1936 -- 1940 Moderates vs Radicals

1. Dr Yusuf Dadoo

Yusuf Dadoo had been politically active from a very early age. According to Essop Pahad:  “Whilst a schoolboy Yusuf Dadoo used to attend meetings held by former stalwarts of Gandhi and with some of his contemporaries such as Molvi A. I. Cachalia used to help mobilise support for the All-Indian National Congress in its struggle against British colonialism. At Aligarh, in India, where he completed his matriculation, his hatred for and opposition to British imperialism intensified.” Jawaharlal Nehru was his hero. (SAHO: Essop Pahad, Yusuf Dadoo)

When he decided on a medical career, he went to study in Britain. He arrived in London in 1929, joined the India League, engaged in protest activity and within six months of his arrival, was arrested. To try to curb his political militancy, his father sent him to study at Edinburgh University

But Edinburgh, was where he found a context for his political activism. He became aware of the writings of Karl Marx. Studying Marx, he gained a global understanding of the human condition. So his focus shifted from a purely Indian to a universal perspective.

He envisioned the struggle in South Africa as the struggle of all oppressed people, without regard to colour, race or religion.

Dr Yusuf Dadoo returned to South Africa in 1936. He came back when the congresses were being led by moderates; people who protested and tried to negotiate with government and city councils but did not actively oppose discriminatory laws.

The Asiatic (Land and Trading) Amendment Act (Transvaal), 37/1919 was continuously being amended to impose more and more restrictions on Indian ability to own land and to trade. It was replaced by the Transvaal Asiatic Land Tenure Act of 1932, amended in 1934, 35, 36, 37, and replaced by the Asiatics (Transvaal Land and Trading) Acts of 1939 and 1941, the Trading and Occupation Land Bill (Pegging Act) 1943, and the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act (Ghetto Act) of 1946. 

Dadoo joined the TIC. But he was seeking affiliation with all revolutionary movements. So his activities reached beyond the TIC and the Indian community. He was a founder member of the Non- European United Front (NEUF) established in 1938. And he joined the Communist Party of South Africa (SACP) in 1939.

In the NEUF, he worked closely with J. B. Marks and in the SACP with Moses Kotane. These organisations believed that African,Coloured and Indian people should work together in their striving for human rights. Then “The Union Government passed the Transvaal Asiatic Land and Trading Act, 1939, which shocked and stirred the Tranvaal Indian community.” (Joshi, 87)

Dr Dadoo formed the Nationalist Bloc in the TIC to oppose the act. The Nationalist Bloc espoused the non-racial ideals of the NEUF and the Communist Party and was ready to take action against the government. 

The Nationalist Bloc decided on a satyagraha campaign, to protest against the severe land and trade restrictions embodied in the act. They would launch the campaign in August.

This alarmed the moderates in the TIC. They were a conservative group composed mainly of wealthy merchants. They feared the consequences of radical action and opposed satyagraha.

So the late 1930's and early forties was a period of internal struggle in the congresses between conservatives and radicals. 

At that time, Nana Sita was Chairman of the Pretoria Branch of the TIC. He was fully aware of the division in the organisation.  Older members led by SM Nana were in favour of negotiating with the government to bring about change. The young radicals, led by Dr Yusuf Dadoo, had no faith in the Smuts and Hertzog governments that had passed law after law to strangle Indian enterprise.

Nana Sita, a dedicated follower of Mahatma Gandhi, believed in keeping communications open.  So he supported SM Nana. 

Differences between the conservatives and radicals led to an unfortunate incident. P. S Joshi in his book The Tyranny of Colour gives an account of it.

