[Editor's Note: On 22nd November 1905 Messrs. Abdul Gani (Chairman, British Indian Association), Haji Habib (Secretary, Pretoria Committee), E. S. Coovadia, P. Moonsamy Moonlight, Ayub Hajee Beg Mahomed and Gandhiji formed a deputation that waited on Lord Selborne, High Commissioner for Britain in South Africa, and made representations in regard to the repeal of the Peace Preservation Ordinance. The Peace Preservation Ordinance, as its name implied, although framed to keep out of the Colony dangerous characters, was being used mainly to prevent British Indians from entering the Transvaal. The working of the law had always been harsh and oppressive.
The deputation to Lord Selborne, having failed in its efforts to obtain redress, the Indians led by Mahatma Gandhi organized an agitation in England and succeeded in enlisting the sympathy of many Englishmen in the cause of the South African Indians. An influential committee with Lord Ampthill as President, Sir M. M. Bhownaggree as Executive Chairman and Mr. Ritch as Secretary was formed to guard over Indian interests and a deputation from among the leading sympathizers of the cause of British Indians in South Africa was organized to wait on the Earl of Elgin, the Colonial Secretary. The deputation which consisted of Lord Stanley of Alderley, Mr. H. O. Ally, Gandhiji, Sir Lepel Griffin, Mr. J. D. Rees, Sir George Birdwood, Sir Henry Cotton, Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji, Sir M. M. Bhownaggree, Mr. Amir Ali, Mr. Harold Cox and Mr. Thornton, waited on Lord Elgin, on Thursday, November 8, 1906 at the Colonial Office.
Gandhiji's Appeal to Lord Elgin and the efforts of the British Committee in London were successful only to the extent of securing from Lord Elgin a declaration that the Ordinance would be hung up until the matter had received the consideration of the Transvaal Parliament that was shortly to come into being. A constitutional Government was soon formed in the Transvaal and the new measure received the Royal Assent and became Law. The Indian community in Transvaal, seeing that their efforts were all in vain, determined to fight and risk the consequences of disobedience in accordance with the resolution passed at a vast mass meeting of some 3,000 British Indians held at the Empire Theatre, Johannesburg.
On the 26th December 1907, the Royal Assent to the Immigration Act was announced and simultaneously came the news that a number of the leaders of the two Asiatic Communities were warned to appear before the Magistrate to show cause why, having failed to apply for registration, as required by the law, they should not be ordered to leave the Transvaal. They were directed to leave the Colony within a given period, and failing to do so, they were sentenced to simple imprisonment for two months. Gandhiji was one of those arrested and brought to trial.
In Christmas week of 1907, Gandhiji received a telephone message from Mr. H. F. D. Papenfue, Acting Commissioner of Police for the Transvaal, asking him to call at Marlborough House. Upon arriving there, he was informed that the arrests had been ordered of himself and 25 others.
[The following account of the proceedings in Court is taken from the Indian Opinion.]
Mr. Gandhi gave his word that all would appear before the respective magistrates at 10 a.m. next day .and the Commissioner accepted this guarantee. Next morning when he attended at the British Criminal Court, he was asked by the Superintendent whether he held duly issued registration certificates under Law 2 of 1907 and upon receiving replies in the negative, he was promptly arrested and charged under Section 8 Sub-Section 2 of Act 2 of 1907, in that he was in the Transvaal without a registration certificate issued under the Act. The Court was crowded to excess and it seemed as if at one time the barrier would be overthrown.
Mr. D. G. Shurman prosecuted on behalf of the Grown.
Mr. Gandhi pleaded guilty.
Superintendent Vernon gave evidence as to the arrest.
Mr. Gandhi asked no question but went into the box prepared to make a statement. He said what he was about to state was not evidence but he hoped the Court would grant him indulgence to make a short explanation seeing that he was an officer of that Court. He wished to say why he had not submitted to this.
Mr. Jordan (Magistrate) : I don't think that has anything to do with it. The law is there, and you have disobeyed it. I do not want any political speeches made.
Mr. Gandhi : I do not want to make any political speeches.
Mr. Jordan : The question is, have you registered or not? If you have not registered there is an end of the case. If you have any explanation to offer as regards the order I am going to make that is another story. There is the law which has been passed by the Transvaal Legislature and sanctioned by the Imperial Government. All I have to do and all I can do is to administer that law as it stands.
Mr. Gandhi : I do not wish to give any evidence in extenuation and I know that legally I cannot give evidence at all.
Mr. Jordan : All I have to deal with is legal evidence. What you want to say, I suppose, is that you do not approve of the law and you conscientiously resist it.
Mr. Gandhi : That is perfectly true.
Mr. Jordan : I will take the evidence if you say you conscientiously object.
Mr. Gandhi was proceeding to state when he came to the Transvaal and the fact that he was Secretary to the British Indian Association when Mr. Jordan said he did not see how that affected the case.
Mr. Gandhi : I said that before and I simply asked the indulgence of the Court for five minutes.
Mr. Jordan : I don't think this is a case in which the Court should grant any indulgence; you have defied the law.
Mr. Gandhi : Very well, Sir, then I have nothing more to say.
The Magistrate then ordered Mr. Gandhi to leave the country in 48 hours.