Book Review: Chota Motala

The long-awaited biography on Dr Chota Motala by Goolam Vahed has at long last been released and among everything else, the poignant story about how he was forced out of his home at 433 Boom Street under the Group Areas Act has been told publicly for the first time.

There are a host of sagas, some of which are being told publicly for the first time. The story of the havoc caused by the implementation of the Group Areas Act is probably the worst attack on people of colour to destroy their economic base. It is not often, that the cruelty of this Act is clear, like Mr Vahed has been able to highlight without making any comment.


It shows the callousness and the cruelty in which the then Pietermaritzburg apartheid City Council acted against thousands of residents to make apartheid work.

Here is an extract: “Protests failed to halt group areas evictions. Motala received his own dreaded letter on 7 August 1962.

“As you are not doubt aware, you are at present resident in an area which has been proclaimed for ownership and occupation by members of the coloured group. In view of the foregoing, it would be advisable for you to make arrangements timeously to resettle in an area, which has been proclaimed for ownership and occupation by members of your own group. Should you delay in doing so, it could result in considerable inconvenience to you at a later stage. (Motala penned next to this sentence: What does this mean). In case you should require any assistance, this office would, of course, do its utmost to help you to resettle yourself.

It ended with the following chilling sentence: “This letter is addressed to you in the spirit of friendliness and cooperation and it is trusted that you will accept it in this light.”

This and a number of other episodes are included in this book, which is a “must read” especially for the younger generation, so that they get an insight of the struggle that imposed such misery on the majority of the South African population.

Dr Zweli Mkhize wrote the foreword, saying, “The story of the life of Dr Mahomed Chota Motala rightfully deserves special preservation in the annals of our history, among the narratives of the journeys of Chief Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and many others who came into contact with him and drew tremendous inspiration to fight for liberation.

“It is a story more than worthy of its own chapter in this history, because Motala was no ordinary medical practitioner. With his educational qualification and early exposure to life overseas as a young man, he could have opted for more lucrative and personally rewarding options. Instead, he returned to the belly of the beast that was apartheid South Africa and endured the humiliation of prison chains, bannings and prosecution for treason.

Dr Motala’s legacy is celebrated annually at the Mancosa and Regent College where a memorial lecture is delivered by leading personalities.

Professor Yusuf Karodia who is the funder of the two distinguished institutions, said that Dr Motala was one of the most relevant anti-apartheid leaders who has yet to be fully recognized. Another leading academic, Professor Anis Karodia said that he hoped that more research would be conducted, so that future generations would get a more precise account of Dr Motala’s influence, especially during the writing of the Bill of Rights which is a cornerstone of South Africa’s democracy.

The book is authored by Goolam Vahed who is Professor of History at the University of KwaZulu Natal. He is the author of several books and writes on histories of migration, ethnicity and identity formation among Indian South Africans. The book is available from Shesha Books, 34 Samora Machel Street, Durban, Tel 031 332 2702 –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *