«STRUCTURE AND EXPERIENCE IN THE MAKING OFAPARTHEID 6-10 February 1990 AUTHOR: Iain Edwards and Tim Nuttall TITLE: Seizing the moment : the January ...»
25 from the countryside. Within a pervasive sense of Zuluism, anti-Indianism offered possibilities of transcending parochial and territorial divisions within African migrant life. Violent attacks on Indians would also assert the migrants' power within proletarian politics.
It was in the hostels that plans circulated for another attack on the Indian shopping centre during the lunch hour of Friday 14 January. It was claimed after the riots that 'runners' spread these plans to all the hostels, as far north as the Coronation Brick and Tile compound on the banks of the Umgeni.1™ There was no formal organisation, only the informal social networks in the vicinity of hostels and workplaces. One participant in the riots recalls that he gathered with others at the place where 'the boys urinate at the Point."01 Another remembers being 'recruited' through his boxing club.102 From Friday morning the riots entered a second phase. Although there had been isolated attacks on Indians earlier in the day, notably in the Jacobs hostel area, it was during the lunch hour of Friday that large numbers of Africans - one newspaper report estimated 2 000 - converged on the 'Indian quarter*. The police had heard the rumours and were now more prepared; they had enrolled white civilians, arming them with batons. The nature of the looting, however, made it difficult to police in this manner.
There was no solid phalanx of rioters, but small dispersed groups followed by crowds.
One lunch hour photograph of Pine Street, where looting was occurring, shows Indians, whites and Africans walking unalarmed. Pedestrians helped themselves to goods through broken windows. An eye witness observed a ricksha puller loading up his vehicle with armloads of women's shoes.
The unreality of it all provoked laughter and heckling. Individual Indians were jostled on the pavements; some were robbed of their Friday pay. White bystanders gathered;
their very passivity was interpreted as approval. Some whites joined the looting. Nearby white shops remained unscathed. The 'rules of the riot', developed the day before, had been rapidly learnt: confine assaults to Indians to avoid the full deployment of white power. Only in one or two cases were the rules broken, for example in lower Florida Road where all passing cars, including those driven by whites, were pelted with stones.
During the early afternoon the looting of Indian shops fanned out, along Umgeni and South Coast roads, and groups of dockworkers moved up Berea Road. Groups of varying sizes marched in loose formation, armed with sticks and periodically clashing with baton-wielding police. Press photographs of the rioters reveal interesting details.
Africans other than migrants had been drawn in. They were mainly young men, although in one example a ululating woman was at the head. Many were relatively well dressed, wearing the clothes of employed workers and petty traders.103 In another photograph, the
100. Similar ways of organising operated just as effectively during the initial stages of the 1959 riots, the 1973 strikes, and migrants' attacks on the residential area of Kwa Mashu during the 1980 school boycott in Durban.
101. KCAV interviews, T. Dlamini, 17 June 1981.
102. Sitas, 'Accommodation', p.11-16.
103. NA 3/DBN 4/1/3/1580, 323B, 2: DCC memo to Riots Commission, 11 March 1949.
26 red-trimmed calico uniforms of domestic servants were prominent."" In one case the marchers were singing in rhythm; perhaps they belonged to an ingoma dance troupe.
Personal recollections remember the driving force of crowd psychosis. Dlamini recalls
that, amidst cries of 'Usuthu':
Sve joined in [the riots] by Maheshe's at the bottom, coming along with it. We came with it to Maheshe's... we pointed it towards Umgeni Road... we were finishing them, but not destroying everything as we went. When they tried to jump up you would catch them and throw them down with a knobkerrie."05 This was war, the Indian-African war, where perceptions of power were clear. The fighting spread 'like a wind because there was no place where the Indians were not hit.
... The Indians are not a nation that fights, they are a nation that runs away."06 A major power vacuum had opened up in a strategic area of the city centre, the focus of African trading and commuter life. At 4.00 pm on Friday a crowd of Somtseu Road hostel residents, estimated at 1 000 strong, marched from the hostel towards the city centre. This throng was very different from the dispersed groups which had looted during the afternoon. As it left the hostel, stones rained down on the nearby Magazine Barracks, a dilapidated municipal hostel housing Indian families. The marchers were making for the Indian shopping area, but from the authorities' point of view they were an ominous portent, threatening an overspill of violence into white Durban. The riots were beginning to escalate from assaults on Indian property into a broader challenge.