“The 4th June, 1939, will ever be remembered as a black day in the history of Indians in South Africa. This was the day when the Transvaal Indians were to decide, at a mass meeting at Osrin's Bioscope Hall, Johannesburg, either for or against Satyagraha. The rumour was afloat that there would be bloodshed at the meeting, which was advertised to start at two p.m.  The hall was full a couple of hours earlier. Some volunteers of the Nationalist group, who were affixing banners to the hall, were suddenly attacked. Bottles, heavy clubs, bicycle chains, knuckle-dusters and knives were freely used. One Indian was disembowelled by a knife thrust, four others were seriously injured; and five were treated for minor wounds. All the injured were of the Nationalist group.” (1946: 255-6)

Nana Sita was at this meeting. His daughter, Maniben was busy with chores in the kitchen of their home in Hercules, Pretoria,
when her father returned from the meeting.  Nana Sita dropped into a chair next to her mother, Pemiben.  Being extremely agitated, he wasn't even aware that Maniben, quietly going about her tasks, was listening as he told her mother about the violence at the meeting.

It had shocked him to the core.  He had not taken seriously the rumours that there would be bloodshed as that was not the way Indians behaved.  But he had been proven wrong.  He had seen for himself the attempt on Dr Dadoo's life.  Someone behind the young doctor had suddenly raised a knife and would have plunged it into the doctor’s back, had not a woman nearby pushed aside the assassin's arm and deflected the blow. It struck Dayabhai Govindjee, the man next to Dadoo. Govindjee was fatally wounded.

When Nana Sita realised that all the violence against the young Nationalist Bloc had been instigated by SM Nana's group, the group to which he belonged, he withdrew his support of SM Nana and joined the young radicals.

The attack on Dr Dadoo's Nationalist Bloc at Osrin's bioscope, had appalled many others besides Nana Sita. It swung their allegiance to the Nationalists.

Maniben, a tiny girl, not yet thirteen, was greatly moved by her father's distress. In the kitchen, on that day, she was awakened to the plight of the Indian community. She came to a crucial understanding of the purpose of her life.  From that moment, she put away childish things and embarked on a course of education that would equip her for the fight against injustice.

On the advice of Mathatma Gandhi, the Nationalist Bloc postponed the satyagraha campaign. According to P.S Joshi, Gandhi agreed to negotiate with the Union Government. (Struggle for Equality, 87)

Dadoo then turned his attention to anti-war protest. According to Essop Pahad:

“In 1940 Dadoo was arrested for printing and distributing a leaflet published by the NEUF which said "Don't support this war, where the rich get richer and the poor get killed". 'When he appeared in court there were mass demonstrations outside and during an djournment the people, Africans and Indians, carried him shoulder-high to his home - a distance of about 3 kilometres. Dadoo refused to pay his fine of £25, but was saved from imprisonment by a supporter who paid his fine because he could not bear to see "this wonderful person" going to prison.”  (Essop Pahad, “Yusuf Dadoo: A Proud Historyof Struggle.”)

2. The Struggle for land in Durban

“Unlike their fellows in the Transvaal, Indians in Natal enjoyed freedom of movement. There was nothing to prevent them from living where they liked and from purchasing property, either for investment or occupation. There were certain areas in the town which were looked upon as Indian areas, but these had grown up in a natural way and as a result of the tendency of people of the same race and culture to congregate together. There were no locations in Natal as there were in the Transvaal to which Indians were relegated.” (SAHO – G.H. Calpin, A. I. Kajee)

As the Indian population was increasing, Indians needed more land and it was only in white areas where property was readily available. “In the early thirties this movement outward from their own areas into the larger European areas was scarcely oticeable. It was a matter of a few individuals buying houses and occupying them on the fringes of the Indian areas. It affected Europeans living in near proximity” (SAHO – G.H. Calpin, A.I. Kajee)

Protesting white residents appealed to the Durban City Council (DCC) and the DCC began introducing legislation to control Indian expansion. That led to conflict between the DCC and the NIC.

People Like Adv. Albert Christopher, Manilal Gandhi andP.R. Pather refused to accept DCC proposals based on segregation which included the offer of land on the outskirts of the city and the creation of Indian townships.

