1. 1906 ‘THE BLACK ACT’

In 1906, the British Government granted the Transvaal self-government and in the new Afrikaner Government that was established, General J. C. Smuts, a prominent Afrikaner leader, became Education Secretary and Colonial Secretary.

Smuts regarded the influx of Asians (Indians and Chinese) into the Transvaal as a threat to Afrikaner development. He was determined to put a stop to immigration and was looking for ways to deport Asians. To control their expansion and mobility, he introduced the Asiatic Law Amendment Bill.

This law, which Indians called ‘The Black Act’,required the registration and fingerprinting of Indians, and the carrying of registration certificates (similar to passes) at all times. The law raised great indignation amongst Indians and led to many mass meetings.

At the meeting held in the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg, Gandhi introduced the idea of Satyagraha - resistance through
non-cooperative, non-violent action and sacrifice. Gandhi coined the word Satyagraha from “sat” meaning truth and “agraha” meaning force. Satyagraha is commonly taken to mean passive resistance, a term that Gandhi did not like. Satyagraha is not passive. It means Truth-Force, i.e. the power of moral truth to bring about change through resistance.

When the "Black Act" was passed in 1907, there was an almost total boycott of the registration procedures. Gandhi was imprisoned and then ordered to leave the colony. He was imprisoned again when he refused. Smuts was obliged to enter into negotiations with him and together they agreed on the withdrawal of the Act and on voluntary registration.Â

In good faith, Gandhi led the Indians in registering and obtaining certificates.ÂBut the Act was not repealed. A Satyagraha campaign was organised and registration certificates were publicly burnt in the grounds of the Hamidia mosque in Johannesburg.

In 1908, in defiance of the Transvaal Immigration Restriction Act which barred all non-resident Indians from entering the Transvaal without permits, Gandhi led a protest march from Natal across the Transvaal border, was arrested and sent to prison while about sixty others were deported to India.Â

In 1909, white South Africans were negotiating with the British for the establishment of a self-governing state – the Union of South Africa. Gandhi, at the head of a delegation of Indians, took the demand for the repeal of anti-Asiatic laws to London. The delegation was unsuccessful and when South Africa became a Union in 1910, Gandhi could no longer depend on British intervention.Â

He then set up Tolstoy Farm on land donated by Hermann Kallenbach, a friend and follower of Gandhi and a satyagrahi. P.S Joshi, in his book, Tyranny of Colour, states that the farm "was established with a view to training an army of non-violent volunteers." (70) It is clear that Gandhi envisaged a struggle that would last for many years.

The other urgent reason for the establishment of the training camp at Tolstoy farm was the hardship that satyagrahi families suffered.Â




ÂÂÂLife for the families of those early satyagrahis was very uncertain. To understand what they suffered, we will look at one family: the family of CK Thambi Naidoo. Thambi Naidoo worked closely with MK Gandhi from 1906-1914, the time of the first Satyagraha campaigns.

These campaigns were protests against the anti-Asian laws being passed by the Transvaal Government.A principled, disciplined and brave fighter,Thambi Naidoo, according to his daughter, Thayanayagie (Thailema),"thought only of his duty and not of his personal affairs".

His grandson, Visoo Pillay (Nava Pillay’s late father) always proudly recounted the following incident. Once when a group of
protesters under Thambi Naidoo’s charge was picketing against the TARC (Transvaal Asian Registration Certificate), Gandhi came to tell him that his wife had given birth to a stillborn child. Apparently Thambi retorted very sternly, "Do you not see that I am on duty? Go and bury the child yourself."

Some believe that his unwavering commitment set an example even for Gandhi. According to Visoo Pillay, Gandhi’s secretary is credited with saying, "No Thambi Naidoo, no Mahatma Gandhi."ÂÂÂÂÂÂ Visoo also believed, "Mahatma Gandhi came here a lawyer and we made him a politician."

Thambi was an inspiration to his sons and daughters all of whom became activists in the struggle against colonialism and apartheid.

