THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > A review of the grievances
05. A review of the grievances
The Transvaal and other Colonies
As in Natal, so in the other Colonies anti-Indian prejudice had more or less begun to grow even before 1880. Except in the Cape Colony, the general opinion held was that as labourers the Indians were all right, but it had become an axiom with many Europeans that the immigration of free Indians was purely a disadvantage to sSouth Africa. The Transvaal was a republic. For Indians to declare their British citizenship before its President was only to invite ridicule. If they had any grievance, all they could do was to bring it to the notice of the British Agent at Pretoria. Still the wonder is that when the Transvaal came under the British flag, there was none from whom Indians could expect even such assistance as the Agent rendered when the Transvaal was independent. When during Lord Morley’s tenure of the office of the Secretary of State for India, a deputation on behalf of the Indians waited upon him, he declared in so many words that as the members of the deputation were aware, the Imperial Government could exercise but little control over self-governing dominions. They could not dictate to them; they could plead, they could argue, they could press for the application of their principles. Indeed in some instances they could more effectively dremonstrate with foreign Powers, as they remonstrated with the Boer Republic, than with their own people in the Colonies. The relations of the mother country with the Colonies were in the nature of a silken tie, which would snap with the slightest tension. As force was out of the question, he assured the deputation that the would do all he could by negotiations. When war was declared on the Transvaal, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Selborne and other British Statesmen declared that the scandalous treatment accorded to the Indians by the South African Republic was one of the causes of the war.
Let us now see what sort of treatment this was. Indians first entered the Transvaal in 1881. The late Sheth Abubakar opened a shop in Pretoria and purchased land in one of its principle streets. Other traders followed in his wake. tTheir great success excited the jealousy of European traders who commenced an anti-Indian campaign in the newspapers, and submitted petitions to the Volksraad or Parliament, praying that Indians should be expelled and their trade stopped. The Europeans in this newly opened up country had a boundless hunger for riches. They were almost strangers to the dictates of morality. Here are some statements they made in their petitions: “These Indians have no sense of human decency. They suffer from loathsome diseases. They consider every woman as their prey. They believe that womaen have no souls.” These four sentences contain four lies. It would be easy to multiply such specimens. As were the Europeans, so were their representatives. Little did the Indian traders know what a sinister and unjust movement was being carried on against them. They did not read newspapers. The newspaper campaign and the petitions had the desired effect, and a bill was introduced into the Volksraad. The newspaper campaign and the petitions had the desired effect, and a bill was introduced into the Volksraad. The leading Indians were taken aback when they came to know how events had shaped themselves. They went to see President Kruger who did not so much as admit them into his house but made them stand in the courtyard. After hearing them for a while, he said, “You are the descendants of Ishmael and therefore from your very birth bound to slave for the descendants of Esau. As the descendants of Esau we cannot admit you to rights placing you on an equality with ourselves. You must rest content with what rights we grant to you.” It cannot be said, that this they reply from the President was inspired by malice or anger. President Kruger had been taught from his childhood the stories of the Old Testament, and he believed them to be true. How we can we blame a man who gives candid expression to his opinions such as they are? Ignorance, however, is bound to do harm even when associated with candour, and the result was that in1885 a very drastic law was rushed through the Volksraad, as if thousands of Indians were eon the point of flooding the Transvaal. The British Agent was obliged to move in the matter at the instance of Indian leaders. The question was finally carried to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. In terms of this Law 3 of 19885 every Indian settling in the Republic for the purpose of carrying on trade was required to register at ac cost of twenty-five pounds subject to heavy penalties, and no Indian could hold an inch of land or enjoy the rights of citizenship. All this was so manifestly unjust that the Transvaal Government could not defend it in argument. There was a treaty subsisting between the Boers and the British known as the London Convention, article XIV of which secured the rights of British subjects. The British Government objected to the lLaw as being in contravention of that article. The Boers urged in reply that the British Government had previously given their consent, whether express or implied to the law in question.
A dispute thus arose between the British and Boer Governments, and the matter was referred to arbitration. The arbitrator’s award was unsatisfactory. He tried to please both parties. The Indians were therefore the losers. The only advantage they reaped, if advantage it can be called, was that they did not lose as much as they might have done otherwise. The lLaw was amended in 1886 in accordance with the arbitrator’s award. The registration fee was reduced from twenty- five to three pounds. The clause, which completely debarred Indians from holding landed property, was removed, and it was provided instead, that the Indians could own fixed property in such locations, wards and streets as were specially set apart for their residence by the Transvaal Government. This Government did not honestly carry out the terms of the amended clause, and withheld from Indians the right to purchase freehold land even in the locations. In all towns inhabited by Indians, these locations were selected in dirty places situated far away from the towns where there was no water supply, no lighting arrangement and no sanitary convenience to speak of. Thus the Indians became the Panchamas of the Transvaal. It can be truly said that there is no difference between these locations and the untouchables’ quarters in India. Just as the Hindus believe that touching Dhedhs or residence in their neighbouhood would lead to pollution, so did the Europeans in the Transvaal believe, for all practical purposes, that physical contact with the Indians or living near them would defile them. Again the Transvaal Government interpreted Law 3 of 1885 to mean that the Indians could trade, too, exclusively in the locations. The arbitrator had decided that the interpretation of the law rested with the ordinary Tribunals of the Transvaal.The Indian traders were, therefore, in a very awkward condition. Still they managed to maintain their position fairly well by carrying on negotiations in one place, by having recourse to law courts in another, and by exerting what little influence they possessed in a third. Such was the miserable and precarious position of Indians in the Transvaal at the outbreak of the Boer War.
