It was the passage of the Asiatic Registration Act in Transvaal in 1907 which convinced Gandhi that the method of protest, petition and prayer which he had sedulously pursued for nearly fourteen years had failed. It was at this juncture that he evolved a new technique, which came to be known as Passive Resistance; but as it ruled out both verbal and physical violence, it differed in important respects from the campaign waged on behalf of the suffragettes in England. The principles and techniques of Gandhis movement were to evolve gradually in the ensuing months ant years; its author was a man for whom theory was the handmaid of action.
It is not possible here to give a detailed account of the Satyagraha struggle which Gandhi
led in South Africa for seven years. It required great courage, patience and organizing
ability to persuade the small Indian community to pit itself against the government.
Gandhi had to reckon with the immense political and economic power wielded by the dominant
European community, the stubbornness of the local government in South Africa, the
reluctance of the British Colonial Office to antagonize the Union Government in Pretoria,
the apathy of the Government of India and the limited resources of the small India
minority fighting for its survival on an alien soil. Gandhi himself worked under terrific
pressure. In January 1908, he was arrested for breach of the registration law and clapped
into prison. The following month he was released after an understanding seemed to have
been reached with the government. A few days later, he was beaten up and severely injured
by a compatriot, who accused him of betraying the Indian cause.
The truce with the Transvaal Government did not last long. The
Satyagraha campaign had to be renewed. There were acts of defiance by the Indians and
punitive measures by the authorities. Gandhi set up a small colony-Tolstoy Farm- at an
1100 acre site, 21 miles from Johannesburg where his colleagues in the Satyagraha struggle
and their families could support a frugal and hard existence- which was in fact harder
than life in jail-by-running a cooperative farm. "We had all become labourers,"
Gandhi recalled later, "put on laborer's dress, but in the European style,
viz., Workmans trousers and shirts which were imitated from prisoners
uniform". Those who went to Johannesburg on private errands had to walk. Gandhi
himself, though past forty and living only on fruits, did not think much of walking forty
miles a day; he once did 55 miles without feeling any the worse for it. All residents of
Tolstoy Farm including children had their quota of manual labour. Those who had known this
austere discipline could have little fear of goal.
In1912, Gokhale, one of the most eminent Indian politicians of the
day, paid a visit to South Africa and discussed the problems of the Indian community with
General Smuts and other members of the South African Government. He returned to India with
the impression that the Asiatic Registration Act and the hated £3 tax on the
ex-indentured labourers would be abolished. When this did not happen, and an additional
provocation was given by Supreme Court Judgment invalidating marriages of non-Christians
in South Africa, Gandhi launched what turned out to be the final phase of his struggle in
A party of eleven Indian women, including Gandhis wife
Kasturba, courted imprisonment by crossing from Natal into Transvaal without a permit. The
Indian labourers in the coal mines at New Castle went on a sympathetic strike. The
mine-owners retaliated by cutting off water and electric connection to the areas where the
labourers lived. Gandhi had no option but to take charge of the miners and their families,
2037 men, 127 women and 57 children. He decided to walk them from New Castle to Tolstoy
Farm, but was arrested on the way. In Volksrust jail he was make to dig stones and sweep
the compound. Later he was transferred to Pretoria jail and lodged in a dark cell ten feet
long and seven feet wine, which was lit up at night only to check up on the prisoner. He
was denied a bench, refused permission to walk in the cell and subjected to numberless
pinpricks. Summoned for evidence in a case, he was marched to the court with hand-cuffs on
his hands and manacles on his feet. Meanwhile, the Indian labourers had been put into
special trains, and taken back to New Castle mines where they were forced to go
underground by mounted military police.
The blood and iron policy of the South African
Government stirred India deeply. Gokhale sent two earnest Christian young
men, C.F. Andrews
and Pearson, to assist Gandhi. Lord Hardinge, the viceroy of India, courageously denounced the high-handed policies of the South African
Government. Negotiations began between Gandhi and the South African Government under pressure from Delhi and London. Eventually an agreement was
reached. Some of the major points on which the Satyagraha struggle had been waged were conceded to the Indians. The tax on the ex-indentured labourers was
abolished; marriages performed according to Indian rites were legalized, and a domicile
certificate bearing the holders thumb-imprint was too a sufficient evidence of
the right to enter South Africa.
In 1939, a quarter of a century after the conclusion of the
Satyagraha campaign, General Smuts, Gandhis chief antagonist in South Africa,
recalled: Gandhi himself received what no doubt he desired a short
period of rest and quiet in goal. For him everything went according to plan. For
me the defender of law and orderthere was the usual trying situation, the odium
of carrying out a law which had no strong public support, and finally the discomfiture
when the law had to be repealed. For him it was a successful coup.
In goal Gandhi had prepared a pair of sandals for General Smuts, who
wrote that there was no hatred and personal ill-feeling, and when the fight was over,
there was the atmosphere in which decent peace would be concluded.