Police met the crowd on the edge of the Indian shopping area. When warning shots to halt were not heeded, they opened fire into the mass. At least four people died instantly, and the crowd scattered in panic.
The shootings were intended as a dramatic use of force against the rioters. During the afternoon, as the rioting had spread, local police chiefs realised they lacked the personnel to mount the city-wide display of force that seemed to be increasingly necessary if the state's authority was to be restored. Urgent telephone calls were made from Durban for police and military reinforcements. News of the police confrontation with the Somtseu Road crowd travelled fast, thanks to the special municipal buses which had been laid on to remove commuters quickly from the city centre. Africans spoke of the successful looting and the police action; Indians carried fearful news of rampaging crowds that seemed unstoppable. The police action introduced a new form of state violence into the rioting, and helped to deflect it from the city centre to the shack areas.
The mass killings in Cato Manor and to a lesser extent in the Jacobs area, signified a
104. Domestic workers had been prominent in the events of the preceding day. There was no need for white madams to launch their domestics into town as passive projectiles. They may have, and this reveals the level of white racism. The point nevertheless needs to be stripped of its instrumentality.
105. KCAV interviews, T. Dlamini, 17 June 1981.
27 third phase of the riots."" The late afternoon buses going into Mkhumbane were packed as usual. But the mood of the commuters verged on hysteria as accounts and rumours of the day's conflict mixed with panic and heightened anticipation. For the buses were not simply carrying Mkhumbane residents or those seeking weekend entertainment in the shacklands. There many who had been involved in the street brawls of the day and they spoke of coming to attack the Indians in Mkhumbane. The looting and attacking of Indians had largely spent itself in the Grey Street area. Police had used firearms against the Somtseu Road crowd and cordoned the Indian quarter off. But there was more involved. Migrants on the buses were coming to gain land and housing. Many had for long frequented the shack settlements and knew their way around. Migrants' aspirations threatened the African residents of Mkhumbane, most particularly those renting shacks on Indian-owned land. Squatter uncertainties and the assertive attitude of the migrants fused into a general desire to seize land. Everyone wanted to own thenown house.
The territorial aspect gave a distinctiveness to the rioting in Cato Manor. As buses unloaded commuters other forces were also at work. Gangs of migrants moved in, ordinary residents of Mkhumbane grouped together and the shack leaders led their impis into battle. The violence went beyond looting, beating and breaking to include murder, rape and burning. As people acquired property it was guarded against others.
The killings and burnings in Cato Manor amounted to a pogrom: the organized extermination and expulsion of all Indians. Mkhumbane 'our home' was to be liberated.
Mkhumbane was the epicentre of a killing ground stretching over the wider Cato Manor Farm area and lasting the whole night.
Those Indian traders who had guns tried to fight off their attackers; many Indians fled into the bush to hide, while the fortunate ones were rescued in police vans and taken to the Cato Manor police station. The vans were pelted with stones as they drove around looking for survivors. The \var of Cato Manor' violently appropriated an area which the authorities had zoned 'Indian'. The Cato Manor post office was also destroyed, and if there had been other state buildings in the district they would probably have met the same fate.108 The Cato Manor police station was effectively surrounded, and initial police attempts to quell the violence were hampered by the dense shack clusters and difficult terrain, especially in the dark. It was the militant defiance of the rioters, rather than the attacks on Indian people and property, which prompted the police to embark on a 'shoot to kill' policy. Around 500 soldiers began heavy-handed 'mopping up' operations that night. For a local news reporter it seemed the clock had turned back to the Second World War. Machine guns were set up, and sometimes fired 'for five minutes at a time' in the direction of groups looting and burning buildings.109 In some instances, military patrols were attacked with sticks and stones, and replied with rifle fire.
