THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. II - SATYAGRAHA IN SOUTH AFRICA > European Support
23. European Support
As the number of Europeans of position, who actively sided with the Indians in their struggle, was fairly large, it will not perhaps, be out of place to introduce them here to the reader all at once, so that when their names occur later on in this narrative, they will not be strange to him, and I shall not have to stop in the midst of the narrative in order to introduce them. The order in which the names have been arranged is not the order of the merit of service rendered, nor that of the public estimation in which the bearers of the names were held. I mention the friends in order of the time when I got acquainted with them and in connection with the various branches of the struggle where they helped the Indians.
The first name is that of Mr. Albert West, whose association with the community dated from before the struggle and whose association with me commenced earlier still. When I opened my office in Johannesburg, my wife was not with me. The reader will remember that in 1903 I received a cable from South Africa and suddenly left India, expecting to return home within a year. Mr. West used to frequent the vegetarian restaurant in Johannesburg where I regularly had my meals both morning and evening, and we thus became acquainted with each other. He was then conducting a printing press in partnership with another European. In 1904 a virulent plague broke out among the Indians in Johannesburg. I was fully engaged in nursing the patients, and my visits to the restaurant became irregular. Even when I went, I went there before the other guests in order to avoid any possible danger from their coming in contact with me. Mr. West became anxious when he did not find me there for two days in succession as he had read in the papers that I was attending to the plague patients. The third day, at 6 o’clock in the morning I was scarcely ready to go out when Mr. West knocked at my door. When I opened it, I saw Mr. West with his beaming face.
‘I am so glad to see you,’ he exclaimed. ‘I had been worrying about you, not finding you at the restaurant. Do tell me if I can do anything for you.’
‘Will you nurse the patients?’ I asked jocularly.
‘Why not? I am quite ready.’
Meanwhile I had thought out my plans, and said, ‘No other answer could be expected of you, but there are already many helping with the nursing, and besides, I propose to put still harder work. Madanjit is here on plague duty, and there is no one to look after the Indian Opinion press. If you go to Durban and take charge of the press, it will be really a great help. I cannot of course offer you any tempting terms. Ten pounds a month and half the profits if any is all that I can afford.’
‘That is rather a tough job. I must have any partner’s permission, and then there are some dues to be collected. But never mind. Will you wait till evening for my final answer?’
‘Yes, we meet in the park at 6 o’clock.’
So we met. Mr. West had obtained his partner’s permission. He entrusted me with the recovery of his dues, and left for Durban by the evening train the next day. In a month I had his report that not only was the press not profitable at all but it was actually a losing concern. There were large arrears to be collected but the books had been badly kept. Even the list of the names and addresses of subscribers was incomplete. There was also mismanagement in other respects. Mr. West did not write all this as a matter of complaint. As he did not care for profit, he assured me that he would not give up what he had undertaken, but gave me clearly to understand that the paper would not be paying its way for a long time to come.
Shri Madanjit had come to Johannesburg to canvass subscribers for the paper as well as to confer with me as regards the management of the press. Every month I had to meet a small or large deficit, and I was therefore desirous of having a more definite idea of my possible liabilities. Madanjit had no experience of printing press business and I had no experience of the beginning, that it would be well to associate a trained hand with him. The plague broke out in the meantime, and as Madanjit was just the man from such a crisis, I put him on to nursing. And I closed with West’s unexpected while the epidemic lasted, but for good. Hence his report on the prospects of the paper just referred to.