However, there were the traders who wanted to protect their businesses. They felt threatened and were tempted to comply with government and City Council regulations. But that meant acceptance of segregation and inferior services.

A.I. Kajee [From G.H. Calpin, A. I. Kajee, (SAHO)]

Abdulla Ismail Kajee was born in 1896. His father, a trader from Kathor, India, settled in Isipingo where he opened a store in a little corrugated iron structure. It was a general dealership that catered to Indians and Africans.

The family’s living quarters were behind the shop. When other members of the family were able to manage the shop, he travelled into the interior and set up shops in various parts of the country.

It was his father’s enterprising spirit and the experience he gained in the shop, that inspired A.I. Kajee to become a businessman.

After he left school, in those days Indians were only allowed up to Standard Four, he worked in the businesses of one or two relatives. Then he went to India to study at Aligarh College. He got into trouble there for his open support of India’s independence from the British and he travelled about in the East before returning to Durban to set up a business.  “He took a room at 175 Grey Street as the first step towards it, and started a business as a broker and agent.” (SAHO – Calpin)

“The first agency Kajee obtained was the result of some semi-political interests and association with Mr. Karl Gundelfinger of the wholesale firm of that name. Mr. Gundelfinger was a prominent member of the Chamber of Commerce. ... Kajee's first agency, then, was sugar.... To sugar he added rice, representing C. A. Bassa Ltd. and others. ... much later ... he obtained the agency for Nestle, to be followed by Five Roses Tea,Quality Products Soap, and Natal Oil Products. All these are quick sellers, and the early struggle gradually gave place to substantial financial relief.” (SAHO – Calpin)

He became secretary of the Indian Merchant’s Association and so broadened his business contacts, which included a few European businessmen.“It is said that Kajee was first interested in politics as a result of the example of Mr. Gandhi, and it is true that Kajee must have known something of the Indian lawyer's exchanges with the authorities. One report has it that as a boy in his 'teens Kajee spent a short time at Phoenix,where Mr. Gandhi had established a settlement.” (SAHO – Calpin) He was a teenager when Gandhi led the Great March across the Transvaal border in 1913, and must have been inspired by it.

In the NIC he met and befriended Sorabjee Rustomjee. This friendship was probably a contributing factor to his commitment to the political struggle.

Sorabjee Rustomjee

“Sorabji Rustomjee, son of Parsee Rustomjee, was born in Durban on 25 December 1895. He went to India to study and soon after returning to South Africa, crossed the Natal-Transvaal border and was sentenced in January 1911 to six weeks in prison.” (SAHO)

He wanted “to join his father in the first batch of Satyagrahis from Phoenix, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) in September 1913, but was not accepted. Following this, he went all over Natal distributing food to the workers who were on strike. He was arrested in November 1913, and charged with incitement and with promoting the strike. The charges were withdrawn later.” (SAHO)

Gandhi wrote in Satyagraha in South Africa about the bravery of Sorabji during the strike in Natal:
“Many labourers came out (on strike) in Verulam and would not return in spite of all the efforts of the authorities. General
Lukin was present on the scene with his soldiers and was about to order his men to open fire. Brave Sorabji, son of the late 
Parsi Rustomji then hardly 18 years of age, had reached here from Durban. He seized the reins of the General’s horse and
 exclaimed, ‘You must not order firing. I undertake to induce my people peacefully to return to work.’ General Lukin was 
charmed with the young man’s courage and gave him time to try his method of love. Sorabji reasoned with the labourers who 
came round and returned to their work. Thus a number of murders were prevented by the presence of mind, valour and loving
kindness of one young man.”
(SAHO)

Rustomjee was prominent in Indian politics after the end of Gandhi’s Satyagraha campaign in 1914. He was elected a member of the council of the South African Indian Congress at its inaugural session in 1923, and President of the Natal Indian Congress in 1928. (SAHO)

Kajee “entered the political arena at the time of Malan's Bill in 1925. ... He soon rose to prominence within the NIC, and was one of its main spokesmen at public meetings, and in deputations to the various authorities.” (SAHO). In 1926, he became joint secretary of the NIC.