But Thambi’s commitment and dedication were hard on his wife, Veerammal and the children. They understood the importance of his involvement in political activities, but it became difficult to survive without him when he went to prison in 1907. With Gandhi and other protesters, he was imprisoned for refusing to accept registration under the Asiatic Law Amendment Bill (‘The Black Act’).

Veerammal had to take on his role as provider. As a mother, she understood the needs of her seven children, but the requirements of her husband's business were beyond her and the responsibility terrified her. Thambi had built up a substantial enterprise in Johannesburg, selling fruit and vegetables from his horse-drawn carts.

When he was sent to jail, Veerammal couldn’t cope. She sold off the horses and carts one by one until there was nothing left to sell. Then there was no money to pay the rent. She and her children were put out on the street and had no home.ÂÂÂ They were rescued by her brother who took them all into his home on President Street.ÂÂÂ When he too was arrested, they were destitute again.

This was how it was for many activists' families.ÂÂÂ Gandhi became very concerned about this situation. When his friend and follower, Hermann Kallenbach, an architect, offered him a farm of 11 000 acres at Lawley, twenty-one miles south west of Johannesburg, as a refuge for the satyagrahis and their families, Gandhi gratefully accepted.ÂÂÂÂÂÂ

That was how Tolstoy Farm, named in honour of the Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, whom Kallenbach greatly admired, came into being in 1910.ÂÂÂ For Gandhi, the farm was much more than a refuge. It was a training camp, a place where satyagrahis could arm
themselves for the struggle through the practice of self-discipline and self-sacrifice.

Along with many other activists, Thambi Naidoo moved to Tolstoy Farm with his family


Hermann Kallenbach (1871 – 1945) was born in East Prussia. He had studied architecture in South Stuttgart and Munich. In 1896 he came to South Africa, where he practiced as an architect.

He met Mohandas Gandhi in 1904 and became a friend, confidante and follower. Along with H.S.L. Polak, Kallenbach was integrally involved with Satyagraha and Gandhi's Phoenix Settlement in Durban and his newspaper, Indian Opinion.

In 1910, Kallenbach and Gandhi came up with the idea of a place of safety and a training camp for satyagrahis. So Kallenbach purchased the farm, Roodepoort No. 49, from Johannesburg Town Councillor L. V. Partridge.

It is located in a south-western corner of the Johannesburg municipal area, approximately 35 km from Johannesburg, 17 km from
Soweto, 7 km from Lenasia and 2 kilometres from the Lawley Station.

In the Indian Opinion,newspaper of June 18, 1910, Gandhi describes the farm as follows. "It is nearly 1,100 acres in extent or 508 morgen, being nearly two miles long and three quarter broad. It slopes down a hill from South to North and is, therefore, well protected from the South-East winds.

“There are nearly 1,000 fruit-bearing trees ... peaches, apricots, figs, almonds, walnuts, etc., and a small plantation of wattle [acacia] and eucalyptus trees. The ground is fertile. Water is supplied from two wells as also a spring.

“Beyond a shed and a dilapidated house containing four rooms and a kitchen, it contains no structure worth naming.” (M. K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa)

In his book, The Tolstoy Farm, Surendra Bhana explains that Gandhi believed in self-reliance and independence as the means to developing discipline and self-esteem.

It was a philosophy that the satyagrahis fully accepted and they entered into the work at Tolstoy Farm with dedication and enthusiasm. They committed themselves to building and producing everything they needed.

“Kallenbach and his partner, Alexander Kennedy, worked on the plans and supervised the building work. Inhabitants slept in tents while the first building was being constructed. Mistri Narayandas Damania volunteered his services with no charge and brought with him several other carpenters.” (Surendra Bhana)

“Within six months of having started the settlement, the residents were able to complete largely by self-help three big buildings, two of them 53 feet long and the third 77 feet.

The women were accommodated in one building, the men in another and there were laundry and kitchen facilities in the buildings. A third building was a combination of offices, workshop, and school.” (Surendra Bhana)

A house, a school and a workshop for carpentry and shoe-making were built. There may even have been a library.ÂÂÂ

Kallenbach was a great admirer of Count Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy’s ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in his books such as The Kingdom of God Is within You, had inspired the development of satyagraha. So Kallenbach named the satyagraha training camp, Tolstoy Farm.

