Vol-2 : Satyagraha In South Africa

Satyagraha In South Africa

Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi
Volume II

Written by : M. K. Gandhi

Table of Contents

  1. Geography
  2. History
  3. Indians Enter South Africa
  4. A Review of The Grievances :Natal
  5. A Review of The Grievances : The Transvaal and other Colonies
  6. A Review of The Early Struggle
  7. A Review of The Early Struggle : Continued
  8. A Review of The Early Struggle : Concluded
  9. The Boer War
  10. After The War
  11. The Reward of Gentleness - The Black Act
  12. The Advent of Satyagraha
  13. Satyagraha v. Passive Resistance
  14. Deputation To England
  15. Crooked Policy
  16. Ahmad Muhammad Kachhalia
  17. A Rift In The Lute
  18. The First Satyagrahi Prisoner
  19. 'Indian Opinion'
  20. A Series of Arrests
  21. The First Settlement
  22. Opposition and Assault
  23. European Support
  24. Further Internal Difficulties
  25. General Smuts' Breach of Faith(?)
  26. Resumption of The Struggle
  27. A Bonfire of Certificates
  28. Charge of Forcing Fresh Issues
  29. Sorabji Shapurji Adjania
  30. Sheth Daud Mahomed etc. Enter The Struggle
  31. Deportations
  32. A Second Deputation
  33. Tolstoy Farm-I
  34. Tolstoy Farm-II
  35. Tolstoy Farm-III
  36. Gokhale's Tour
  37. Gokhale's Tour (Concluded)
  38. Breach of Pledge
  39. When Marriage Is Not A Marriage
  40. Women in Jail
  41. A Stream of Labourers
  42. The Conference and After
  43. Crossing The Border
  44. The Great March
  45. All in Prison
  46. The Test
  47. The Beginning of The End
  48. The Provisional Settlement
  49. Letters Exchanged
  50. The End of The Struggle
  51. Conclusion

About This Book

Written by : M. K. Gandhi
Translated from the Gujarati by : Valji Govindji Desai
General Editor : Shriman Narayan
First Edition :10,000 copies, February 1959
I.S.B.N :81-7229-008-3 (Set) Printed and Published by :Jitendra T. Desai,
Navajivan Mudranalaya,
© Navajivan Trust, 1968