In 1936, Kajee became the undisputed leader of the NIC following the resignation of Hindu executive members after Indian Agent-General, Sir Raza Ali's marriage to Miss Sammy.

Kajee “was a great believer in the policy of compromise.” (SAHO -- G.H. Calpin, A. I. Kajee) He believed in gradualism – change in small steps. He did not support militant confrontation. He had many European friends and probably believed that discussion and friendly persuasion would be more effective.

He began negotiations with J. H. Hofmeyer, Minister of the Interior, and in 1938 with W.T. Walker, the secretary of the Natal Muncipal Association (NMA), and they reached an informal understanding.

The NMA “would bring to the notice of the NIC any attempt by an Indian to purchase property in European residential areas. The NIC would endeavour to dissuade the person from such a transaction. This understanding came to be regarded as the ‘Kajee Assurance’.” (Bughwandeen, 28) It was a tacit agreement not set down in writing. The NIC, consisting of moderates in 1938, fully supported the Kajee Assurance.

The NIA [the merger of the CBSIA and the NIC] which came into being in 1939 opposed the DCC’s attempts to segregate Indians. The NIA rejected the Kajee assurance which prevented Indians from buying Municipal.land.

The Smuts Government had to intervene in the dispute between the DCC and the NIA. It appointed the Minister of the Interior, H. G. Lawrence to investigate. He suggested that an Indian sub-committee be appointed to negotiate with the House Committee of the DCC.

“This was the first time that Indians were being offered representation in solving a problem directly affecting them.” (Bughwandeen, 28). This would be a joint committee of members from the DCC and representatives of the NIA.

The Lawrence Commission also proposed a compromise. There would be no laws to enforce segregation but the NIA had to stop Indians from purchasing land in white areas. In other words, the Lawrence commission was offering the Indian community voluntary segregation. This was the Kajee Assurance all over again, only this time it was in a written documentt.

When NIA officials put forward the government proposals for confirmation at a mass meeting on 11 Febraury 1940, they were opposed by the Nationalist Bloc that had emerged in the NIA to counter the proposals of the Lawrence Commission. The Nationalist Bloc consisted of Dr G.M. Naicker, Manilal Gandhi, C.I. Amra, M.I. Timol, G. Ponen, and H.A. Naidoo. They regarded the compromise as voluntary submission to segregation and were against participation in the Joint Committee.

“ Despite the strong opposition of the ‘Nationalist Bloc’ of the NIA, A. Chistopher, J. W. Godfrey, A.S. Kajee, P.B. Singh, Sorabjee Rustomjee, P. R. Pather and A.M.M. Lockhart were selected as the NIA representatives on the Joint Committee at a commiittee meeting on 17 February 1940. “ 
“While the Nationalist Bloc” called participation a “self inflicted slur and stigma on the name of the Indian community,” (Bughwandeen, 29) Adv. Christopher and company wanted to take advantage of the fact that for once they had been given a voice. They believed that in face to face discussions with the DCC, they would make the City Council understand the serious nature of the problems in the community. The NIA, formerly the militant group, now became the collaborators.

3.  P. R. Pather

The history of the Indian struggle reflects the ambivalence between collaboration and resistance.

[It began in the 1920s with the formation of the South African Indian Congress and continued well into the 1980’s. The United Democratic Front (UDF) formed in 1983 opposed the Tri-Cameral Parliamentary System. The UDF consisted of people demanding human rights. Those who accepted positions in the Tri-Cameral Parliament and on President’s
Council were those who were willing to collaborate with the apartheid government.]

In the 1930s and 1940s, there wasn’t a clear cut division. There were those who swung between collaboration and opposition. This ambivalence is clearly illustrated in the activism of Poonoosamy Ruthnam Pather (P. R. Pather). He was a bold and brave activist in the early decades of the Natal Indian Congress.