According to Gandhi, “The greatest thing, however, that Mr. Kallenbach has done is to live with the passive resisters their life, to share their sorrows, and joys when there are any, and to comfort and protect the wives and families of the imprisoned passive resisters.

“Mr. Kallenbach considers that all this is part of his own training and that it gives him an insight into human nature which nothing else could have given". (Indian Opinion, 18 June 1910)

About seventy people lived at the farm. They included Christians, Muslims, Parsis and Hindus (Gujaratis, Tamils and Hindi-speakers). There were many visitors to the farm who provided classes or assisted in the work at the farm.


Inspired by the belief in self-reliance and discipline, the satyagrahis living at Tolstoy Farm worked willingly to build a self-sufficient community.Everyone had a responsibility.

Gandhi writes, ‘The lion-like Thambi Naidoo was in charge of sanitation and marketing for which he had to go to Johannesburg.”

Veerammal and other women prepared the meals.

“There was a "tailoring department" responsible for producing clothes generally suitable for outdoor life: trousers and shirts made up of coarse blue cloth.
“As for footwear, Gandhi considered sandals ideal for the climate.” Kallenbach went to the Marianhill monastery near Pinetown to learn the skill of sandal-making. “Soon after Kallenbach's return, the workshop began producing sandals, most of which were worn by the farm residents, and a few sold to friends. Gandhi proudly wrote to his cousin Maganlal Gandhi that he had completed 14 pairs of sandals by February 1911.” (Surendra Bhana)

Thayanayagie (Thambi Naidoo’s daughter) was about four years old when the family went to live at the farm. Her first memories were of the simple life they led there. Her four brothers, with other boys, had to fetch water from the springs about three quarters of a mile away. They carried the water in buckets hanging from poles slung over their shoulders. Thayanayagie, who sometimes went with them, sat on the rocks minding their clothes while they went swimming in the river.

Gandhi, using home remedies, took on the duties of ministering to the sick. When Thayanayagie got the measles, Gandhi wrapped her in a wet sheet covered with Condy's Crystals.

Feeling miserable, cold and clammy, little Thayanayagie clung to her mother sobbing loudly, but Gandhi would not be denied. Carrying her outdoors in the cold sheet, he put her down on a bench in the sunshine. Lying there swaddled in the sheet absorbing the warmth of the sun, she was cured of the rash. Inspired by his example, she too, much later in her life, would use similar methods to cure sick people.

[For those who may not be aware, in 1930, Thayanayagie,Thambi’s daughter, married into the Pillay family of the Asiatic Bazaar in Marabastad. Her brother-in-law, Mr G Krishnan Pillay, was a political activist.As she was among like-minded people, she was able to continue her work as a satyagrahi. She is best known for her provision of meals to the Treason Trialists of the 1960’s. She was a highly respected resident of Laudium. Her grandson, Nava Pillay, is a Pretoria City Councillor.]

Because the satyagrahis at Tolstoy Farm had to keep costs down, they became vegetarians and cultivated a large vegetable garden.ÂÂÂ Orange, apricot and plum trees were abundant on the farm so the settlers had plenty of fruit.

Daily routine of residents at Tolstoy Farm (Rand Daily Mail)

The bell rang at six in the morning.
After the toilets (washing and dressing) were completed and the beds made, the residents ate breakfast.
Then everyone went to work until 11 a.m. which was time for a bath.ÂThey bathed at 11 a.m. to make good use of the warm sun rays.
At 12 noon lunch was served.
At 1 p.m. Several classes of school began lasting until 5 in the afternoon.
At 5:30 p.m. they had their evening meal.
That was followed by an hour of rest.
At 7 p.m. the residents assembled before Gandhi who reviewed the day's events, pointed out difficulties if any, and suggested ways of solving them. The meetings ended with readings from books on religion and the singing of hymns

(adapted from Gandhi’s Satyagraha in South Africa, Chapters 39 -50)

In 1913, two statutory events that outraged the community set off new satyagraha demonstrations:

1.The Immigrants Regulation Act, No 22 of 1913, put an end to Indian immigration and restricted Indian entry into other provinces. (There were no Indians in the Orange Free State which, in 1891, had expelled Indian residents and prohibited Indian entry

2. A judgement by Justice Malcolm Searle in March 1913 in the Cape division of the Supreme Court rendered all marriages conducted according to Hindu, Muslim or Zoroastrian rites invalid.