Chapter-3: Indians Enter South Africa

We saw in the preceding chapter how the English arrived. They settled in Natal, where they obtained some concessions from the Zulus. They observed that excellent sugarcane, tea and coffee could be grown in Natal. Thousands of labourers would be needed in order to grow such crops on a large scale, which was clearly beyond the capacity of a handful of colonists. They offered inducements and then threats to the Negroes in order to make them work but in vain, as slavery had been then abolished. The Negro is not used to hard work. He can easily maintain himself by working for six months in the year. Why then should be bind himself to an employer for a long term? The English settlers could make no progress at all with their plantations in the absence of a stable labour force. They therefore opened negotiations with the Government of India and requested their help for the supply of labour. That Government complied with their request, and the first batch of indentured labourers from India reached Natal on November 16, 1860, truly a fateful date for this history; had it not been for this, there would have been no Indians and therefore no Satyagraha in South Africa, and this book would have remained unwritten.
In my opinion, the Government of India were not well advised in taking the action they did. The British officials in India consciously or unconsciously were partial to their brethren in Natal. It is true that as many terms as possible, purporting to safeguard the labourers’ interests were entered in the indentures. Fairly good arrangements were made for their board. But adequate consideration was not given to the question as to how these illiterate labourers who had gone to a distant land were to seek redress if they had any grievances. No thought was given to their religious needs or to the preservation of their morality. The British officials in India did not consider that although slavery had been abolished by law, employers could not be free from a desire to make slaves of their employees. They did not realize, as they ought to have realized, that the labourers who had gone to Natal would in fact become temporary slaves. The late Sir W.W. Hunter, who had deeply studied these labour conditions, used a remarkable phrase about them. Writing about the Indian labourers in Natal, he said that theirs was a state of semi-slavery. On another occasion, in the course of a letter, he described their condition as bordering on slavery. And tendering evidence before a commission in Natal, the most prominent European in that Colony, the late Mr. Harry Escombe, admitted as much. Testimony to the same effect can be readily gathered from the statements of leading Europeans in Natal. Most of these were incorporated in the memorials on the subject submitted to the Government of India. But the fates would have their course. And the steamer which carried those labourers to Natal carried with them the seed of the great Satyagraha movement.
I have not the space here in the present volume to narrate how the labourers were deluded by Indian recruiting agents connected with Natal; how under the influence of such delusion they left the mother country; how their eyes were opened on reaching Natal; how still they continued to stay there; how others followed them; how they broke through all the restraints which religion or morality imposes, or to be more accurate, how these restraints gave way, and how the very distinction between a married woman and a concubine ceased to exist among these unfortunate people.
When the news that indentured labourers had gone to Natal reached Mauritius, Indian traders having connection with such labourers were induced to follow then there. Thousands of Indians, labourers as well as traders, have settled in Mauritius which is on the way to Natal from India. An Indian trader in Mauritius, the late Sheth Abubakar Amad, thought of opening a shop in Natal. The English in Natal had then no idea of what Indian traders were capable of, nor did they care. They had been able to raise very profitable crops of sugarcane, tea and coffee, with the assistance of indentured labour. They manufactured sugar, and in a surprisingly short time supplied South Africa with a modest quantity of sugar, tea, and coffee. They made so much money that they built palatial mansions for themselves and turned a wilderness into a veritable garden. In such circumstances the naturally did not mind an honest and plucky trader like Abubakar Sheth settling in their midst. Add to this that an Englishman actually joined him as partner. Abubakar Sheth carried on trade and purchased land, and the story of his prosperity reached Porbandar, his native place, and the country around. Other Memans consequently reached Natal. Borahs from Surat followed them. These traders needed accountants, and Hindu accountants from Gujarat and Saurashtra accompanied them.
Two classes of Indians thus settled in Natal, first free traders and their free servants, and secondly indentured labourers. In course of time the indentured labourers had children. Although not bound to labour, these children were affected by several stringent provisions of the colonial law. How can the children of slaves escape the brand of slavery? The labourers went to Natal under indenture for a period of five years. They were under no obligation to labour after the expiry of that period, and were entitled to work as freed labourers or trade in Natal, and settle there if they wished. Some elected to do so while others returned home. Those who remained in Natal came to be known as ‘Free Indians’. It is necessary to understand the peculiar position of this class. They were not admitted to all the rights enjoyed by the entirely free Indians of whom I have first spoken. For instance, they were required to obtain a pass if they wanted to go from one place to another, and if they married and desired the marriage to be recognized as valid in law, they were required to register it with an official known as Protector of Indian Immigrants. They were also subject to other severe restrictions.
The Indians traders saw that they could trade not only with indentured labouers and ‘Free Indians’, but with the Negroes as well. Indian merchants were a source of great convenience to the Negroes, who very much feared the European traders. The European trader wanted to trade with the Negro, but it would be too much for Negro customers to expect courtesy at his hands. They might think it a great good fortune if he gave them full consideration for their money. Some of them had bitter experiences. A man might purchase an article worth four shillings, place a sovereign on the counter, and receive four shillings as balance instead of sixteen, and sometimes even nothing whatever. If the poor Negro asked for the balance or showed how the amount paid him was less than his due, the reply would be gross abuse. He might thank his stars if things stopped there; otherwise the abuse would be reinforced by a blow or a kick. I do not mean to suggest that all English traders behaved like this. But it can safely be asserted that the number of such cases was fairly large. On the other hand, Indian traders had a good word for the Negroes and even joked with them. The simple Negro would like to enter the shop and handle and examine the goods he wanted to purchase. Indian traders permitted all this. It is true that in this they were not actuated by altruistic motives, it may have had something to do with their self-interest. The Indian might not miss the opportunity, if it offered, of cheating his Negro customer, but his courtesy made him popular with the Negroes. Moreover, the Negro never feared the Indian traders. On the other hand, cases have occurred in which an Indian tried to cheat Negroes, but on being detected, was roughly handled by them. And more often Negro customers have been heard to abuse Indian traders. Thus, so far as Indians and Negroes were concerned, it is the former who feared the latter. The result was that trade with Negroes proved very profitable to Indian traders. And the Negroes were to be found throughout South Africa.
There were Boer republics in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State during the eighties of the last century. I need scarcely say that in these republics the Negro had no power, it was all a white men’s affair. Indian traders had heard that they could also trade with the Boers, who, being simple, frank and unassuming, would not think it below their dignity to deal with Indian traders. Several Indian traders therefore proceeded to the Transvaal and the Free State and opened shops there. As there were no railways there at the time, they earned large profits. The expectations of the Indian traders were fulfilled and they carried on considerable trade with the Boers and the Negroes as customers. Similarly, several Indian traders went to the Cape Colony and began to earn fairly well. The Indians were thus distributed in small numbers in all the four colonies.
Absolutely free Indians now number between forty to fifty thousand, while the ‘Free Indians’ so called, that is, the labourers who are freed from their indentures and their descendants, number about a hundred thousand.