The origin of Chatsworth

Chatsworth is a historically Indian township located in Durban some 14km south-west of the City centre, in the Umhlatuzana River Valley, north of Umlazi. Initially, it consisted mainly of poor, working class Indian people, whose culture is central to Durban’s identity, and a direct result of the Group Areas Act.

View Larger Map

Chatsworth comprises an area that was once a farm called Chatsworth, part of Witteklip, which was acquired in 1848 by one Samuel Bennington and named by him after Chatsworth near Chesterfield in Derbyshire, England.

In the 1950s, Indians from all over Durban were moved to Chatsworth under the Group Areas legislation. The land had been expropriated from 600 Indian farmers, and acquired its real identity as an Indian group area through the 1960s and early 1970s.

Historically, Durban Whites had long been agitating against Indian "penetration" and as a result, the Trading and Occupation of Land (Transvaal and Natal) Restriction Act also known as the Pegging Act of 1943 was passed. In Natal, as was the case in the Transvaal, although Indians were not completely prohibited from land ownership, restrictions were mounting. This Act was enforced in the next three years where property transactions between Whites and Indians were placed under official control.

When the three-year pegging period lapsed the Asiatic Land Tenure Act of 1946 was passed. This meant that no “Asiatic” (another name used to refer to Indian people) could purchase or take over occupation of fixed property from a “European” (a word used to refer to White people) anywhere in the Transvaal and Natal, without a permit from the Minister of the Interior. Due to an increase of largely African and Indian working class settlements in Natal, the area became densely populated and slums came into being.

The Slums Act was promulgated in 1934 in order to facilitate "slum clearance" in the city. The idea behind it was to ensure industrial expansion, to guarantee removal of any menace to public health and to enforce the government's long held view of residential segregation. The 1930s saw an increase in discourse over the slums and slum removal.

In the 1940s measures to contain the aforementioned Indian "penetration" became a major focus of Indian community activism that cut across racial lines. The Pegging Acts of 1942-43 and the Ghetto Act of 1946 were passed, giving the government the right to remove and destroy shacks in some areas under the pretext of improving unsanitary living conditions. This paved the way for the Group Areas Act of June 1950, which proclaimed certain areas for Whites only. This meant that the non-White communities who found themselves in these areas had to be moved to another area designated for Indians, Coloureds and Africans.

Indians were forcibly removed from areas such as Mayville, Cato Manor, Clairwood and Magazine Barracks, and the Bluff.

By 1950 there were adverts in the newspapers for an exclusively Indian suburb "Umhlatuzana". Afterwards Red Hill (north of Durban) and Silverglen (south of Durban) were developed in terms of the Group Areas Act for Indians who could afford to build their own homes. Reservoir Hills was available for the more well to do Indians who could afford it. In the North of Durban, La Mercy was proclaimed an Indian group area. In Merebank (first known as Marine Settlement), purpose-built houses replaced the poor settlements and by the late 1950s a reconstructed Merebank offered cheap houses for which buyers had ten years to pay.

Planned in 1960, Chatsworth was officially opened in 1964, consisting of eleven neighbourhood units containing 7 000 sub-economic and 14 000 economic houses. It was deliberately built to act as buffer between White residential areas and the large African township of Umlazi. 

30° 52' 33.6", -29° 55' 4.8"

Freund, B (1995) Insider and Outsiders: The Indian Working Class of Durban, 1910 -1990. Heinemann: Portsmouth| Horrel, M (1956) Group Areas Act: Its Effect on Human Beings. South African Institute of Race Relations: Johannesburg  |Mkhize Felix (2011), Introduction to Our Own Town- ‘Chatsworth’, from EThekwini Municipality, 17 February, [online], Available at [Accessed: 27 March 2013]

Peter E. Raper, New Dictionary of South African Place Names, p.53 |Soccerphile,  South Africa Travel + Tourism Guide: Indian Durban, [online],Available at [Accessed: 27 March 2013]