The reader knows how at both paper and the press were removed to Phoenix, where West drew a monthly allowance of three pound instead of ten pound as previously arranged. West was himself fully agreeable to all these changes. I never observed in him the least anxiety as to how he would be able to maintain himself. I recognized in him a deeply religious spirit, although he was not a student of religion. He was a man of perfectly independent temperament. He would say what he thought of all things, and would not hesitate to call a spade a spade. He was quite simple in habits. He was unmarried when we first met, and I know that he lived a life of spotless purity. Some years later he went to England to see his parents and returned a married man. By my advice he brought with him his wife, mother in law and unmarried sister, who all lived in extreme simplicity and in every way fraternized with the Indians in Phoenix. Miss Ada West (or Devibehn as we used to call her) is now 35 years old, is still unmarried and leads a most pious life. She too rendered to the pioneers at Phoenix services of no mean order. At one time or another she looked after the little children taught them English, cooked in the common kitchen, swept the houses, kept accounts and did composing and other work in the press. Whatever task came to her. She never hesitated in doing it. She is not now in Phoenix, but that is because since my return to India the press has been unable to meet even her small personal expenditure. West’s mother in law is now over eighty years old. She is a fine hand at sewing, and used to help the settlement with her skill as a tailor. Everyone in Phoenix called her Granny and felt that she was really related so to him. I need scarcely say anything about Mrs. West. When many members of the Phoenix settlement were in jail, the West’s along with Maganlal Gandhi took over the whole management of the institution. West would see to the press and the paper; and in the absence of others and myself, dispatch to Gokhale the cables which were to be sent from Durban. When even West was arrested (though he was soon released), Gokhale got nervous and sent over Andrews and Pearson.
Then there was Mr. Ritch. I have already written about him. He had joined my office before the struggle and proceeded to England for the bar with a view to filling my place when I was not available. He was the moving spirit of the South African British Indian Committee in London.
The third was Mr. Polak, whose acquaintance like that of West I casually made in the restaurant. He likewise left at once the sub-editorship of The Transvaal Critic to join the staff of Indian Opinion. Everyone knows how he went to India and to England in connection with the struggle. When Ritch went to England, I called Polak from Phoenix to Johannesburg, where he became my articled clerk and then a full- fledged attorney. Later on he married. People in India are familiar with Mr. Polak, who not only never came in her husband’s way but was perfect helpmate to him during the struggle. The Polaks who did not see eye to eye with us in the Non-co-operation movement, but they are still serving India to the best of their family.
The next was Mr. Hermann Kallenbach, whom too I came to before the struggle. He is a German, and had it not been for the Great War, he would be in India today. He is a man of strong feelings, wide sympathies and child like simplicity. He is an architect by profession, but there is no work, however lowly, which he would consider to be beneath dignity. When I broke up my Johannesburg establishment, I lived with him, but he would be hurt if I offered to pay him my share of the household expenses, and would plead that I was responsible for considerable savings in his domestic economy. This was indeed true. But this is not the place to describe my personal relations with Europeans friends. When we thought of accommodating the families of Satyagrahi prisoners in Johannesburg in one place, Kallenbach lent the use of his big farm without any rent. But more of that later. When Gokhale came to Johannesburg, the community put him up at Kallenbach’s cottage which the illustrious guest liked very much. Kallenbach went with me as far as Zanzibar to see Gokhale off. He was arrested along with Polak and suffered imprisonment. Finally, when I left South Africa to see Gokhale in England, Kallenbach was with me. But when I returned to India, he was not permitted to go with me to India on account of the war. He was like all other Germans interned in England. When the War over Kallenbach returned to Johannesburg and recommenced the practice of his profession.
