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STUDENTS' PROJECTS > THE STORY OF MY LIFE > PART IV : IN SOUTH AFRICA > The ₤ 3 Tax

 

23. The ₤ 3 Tax

About the year 1860 the Europeans in Natal, finding that there was considerable scope for sugarcane cultivation, felt themselves in need of labour. Without outside labour the cultivation of cane and the manufacture of sugar were impossible, as the Natal Zulus were not suited to this form of work. The Natal Government therefore corresponded with the Indian Government, and secured their permission to recruit Indian labour. These recruits were to sign an agreement or indenture to work in Natal for five years, and at the end of the term they were to be at liberty to settle there and to have full rights of ownership of land. Those were the inducements held out to them.

But the Indians gave more than had been expected of them. They grew large quantities of vegetables. They introduced a number of Indian varieties and made it possible to grow the local varieties cheaper. They also introduced the mango. Nor did their enterprise stop at agriculture. They entered trade. They purchased land for building, and many raised themselves from the status of labourers to that of owners of land and houses. Merchants from India followed them and settled there for trade.

The white traders were alarmed. When they first welcomed the Indian labourers, they did not know their business skill. They might be tolerated as independent agriculturists, but their competition in trade could not be allowed.

This sowed the seed of the antagonism to Indians. Many other factors contributed to its growth.

Through legislation this antagonism found its expression in a bill to impose a tax on the indentured Indians.

We organized a fierce campaign against this tax. Had the community given up the struggle, had the Congress abandoned the campaign and submitted to the tax as inevitable, the hated tax would have continued to be levied from the indentured Indians until this day, to the eternal shame of the Indians in South Africa and of the whole of India.

By now I had been three years in South Africa. I had got to know the people and they had got to know me. In 1896 I asked permission to go home for six months, for I saw that I was in for a long stay there. I had established a fairly good practice, and could see that people felt the need of my presence. So I made up my mind to go home, fetch my wife and children, and then return and settle out there. I also saw that, if I went home, I might be able to do there some public work by educating public opinion and creating more interest in the Indians in South Africa.