Satyagrahis went into action. Since the Searle ruling was an insult to women, Gandhi for the first time allowed women to take part in the protests. Not only were women to participate, they were to take the lead. They were to defy the laws in order to be arrested.

Twelve women were chosen from Tolstoy farm: Mrs. Veerammal Naidoo (Thayanayagie's mother), Mrs N Pillay, Mrs K Murugasa, Mrs A. Perumal Naidoo, Mrs PK Naidoo, Mrs K Chinnaswami Pillay, Mrs NS Pillay, Mrs RA Mudalingum, Mrs Bhavani Dayal, Miss Minachi Pillay, Miss Baikum Murugasa Pillay and sixteen-year old Valliamma R. Munuswami Mudaliar.

Veerammal, who was pregnant at the time, took her tiny toddler, Seshammal, Thayanayagie’s younger sister, with her.The women, some with babies and young children, went to Vereeniging where they hawked without licences in defiance of the law. But they were not arrested.

So Gandhi went to the Phoenix Settlement in Natal, where he organised a group, including four women, to march across the Natal border without permits.

The group, which was led by his wife, Mrs Kasturba Gandhi, consisted of Mrs Jayakunvar Manilal Doctor, Mrs Kashi Chhaganlal Gandhi, Mrs Santok Maganlal Gandhi, Parsi Rustomji Jivanji Ghorkhodu, Chhaganlal Khushalchand Gandhi, Ravjibhai Manibhai Patel, Maganbhai Haribhai Patel, Solomon Royeppen, Raju Govindu, Ramdas Mohandas Gandhi, Shivpujan Badari, V. Govindarajulu, Kuppuswami Moonlight Mudaliar, Gokuldas Hansraj, and Revashankar Ratansi Sodha.

They crossed the Natal-Transvaal border without permits. This was in defiance of the Immigrants Act which did not allow them to enter other provinces without permits.

They were arrested, and on 23 September, 1913, were tried and sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour.

Following their example, the women from Tolstoy Farm also crossed the border without permits,but again they were not arrested. Since they had geared themselves for this expedition, it was most frustrating not to have their brave defiance acknowledged. Clearly, more drastic action was needed.

Thambi Naidoo took them to the coalmines in Newcastle where they moved among Indian coalminers urging them to protest against the crippling £3 poll tax. When the miners came out on strike shortly afterwards, the women were at last arrested.

They were sentenced to three months in prison with hard labour. On 21 October 1913, they joined their comrades from Phoenix in the Pietermaritzburg Prison. Thailema's mother and her baby sister, Seshammal, were both in jail.

They were still in prison during the great march of satyagrahis from Natal across the Transvaal border that began in November 1913 and ended in December with the arrest of Gandhi and hundreds of others.

When Veerammal and the other women were eventually released in February 1914, they were weak and ailing. Harsh prison conditions had seriously undermined their health. Veerammal, however, despite being pregnant, had withstood the ordeal better than most. Twelve hours after her release, she gave birth to a son.The sixteen-year old satyagrahi, Valliamma, who had been reduced to little more than a skeleton, was immediately confined to bed on her release. Gandhi, greatly moved by this young girl's dedication, went to her bedside to speak to her. He recorded his conversation with her in his book, Satyagraha in South Africa:

"Valliamma, you do not repent of your having gone to jail?"....
"Repent? I am even now ready to go to jail again if I am arrested," said Valliamma.
"But what if it results in your death?"
"I do not mind it. Who would not love to die for one's motherland?" was the reply.