107. Unless stated the account of this phase is drawn from: Natal Mercury. 15-18 January 1949; Natal Daily News. 15-18 January 1949; NA 3/DBN 4/1/3/1580, 323B, 2: NIO memo to Riots Commission, 11 March 1949; KCAV interviews 305, T. Dlamini, 17 June 1981; Riot Commission 1949, evidence, G Bestford, pp.31Kirk, 'Durban riots', pp.54-57.
108. NA 3/DBN 4/1/3/1702, 467C, 8: M.A. Bhengu to TC, 3 March 1949.
109. Natal Daily News. 15 January 1949.
28 By Saturday morning the storm had spent itself, although there were sporadic incidents during the weekend. A tense equilibrium had been reached between state power and the rioters; both had achieved short-term objectives. The military units had shown their capacity to suppress rioting by force.110 A few hundred more soldiers arrived in Durban during Saturday, and armoured cars patrolled the city and its outskirts. At least eleven Africans were shot dead on Saturday and Sunday, some by soldiers, and some by Indians.
from motor car windows. The rioters had won their own victory: they had dramatically defied the authorities; they had looted shops and homes; and through popular force had driven Indian residents from the shantytowns and neighbouring districts. By midday on Saturday 15 January there were an estimated 25 000 Indian refugees in the city.111 A photograph taken in Booth Road, Cato Manor, on the Monday after the riots aptly captures the tense aftermath: a small group of soldiers was gathered behind a machine gun on the side of the road; in front of them passed a steady stream of residents returning from work, their raised fists punching the air.112
THE AFTERMATHFor the rest of 1949 the strong currents unleashed by the riots surged and eddied. The national leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Indian Congress and the Communist Party of South Africa met in Durban, hoping to heal the African-Indian breach.1" On the morning after the riots began the Natal Indian Congress and Natal ANC leaders, G M Naicker and A W G Champion, had issued a public statement condemning the violence and calling for 'greater calm and understanding."" Later that day they toured the city centre on official trucks and used loudspeakers to urge crowds to disperse. In one instance, Champion was physically assaulted by a crowd of Africans and had to beat a hasty retreat. Even if the national Congresses had had the ideological disposition and organisational capacity to channel the militancy of the Durban rioters, they would have struggled to do so. For the very diversity, ebullience and indiscipline of the 'city mob' made it difficult to absorb into formally organised resistance politics.1" If the national Congresses had been concerned with damage limitation, there were other interests in African politics which sought to exploit the opportunities opened up by the riots. They included marginal and established traders, local squatter leaders and political activists, and ordinary workers and shack residents. Popular attempts to consolidate the gains of the riots were focused in Cato Manor, especially the Booth Road area adjoining Chesterville township. After two weeks most Indian refugees had returned to their homes, but none dared go back to Booth Road. Civilian guards formed to protect the new land and property acquisitions and to counter-attack the 'Indian army" rumoured
110. KCAV interviews 305, T. Dlamini, 17 June 1981.
111. There were also 2 000 African refugees. NA 3/DBN 4/1/3/1579, 323B, 1:
Manager, Native Administration to Native Administration Committee, 25 January 1949.
112. Natal Mercury. 17 January 1949.
113. Karis and Carter, From Protest to Challenge. Vol.2, pp.285-88; Webster, 'Riots', pp.17-20.
115. E. Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1959), pp.7, 110, 123-4.
29 to be massing for a reprisal. Large stockpiles of shack material appeared as people extended and built new shacks. New residents swarmed into Mkhumbane from both shack settlements on Indian-owned land in other parts of the city and from the hostels.
Within days of the riots hundreds of petty traders.had set up stalls along the road, selling goods no longer available from Indian stores. There was a flood of applications for pedlars' licences, and many more traded without applying.'" Responding to the massive growth of informal trading a group of leading traders formed the Zulu Hlanganani Co-operative and Buying Club. The organization was specifically anti-Indian and pro-Apartheid and aimed to restrict African trading in Mkhumbane to the district's own residents and, further, gain a monopoly over such trading for their own members only. In the early 1950s the Zulu Hlanganani was to form part of the Bantu National Congress, a body set up by the Nationalist government to oppose militant African nationalism.