P. R. Pather was born in Mauritius in 1895. His father came to Natal in 1891 and worked as a jeweller in Durban for a few years before returning to Mauritius. The family immigrated to South Africa in 1903.

Looking for better opportunities, they moved to Elandslaagte, Northern Natal, a coal mining centre. PR attended primary school there and later completed his secondary schooling in a private school in Pietermaritzburg. While still in his teens, he became secretary of the Aryan Young Men’s Association, secretary of the Young Men's Vedic Society, and secretary of The Hindu-Tamil Institute.

He completed his matric in Durban. After matriculating, he worked in the law firm of Clark and Clark where he gained experience and a working knowledge of the law. This enabled him to open his own estate agency.

He joined the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) in the early 1920’s. In 1924 he was elected to the position ofjoint secretary.

In 1924, JBM Hertzog’s Pact Party came into power. It was bent on Indian repatriation. In 1926, the PACT government organised a round table conference with leaders from the Indian sub-contnent. The conference produced the Cape Town Agreement which set out a program of repatriation of Indians and the appointment of Indian Agents to represent the local Indian community.

But Indian South Africans were not interested in repatriation. A second round table conference was held from 12 January - 4
February 1932. It established a Colonisation Enquiry Committee to look into repatriation and colonization. PR with Advocate Albert Christopher and others opposed the SAIC-NIC decision to collaborate with the government and serve on the Colonisation Enquiry Committee.
Christopher, PR, Manilal Gandhi and others withdrew from the NIC and formed the Colonial Born and Settler Indian Association CBSIA). They criticised the SAIC and NIC leadership for protecting their own interests and betraying the community.

Indian Agents-General tried to unite the NIC and CBSIA. In 1939, Sir Benegal Rama Rau succeeded in bringing them together, but not in uniting them. A new organisation the Natal Indian Association (NIA) was formed. But it was an uneasy alliance. The NIC under A. I. Kajee maintained its separate identity so the NIA reflected the CBSIA position.

When Kajee had negotiated with the Natal Municipal Association and the Minister of the Interior, the CBSIA had condemned the NIC for accepting voluntary segregation. After the formation of the NIA, there was conflict between the NIA and the DCC. But when the government requested that the DCC negotiate with representatives of the Indian community, the NIA regarded this as a break-through. The NIA leadership A. Chistopher, J. W. Godfrey, A.S. Kajee, P.B. Singh, Sorabjee Rustomjee, P. R. Pather and A.M.M. Lockhart  accepted positions on a Joint Committee with the DCC. 

That led to the formation of a Nationalist Bloc within the NIA. The Nationalist Bloc accused the NIA leadership of accepting voluntary segregation. Former CBSIA/NIA members, now became the moderates. They had, all along, believed in negotiation rather than militant action.

The Nationalist Bloc, led by people like Dr G.M. Naicker, were now the radicals.

[What is presented here is an overview of events. For detailed information please consult:

Dowlat Bughwandeen, 1991, A People On Trial, Durban: Madiba Publications;

Bhana, Surendra books and articles

Joshi, P.S. 1951,Struggle for Equality, Bombay: Hind Kitabs Ltd.;

Pahad, Essop 1972, The Development Of Indian Political Movements In South Africa, 1924-1946 , doctoral thesis University of Sussex;

Pahad, Essop “Yusuf Dadoo: A Proud History Of Struggle,” The African Communist, No.78, 3rd Quarter 1979;

Pather, Riashnee 1998, “The story of PR Pather, the grand old man of Indian Politics in South Africa.” Honours Degree thesis;

SAHO (South African History Online);

Vahed, Goolam and Desai,Ashwin National Liberation, Non-Racialism and “Indianness” the 1947 visit of Dadoo and Naicker to India.]

 

 

 

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