Valliamma died on 22 February 1914, a week after her release.

(adapted from Gandhi’s book Satyagraha in South Africa, Chapters 39 – 50)

The Women from Tolstoy farm had crossed into Natal without permits. They were not arrested until their efforts brought the miners near Newcastle out on strike against the £3 poll tax. Then they were arrested, tried and sentenced. They joined the women from Phoenix in the Pietermaritzburg prison.

After the imprisonment of the women, the labourers from the mines near Newcastle downed their tools and entered the city. Gandhi then left Phoenix and went to Newcastle.

He found that the miners lived in houses provided by the mine-owners. When they went on strike their water and lights were cut off. Some had had their household goods thrown out.

Gandhi tells of one of the miners, Saiyad Ibrahim, a Pathan, who showed Gandhi the scars on his back. “Look here, how severely they have thrashed me. I have let the rascals go for your sake, as such are your orders. I am a Pathan, and Pathans never take but give a beating.”

“Well done, brother,” I replied. “I look upon such conduct alone as pure bravery. We will win through people of your type.”

Hundreds of miners had come out on strike. Gandhi asked them to leave their quarters at the mines and took them to Mr D. Lazarus, a middle-class Christian Tamilian, who owned a small plot of land and a house consisting of two or three rooms.

Mr Lazarus and his family had earlier accommodated the Transvaal women from Tolstoy Farm when they had come to Newcastle. Once an indentured labourer himself, Mr Lazarus also had to pay the onerous poll tax. He was very sympathetic to the cause of the miners.

They camped on his plot and his family provided meals for this huge crowd of men. The traders of Newcastle supplied cooking pots and bags of rice and dal.ÂOther people made additional contributions.

Despite the generosity of the Lazarus family and the people of Newcastle, Gandhi realised that this was no solution to the problem. So he came up with a plan: a march of the miners across the Natal-Transvaal border in defiance of the Immigrants Regulation Act.

That would get them all arrested. If that did not happen, they would proceed to Tolstoy Farm. In this army of satyagrahis, there were over two thousand people, the miners with their wives and children and others.

Gandhi decided they would march on foot.The Transvaal border is 36 miles from Newcastle. Those who were disabled were sent by rail.

The march was to be accomplished in two days. Every one was glad to make the move. It would be a relief to the Lazarus family.

Early on the morning of October 28, 1913, before they set off, the rules to be observed on the march were read out.Then the Great March across the Transvaal border began.

They arrived safely in Charlestown where traders gave them the use of their houses. They were allowed to cook on the grounds of the mosque. Traders supplied cooking pots, rice and other ingredients.

The plan was to enter the Transvaal at Volksrust. If they were not arrested, they would march twenty to twenty-four miles a day for about eight days until they reached Tolstoy Farm.

Kallenbach had made all the necessary arrangements for their arrival at the farm. They would construct mud huts. The old and the infirm would be accommodated in small tents while the huts were being built.

At 6-30, on the morning of November 6, 1913, they offered prayers and marched out of Charlestown. There were 2,037 men, 127 women and 57 children.

There is a small spruit one mile from Charlestown, and as soon as one crosses it, one has entered the Transvaal at Volksrust.

Gandhi writes: “A small patrol of mounted policemen was on duty at the border gate. I went up to them, leaving instructions with the “army” to cross over when I signalled to them. But while I was still talking with the police, the pilgrims made a sudden rush and crossed the border.”

The police surrounded them, but did not arrest them. The march proceeded until nightfall. Then they made camp. During the night, Gandhi was arrested.
“I roused P. K. Naidoo who was sleeping near me. I informed him about my arrest and asked him not to awaken the pilgrims before morning. At daybreak they must ... resume the march.” If they were not arrested, they had to continue the march to Tolstoy Farm.

Gandhi was taken to Volksrust the next morning where he appeared in court and was released on bail.ÂKallenbach, who was in Volksrust at the time, drove him back to the march and then returned to Volksrust.

