The officers at the head of the new department were at a loss to know how I had entered the Transvaal. They inquired of the Indians who used to go to them, but these could say nothing definite. The officers only ventured a guess that I might have succeeded in entering without a permit on the strength of my old connections. If that was the case, I was liable to be arrested!
It is a general practice, on the termination of a big war, to invest
the government of the day with special powers. This was the case in
South Africa. The government had passed a Peace Preservation
Ordinance, which provided that anyone entering the Transvaal without
a permit should be liable to arrest and imprisonment. The question
of arresting me under this provision was mooted, but no one could
summon up courage enough to ask me to produce my permit.
The officers had of course sent telegrams to Durban, and when they found
that I had entered with a permit, they were disappointed. But they
were not the men to be defeated by such disappointment. Though I had
succeeded in entering the Transvaal, they could still successfully
prevent me from waiting on Mr. Chamberlain.
So the community was asked to submit the names of the representatives
who were to form the Deputation. Colour prejudice was of course in
evidence everywhere in South Africa, but I was not prepared to find
here the dirty and underhand dealing among officials that I was
familiar with in India. In South Africa the public departments were
maintained for the good of the people and were responsible to public
opinion. Hence officials in charge had a certain courtesy of manner
and humility about them, and coloured people also got the benefit of
it more or less. With the coming of the officers from Asia, came
also its autocracy, and the habits that the autocrats had imbibed
there. In South Africa there was a kind of responsible government or
democracy, whereas the commodity imported from Asia was autocracy
pure and simple; for the Asiatics had no responsible government,
there being a foreign power governing them. In South Africa the
Europeans were settled emigrants. They had become South African
citizens and had control over the departmental officers. But the
autocrats from Asia now appeared on the scene, and the Indians in
consequence found themselves between the devil and the deep sea.
I had a fair taste of this autocracy. I was first summoned to see
the chief of the department, an officer from Ceylon. Lest I should
appear to exaggerate when I say that I was 'summoned' to see the
chief, I shall make myself clear. No written order was sent to me.
Indian leaders often had to visit the Asiatic officers. Among these
was the late Sheth Tyeb Haji Khanmahomed. The chief of the office
asked him who I was and why I had come there.
'He is our adviser,' said Tyeb Sheth, 'and he has come here at our
'Then what are we here for? Have we not been appointed to protect
you? What can Gandhi know of the conditions here?' asked the
Tyeb Sheth answered the charge as best he could: 'Of course you are
there. But Gandhi is our man. He knows our language and understands
us. You are after all officials.'
The Sahib ordered Tyeb Sheth to fetch me before him. I went to the
Sahib in company with Tyeb Sheth and others. No seats were offered,
we were all kept standing.
'What brings you here?' said the Sahib addressing me.
'I have come here at the request of my fellow countrymen to help
them with my advice,' I replied.
'But don't you know that you have no right to come here? The permit
you hold was given you by mistake. You cannot be regarded as a
domiciled Indian. You must go back. You shall not
wait on Mr. Chamberlain. It is for the protection of the Indians
here that the Asiatic Department has been especially created. Well,
you may go.' With this he bade me good-bye, giving me no opportunity
for a reply.
But he detained my companions. He gave them a sound scolding and
advised them to send me away.
They returned chagrined. We were now confronted with an unexpected