We shall now turn to examine the position in the Free State. Hardly a dozen Indians had opened shops there when the Europeans started a powerful agitation. The Volksraad passed a stringent law and expelled all Indian traders from the Free State, awarding them nominal compensation. That law provided that no Indian could on any account hold fixed property or carry on mercantile or farming business or enjoy franchise rights in the Free State. With special permission an Indian could settle as a labourer or as a hotel waiter. But the authorities were not obliged to grant even this precious permission in every case. The result was that a respectable Indian could not live in the Free State even for a couple of days without greatant difficulty. At the time of the Boer War there were no Indians in the Free State except a few waiters.
In the Cape Colony, too, there was some newspaper agitation against Indians, and the treatment to which they were subjected was not free from humiliating features. For example, Indian children could not attend public schools, etc, and Indian travelers could hardly secure accommodation in hotels. But there were no restrictions as to trade and the purchase of land for a long time.
There were reasons for this state of things. As we have already seen, there was a fair proportion of the Malays in the population of the Cape colony in general and of Cape town in particular. As the Malays are Musalmans, they soon came in contact with their Indian co-religionistsus, and consequently with other Indians late on. Moreover, some Indians Musalmans married Malay women. How could the Government of the Cape Colony legislate against the Malays? The Cape was their motherland, Dutch was their mother tongue, they had been living with the Dutch was their mother tongue, they had been living with the Dutch from the very first and therefore largely imitated them in their ways of life. The Cape Colony, therefore, has been the least affected by colour prejudice.
Again as the Cape cColony was the oldest settlement and the chief centre of culture in South Africa, it produced sober, gentlemanly and large hearted Europeans. In my opinion, there is no place on earth and no race, which is not capable of producing the finest types of humanity, given suitable opportunities and education. It has been my good fortune to come across this class of people in all parts of South Africa. In the Cape Colony, however, the proportion of such persons was very much the larger. Perhaps the best known and the most learned among them is Mr. Merriman, who was a member of the first and subsequent ministries that came in power after the grant of responsible government to the Cape Colony in 1872, was again the Premier in the last ministry when the Union was established in 1910, and was known as the Gladstone of South Africa. Then there are the Moltenos and the Schreiners. Sir John Molteno was the first Premier of the Colony in 1872. Mr. W. P. Schreiner, was a well- known advocate, for some time Attorney- General, and later on Premier. His sister, Olive Schreiner, was a gifted lady, popular in South Africa and well known wherever the English language is spoken. Even since she wrote the book she became famous as the authoress of Dreams. Her love for all mankind was unbounded. Love was written in her eyes. Although she belonged to such a distinguished family and was a learned lady, she was so simple in habits that she cleaned utensils in her house herself. Mr. Merriman, the Moltenos and the Schreiners, had always espoused the cause of the Negroes. Whenever the rights of the Negroes were in danger, they stoutly stood up in their defence. They had kindly feelings for the Indians as well, though they made a distinction between Negroes and Indians. Their argument was that as the Negroes had been the inhabitants of South Africa long before the European settlers, the latter could not deprive them of their natural rights. But as for the Indians it would not be unfair if laws calculated to remove the danger of their undue competition were enacted. All the same they had a warm corner in their hearts for Indians. When Gokhale went to South Africa, Mr. Schreinerr presided over the Town hall meeting in Cape Town, where he was accorded his first public reception in that country. Mr. Merriman also treated him with great courtesy and expressed his sympathy with the Indian cause. There were other Europeans of the type of Mr. Merriman. I have mentioned these well-known names as typical of their class.
The newspapers in Cape Town, too, were less hostile to Indians than in other parts of South Africa.
While it is true that for these reasons there has always been less race hatred in the Cape Colony than in other parts, it is but natural that the anti- Indian feeling which constantly found expression in the other colonies also found its way to the Cape. There are too two laws copied from Natal were passed, namely, the Immigration Restriction Act and the Dealers’ Licenses Act.
It can be said that the door in South Africa, which was formerly wide open, had thus been almost closed against Indians at the time of the Boer War. In the Transvaal there was no restriction on immigration except the registration fee of three pounds. When Natal and the cCape Colony closed their ports to Indians, they had difficulty in landing on their way to the Transvaal which was in the interior. They could reach it via Delagoa Bay, a Portuguese port. But the a Portuguese also more or less imitated the British. It must be mentioned that some stray Indians were able to find their way to the Transvaal via Natal or Delagoa Bay by suffering great hardships or by bribing port officers.