The case having been concluded, I had no reason for staying in Pretoria. So I went back to Durban and began to make preparations for my return home. But Abdulla Sheth was not the man to let me sail without a send-off. He gave a farewell party in my honour at Sydenham.
It was proposed to spend the whole day there. Whilst I was turning
over the sheets of some of the newspapers I found there, I chanced
to see a paragraph in a corner of one of them under the caption
'Indian Franchise'. It was with reference to the bill then before
the House of Legislature, which sought to deprive the Indians of
their right to elect members of the Natal Legislative Assembly. I
was ignorant of the bill, and so were the rest of the guests who had
I inquired of Abdulla Sheth about it. He said: 'What can we
understand in these matters? We can only understand things that
affect our trade. As you know all our trade in the Orange Free State
has been swept away. We agitated about it, but in vain. We are after
all lame men, being unlettered. We generally take in newspapers
simply to ascertain the daily market rates, etc. What can we know of
legislation? Our eyes and ears are the European attorneys here.'
I, 'there are so many young Indians born and educated here, Do they
not help you?'
'They!' exclaimed Abdulla Sheth in despair. 'They never care to come
to us, and to tell you the truth, we care less to recognize them.
Being Christians, they are under the thumb of the white clergymen,
who in their turn are subject to the Government.'
This opened my eyes. I felt that this class should be claimed as our
own. Was this the meaning of Christianity? Did they cease to be
Indians because they had become Christians?
But I was on the point of returning home and hesitated to express
what was passing through my mind in this matter. I simply said to
Abdulla Sheth: 'This bill, if it passes into law, will make our lot
extremely difficult. It is the first nail into our coffin. It
strikes at the root of our self-respect.'
'It may', echoed Sheth Abdulla. 'I will tell you the genesis of the
franchise question. We knew nothing about it. But Mr. Escombe, one
of our best attorneys, whom you know, put the idea into our heads.
It happened thus. He is a great fighter, and there being no love
lost between him and the Wharf Engineer, he feared that the
Engineer might deprive him of his votes and defeat him at the
election. So he acquainted us with our position, and at his instance
we all registered ourselves as voters, and voted for him. You will
now see how the franchise has not for us the value that you attach
to it. But we understand what you say. Well, then, what is your
The other guests were listening to this conversation with attention.
One of them said: 'Shall I tell you what should be done? You cancel
your passage by this boat, stay here a month longer, and we will
fight as you direct us.'
All the others chimed in : 'Indeed, indeed. Abdulla Sheth, you must
The Sheth was a shrewd man. He said: 'I may not detain him now. Or
rather, you have as much right as I to do so. But you are quite
right. Let us all persuade him to stay on. But you should remember
that he is a barrister. What about his fees?'
The mention of fees pained me, and I broke in : 'Abdulla Sheth, fees
are out of the question. There can be no fees for public work. I can
stay, if at all, as a servant. And as you know, I am not acquainted
with all these friends. But if you believe that they will
co-operate, I am prepared to stay a month longer. There is one
thing, however. Though you need not pay me anything, work of the
nature we contemplate cannot be done without some funds to start
with. Thus we may have to send telegrams, we may have to print some
literature, some touring may have to be done, the local attorneys
may have to be consulted, and as I am ignorant of your laws, I may
need some law-books for reference. All this cannot be done without
money. And it is clear that one man is not enough for this work.
Many must come forward to help him.'
And a chorus of voices was heard: 'Allah is great and merciful.
Money will come in. Men there are, as many as you may need. You
please consent to stay, and all will be well.'
The farewell party was thus turned into a working committee. I
suggested finishing dinner etc. quickly and getting back home. I
worked out in my own mind an outline of the campaign. I ascertained
the names of those who were on the list of voters, and made up my
mind to stay on for a month.
Thus God laid the foundations of my life in South Africa and sowed
the seed of the fight for national self-respect.