The District of Cathcart was created in January 1877, and it was raised to a fiscal divisional on 1 December 1879. Its economic base was largely agrarian, but despite the fertile nature of its soil, the primitive forms of farrow irrigation used by local farmers ensured that by the 1880s its harvests were little better than "average". During the colonial era the country was still generously covered with mimosa trees, but these were slowly being cut down for firewood with little replacement taking place. The land was endowed with good pasturage during the summer months, but livestock normally had to be moved to alternative grazing in the Transkei for the winter. The following census figures are available for the division: 891 census: 6,881 residents, of whom 1,739 were literate then in 1904 census: 11,468 residents, of whom 2,699 were literate
The little town of Cathcart, set in the foothills of the Amatola, is something of a sanctuary, although its popularity amongst the gliding fraternity means that numerous gliders take off from the nearby hills, their silent and somewhat eerie flight in no way hindering the quiet of the surrounds of Cathcart, in the Eastern Cape Province, is a small town 146 km by road from East London. Sheep and cattle, deciduous fruit and maize are produced in the district.
In 1850 the British established a military post at Windvogelberg, in the division of Queenstown. Although the site was chosen primarily for its defensive potential, a number of civilians soon settled in its vicinity. The Village was formally laid out in 1858, and initially consisted of only one inhabited dwelling. However it followed a steady pattern of growth, and on 24 October 1876 a sale of new erven was held in the village. On the same day it was renamed in honour of Sir George Cathcart, Governor of the Cape Colony from 1852 to 1854. The 1891 census indicated that Cathcart had a population of 601. By 1904 this number had risen to 1,714.
In 1877 the amaNgqika, who occupied the territory immediately east of Cathcart, rose in rebellion against the colonial government. They were soon joined by their amaGcaleka and the amaThembu neighbours. By May 1878 the uprising had been crushed by British forces, and those Ngqika groups who had taken part in the uprising were resettled in the Kentani region. Although their lands were confiscated for European settlement, this move proved to be a serious financial setback for the economy of the village whose retailers depended heavily upon the rural trade.
The Cathcart Shrine was the first shrine built in Africa and was blessed in 1949. It is often referred to as the “Mother Shrine of Africa”. It is built in the semidesert and is in a very rural and Missionary Area. On 18th January, Fr. Kentenich’s last day in Cathcart, he told the people; “Now I want to tell you a secret .... the sisters have promised Our Lady that they will build her a shrine here at Cathcart, and ask her to come down here so that she can always be with you and help you in all your needs, but she will not do so unless you do your share. Our Lady will not come down to you unless you co-operate. You must help by offering your prayers and sacrifices.”
Fr. Kentenich had urged the people to support the Sisters and everyone truly helped. When the Cathcart Shrine was being built, they had to use dynamite to break the rock for the foundations. The woman and children would come and break up the rocks into little stones for the foundations.
Many years later we can say that those little stones and little sacrifices have truly become diamonds and a fountain of grace welling up from this first Schoenstatt Shrine built on the African continent.
Many people from the Eastern Cape find a spiritual home here bringing their cares and petitions to Our Blesses Mother.
Cathcart has also been an inspiration for the foundation of Schoenstatt in Burundi.