning, it was off to the SIT house for class and we had a couple of incredible lectures. John Daniel, formerly of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee came to talk with us about South African politics, both past and present, and then Zed spoke with us at length about the relation between Africanism, intervention, and public health. Both lectures were fantastic and my head is spinning with all the information I’ve just received. I’ve got quite a bit of thinking to do tonight, so hopefully I’ll have some more concrete reflections on the whole experience a bit later.

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