Let me now introduce the reader to a noble girl, I mean Miss Sonja Schlesin. I cannot resist the temptation of placing here on record Gokhale’s estimate of her character. He had wonderful power of judging men. I went with him from Delagoa Bay to Zanzibar, and the voyage gave us a fine opportunity of quite talks, Gokhale had come in contact with the Indian and European leaders in South Africa. And while minutely analyzing for me the characters of the principal persons of the drama, I perfectly remember that he gave the pride of place among them all, Europeans as well as Indians, to Miss Schlesin: ‘I have rarely come across such purity, single-minded devotion to work and great determination as I have seen in Miss Schlesin. I was simply astonished how she had sacrificed her all for the Indian cause without expecting any reward whatever. And when you add to all this her great ability and energy, these qualities combine to make he a priceless asset to your movement. I need hardly say it and yet Miss Dick, working with me as steno-typist, who was the very picture of loyalty and purity. Many a bitter experience has been my portion in life, but I have also had the good fortune to claim large number of Europeans and Indians of high character as my associates. Miss Dick left me when he married, and then Mr. Kallenbach introduced Miss Schlesin to me and said, ‘This girl has been entrusted to me by her mother. She is clever and honest, but she is very mischievous and impetuous. Perhaps she is even insolent. You keep her if you can manage her. I do not place her with you for the mere pay.’ I was ready to allow 20 pound a month to good steno-typist, but I had no idea of Miss Schlesin’s ability. Mr. Kallenbach proposed that I should pay her 6 pound a month to begin with, and I readily agreed. Miss Schlesin soon made me familiar with the mischievous part of herself. But in a month’s time she had achieved the conquest of my heart. She was ready to work at all times whether by day or at night. There was nothing difficult or impossible for her. She was then only sixteen years of age, but she captivated my clients as well as the follow Satyagrahis by her frankness and readiness to serve. This young girl soon constituted herself the watchman and warder of the morality not only of my office but of the whole movement. Whenever she was in doubt as theethical propriety of any proposed step, she would freely discuss it with me and not rest till she was convinced of it. When all the leaders except Sheth Kachhalia were in jail, Miss Schlesin had control of large funds and was in charge of the accounts. She handled workers of various temperaments. Even Sheth Kachhalia would have recourse to her and seek her advice. Mr. Doke was then in charge of Indian Opinion. But even he, hoary-headed veteran as he was, would get the articles he wrote for Indian Opinion passed by her. And he once told me, ‘If Miss Schlesin had not been there, I do not know how I could have satisfied even my own self with my work. I cannot sufficiently appreciate the value of her assistance, and very often I have accepted the corrections or additions she suggested knowing them to be appropriate.’ Pathans, Patels, ex-indentured men, Indians of all classes and ages surrounded her, sought her advice and followed it. Europeans in South Africa would generally never travel in the same railway compartment as Indians, and in the Transvaal they are even prohibited from doing so. Yet Miss Schlesin would deliberately sit in the third class compartment for Indians like other Satyagrahis and even resist the guards who interfered with her. I feared and Miss Schlesin hoped that she might be arrested some day. But although the Transvaal Government were aware of her ability, her mastery over the ‘strategy’ of the movement, and the hold she had acquired over the Satyagrahis, they adhered to the policy and the chivalry of not arresting her. Miss Schlesin never asked for or desired an increase in her monthly allowance of 6 pound. I began giving her 10 pound when I came to know of some of her wants. This too she accepted with reluctance, and flatly declined to have anything more. ‘I do not need more, and if I take anything in excess of my necessities, I will have betrayed the principle which has attracted me to you,’ she would say, and silence me. The reader will perhaps ask what Miss Schlesin’s education was. She had passed the Intermediate examination of the Cape University, and obtained first class diploma in shorthand, etc. She graduated after the struggle was over, and is now head mistress in a Government Girls’ School in the Transvaal.
Herbert Kitchin was an English electrician with a heart pure as crystal. He worked with us during the Boer War and was for some time editor of Indian Opinion. He was a lifelong brahmachari.
The persons I have thus far mentioned were such as came in close contact with me. They could not be classed among the leading Europeans of the Transvaal. However, this latter class too was very largely helpful, and the most influential of such helpers was Mr. Hosken, ax-President of the Association of Chambers of Commerce of South Africa and a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Transvaal, whose acquaintance the reader has already made and who was Chairman of the Committee of European sympathizers with the Satyagraha movement. When the movement was in full swing, direct communications between Satyagrahis and the local Government were obliviously out of the question, not because of any objection on principle on the part of the Satyagrahis to deal directly with Government but because the latter would naturally not confer with the breakers of its law. And this Committee acted as mediator between the Indians and the Government.