The march continued. Gandhi was arrested again at Standerton and again released on bail. The march continued. But before they arrived at Greylingstad, Gandhi was arrested once more. This time he was not released but sent to Prison at Heidelberg.

The march continued under Polak’s leadership. The marchers were met by Sheth Ahmad Muhammad Kachhalia and Sheth Amad
Bhayat. They came to tell the marchers that arrangements had been made for the arrest of the marchers.

At about 9 o’clock on the morning of the 10th, the pilgrims reached Balfour where three special trains were drawn up at the station to take them back to Newcastle. The coalminers were put on trains, sent back to the mines, forced down shafts and severely flogged. Their compounds became prison camps.

(adapted from Chapters 39 – 50 of Gandhi’s book, Satyagraha in South Africa)

Gandhi, Kallenbach and Polak who had been arrested and sent to prison were brought to trial. Gandhi appeared in the court in Dundee, and then Volksrust and was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in Bloemfontein. Kallenbach went to Pretoria jail and Polak to Germiston.

While they were in prison Indian labourers came out on strike, most notably on the north coast of Durban, in Phoenix and Verulam. One of the demands of these striking workers was that all satyagrahis who had been imprisoned be released.

Gandhi, Kallenbach and Polak were released from prison.

General Smuts and Gandhi began negotiations. Their discussions led eventually to the Indian Relief Act of 1914, which repealed the poll tax on free Indians in Natal, recognised Hindu and Muslim marriages and abolished the registration and finger-printing requirements of the "Black Act" of 1907.

But major issues such as restrictions on land ownership, trading rights, immigration and movement between provinces remained unresolved and resistance would continue for many decades to come.

In 1914, Gandhi left South Africa to begin his work in India. His legacy to South Africans was the strategy of non-violent non-cooperation (Satyagraha). Belief in that strategy sustained mass protests until the demise of apartheid.

The training of satyagrahis at Tolstoy Farm had ended. Only Hermann Kallenbach and a few Africans lived there for a while.

The land was transferred to a WH Humphreys in 1915.In the 1950s, Anglovaal bought the land and then sold it to its current owner Corobrik.

When the Gandhi Centenary Committee was formed, one of its aims was the restoration of Tolstoy Farm as a heritage site.

In the 1970’s, Mrs Lilabehn Desai was a member of the Gandhi Centenary Committee. She was the daughter-in-law of Pragjibhai Desai. He had been part of Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha community and had lived and worked at Tolstoy Farm in 1910.

Mrs Desai was also a member of The Indian Arts and Culture Academy in Johannesburg.ÂThrough her work of promoting Indian music, she met Jeram Bhana of Marabastad Asiatic Bazaar.ÂÂWhen Jeram had returned from studying music in India in 1961, he had opened his own music academy where students could learn to play classical music on various Indian instruments.

Mrs Desai invited Jeram to offer classes in Johannesburg. She worked with Jeram and went on tour with his music academy.

Jeram, and his wife, Jaydevi,formerly of the Marabastad Asiatic Bazaar, now longstanding residents of Laudium, are accomplished musicians and teachers of the music arts.

In about 1974, the Gandhi Centenary Committee was looking for custodians for Tolstoy Farm. Mrs Desai invited Jeram and Jaydevi to take up the positions and to provide music lessons at the farm.

This was a wonderful opportunity for the couple. Once the house on the farm was ready for occupation, Jeram and Jaydevi moved in.

Virtually alone in beautiful surroundings, they spent their mornings hiking in the hills, practicing yoga, singing and playing music. In the afternoons, they conducted music classes for students from Lenasia. When visitors arrived, they welcomed them and showed them around.

In these peaceful and beautiful surroundings, they were happier than they had ever been. Though they were close to Lenasia and Soweto, they felt completely cut off from the world and no hint of the chaos of the Soweto Uprising of 1976, filtered into their sanctuary.

But their blissful existence at the farm came to an end after three years. The Centenary Committee's inability to get things moving led to conflict between various groups. When Jeram and Jaydevi felt they were being dragged into a difficult situation, they quit and in 1978, le