I have already introduced Mr. Albert Cartwright to the reader. Then there was Rev.Charles Philips who joined and assisted us even as Mr. Doke did Mr. Philips had long been Congregational minister in the Transvaal. His good wife too did us much service. A third clergyman who had given up orders to take up the editorship of the Bloemfontein daily The Friend and who supported the Indian cause in his paper in the teeth of Europens opposition was Rev. Dewdeny Drew, one of the best speakers in South Africa. A similarly spontaneous helper was Mr. Vere Stent, editor of the The Pretoria News. A mass meeting of Europeans was once held in the Town Hall of Pretoria under the presidency of the Mayor to condemn the Indian movement and to support the Black Act. Mr. Vere Stent alone stood up in opposition to the overwhelming majority of anti-Indians and refused to sit down in spite of the president’s orders. The Europeans threatened to lay hands on him, yet he stood unmoved and defiant like a lion, and the meeting dispersed at last without passing its resolution.
There were other Europeans whose names I could mention and who never missed an opportunity of doing us a good turn, although they did not formally join any association. But I propose to close this chapter with a few words about three ladies. One of these was Miss Hobhouse, the daughter of Lord Hobhouse, who at the time of the Boer War reached the Transvaal against the wishes of Lord Milner, and who single-handed moved among the Boer women, encouraged them and bade them to stand firm when Lord Kitchener has set up his famous or rather infamous ‘concentration camps’ in the Transvaal and the Free state. She believed the English policy in respect of the Boer War to be totally unrighteous, and therefore like the late Mr. Stead she wished and prayed to God for England’s defeat in the war. Having thus served the Boers she was shocked to learn that the same Boers, who had only recently resisted injustice with all their might, were now led into prejudice. The Boers looked up to her with great respect and affection. She was very intimate with General Botha, and did her best to commend to the Boers the policy of repealing the Black Act.
The second lady was Miss Olive Schreiner, to whom I have already referred in a previous chapter. The name Schreiner is one to conjure with in South Africa, so much so that when Miss Schreiner married, her husband adopted her name so that (I was told) her relation with the Schreiners might not be forgotten to any false pride, as Miss Schreiner was as simple in habits and humble in spirit as she was learned. I had the privilege of being familiar with her. She knew no difference between her Negro servants and herself. Authoress of Dreams and many other works as she was, she never hesitated to cook, wash the pots or handle the broom. She held that far from affecting it adversely ability and made for a sense of proportion and discrimination in thought and language. This gifted lady lent to the Indian cause the whole weight of her influence over the Europeans of South Africa.
The third lady was Miss Molteno, an aged member of that ancient family of South Africa, who also did her best for the Indians.
The reader may ask what fruit all this sympathy of the Europeans bore. Well, this chapter has not been written to describe the practical consequences of their sympathy. The work detailed above some of these friends bears witness to a portion of the result. The very nature of Satyagraha is such that the fruit of the movement is contained in the movement itself. Satyagraha is on self help, self-sacrifice and faith in God. One of my objects in enumeration the names of Europeans helpers are to mark the Satyagrahis’ gratefulness to them. This history would be justly considered incomplete without such mention. I have not tried to make the list exhaustive, but have tendered the Indians’ thanks to all in selecting a few for especial mention. Secondly, as a Satyagrahi I hold to the faith that all activity pursued with a pure heart is bound to bear fruit, whether or not such fruit is visible to us. And last but not the least, I have tried to show that all truthful movements spontaneously attract to themselves all manner of pure and disinterested help. If it is not clear already, I should like to make it clear that no other effort whatever was made during the struggle to enlist Europeans sympathy beyond the effort, if effort it can be called, involved in adherence to truth and Truth alone. The European friends were attracted by the inherent power of the movement itself.