1940 – 1946


[from Pahad, Essop, 1972, The Development of Indian Political Movements in South Africa, 1924-1946, Doctoral Thesis University of Sussex (SAHO)]


When World War II broke out in Europe, the Union Government, decided for war by thirteen votes - 80 to 67. Most Afrikaners were against entering the war and fighting for Britain. They were looking for a German victory.

Oswald “Pirow, an admirer of Hitler, who led the New Order, preached the essence of Hitler's National Socialism.
Dr F. J. Van Rensburg of the Ossewa Brandwag, a professional Nazi Kommandant, had his storm troopers blowing up
railways, power lines, telephones and post offices.
Hertzog and Malan rejected Nazism, put their faith in the white man's parliament, but held divergent views on relations between Afrikaners and English.”

The Second World War interrupted the Indian struggle for land. And the various political groupings were as divided about the war as the Afrikaners and English, but for different reasons.

The Non-European United Front (NEUF) led the anti-war activity in the black communities.

“The NEUF national council included Mrs. Gool (president), Baloyi (senior president), M. Kotane (secretary), W.H. Andrews treasurer), Dr. Dadoo and H.A. Naidoo.

From the beginning the radicals, communists and non-communists alike characterised the war as an "Imperialist war".
They demanded complete equality in the armed forces and a firm declaration from the government that it would extend democratic rights and privileges hitherto enjoyed only by the white population.”
These were demands that underpinned all protest movements.

“The Moderates, especially those in the NIA, thought differently. They extolled the virtues of assisting Britain, and linked their freedom, as well as India's with that of Britain.”
This loyalty to Britain was part of the legacy of M. K. Gandhi

“At a committee meeting of the NIA, the moderates proposed to offer the services of the Indians to the war effort and to have the
offer confirmed at a mass meeting. Despite the opposition of the minority radical faction the proposal was carried.”

“This move, coming as it did after the formation of the Lawrence Committee, led to the radicals forming the nationalist bloc of the
NIA. It marked the departure point.”

“At the mass meeting held on 9 June, Rama Rau [the Indian Agent-General], supported by P.R. Pather, J.W. Godfrey, S.R. Naidoo and S. Rustomjee, backed Adv. Albert Christopher's resolution, "to offer the services of the Indians" and the co-operation of the NIA to the government's war effort.”

“The radicals moved an amendment, which asked for full equality in the armed services and for the extension of democratic rights before the Indians could offer their services. Responding to the challenge, the NIA officials expelled seven of the radicals from the committee on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to form a nationalist bloc.”

“From then onwards, the radicals acted in a collective and concerted manner, leading to the eventual take-over of the NIC.”

The Indian Agent-General, Rama Rau, in an interview with Smuts, the Chief of General Staff and the Secretary of Defence, suggested that an Indian Corps of three sections - mechanical and transport, medical and hygiene and ambulance – be raised.

“Recruiting for the Indian Service Corps (mechanical and transport section) began under Colonel Morris on 29 July. During August and September, Rama Rau wrote glowing reports about the response of the Indians and was highly derisory about the opposition of the radicals.”

“In a confidential report, Colonel Morris praised highly the efforts of the NIA, especially A. Christopher, P.R. Pather, S.R, Naidoo and S. Rustomjee, each of whom had spent ten hours daily in assisting the recruiting programme.”

Morris “gave the following examples of the contribution made by the NIA's war committee. They provided rent free the Durban recruiting office; contributed £100 to the Regimental Funds; presented the corps with five motor cars to assist in instructing drivers; supplied free hot meals to those attested and waiting for enrolment; provided blankets for all recruits proceeding to Johannesburg; organised a gifts and comforts committee; and offered to supply a musical band without charge.”

“Colonel Morris also quoted with satisfaction and approval an extract from a speech made by one of the NIA leaders, who said: "The support you can give will be small as compared with the British Commonwealth and that of our mother country ... Our freedom is dependent on Britain being victorious ... Above all I ask you to re-main loyal to the King and General Smuts, his government and South Africa, your land of adoption. In remaining loyal to the Crown and this Government you are remaining loyal to India and yourselves".

“The opinions and feelings of the NIA officials were contrary to the views expressed by Jawaharlal Nehru, who had already declared that the Indian people would not fight to defend imperial rule.”

As Indians took their cue from the NEUF and Dr Dadoo not the NIA, the recruitment drive failed

“Dadoo, now a member of the SACP, was arrested for printing and distributing an anti-war leaflet published by the NEUF. The
leaflet pointed out that the non-European enjoyed not freedom and justice, but the Pass and Poll tax laws, segregation, poverty, unemployment and "vicious colour-bar laws" and, concluded: "We answered the call in 1914-1918. What was our reward? Misery, starvation and unemployment. Don't support this war, where the rich get richer and the poor get killed".

“When Dadoo appeared in the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court on 27 August, the courtroom was packed with Indian, African and European spectators, and about 1,000 waited outside the court buildings. The case adjourned at 1 pm and Dadoo was carried shoulder high in a spontaneous demonstration to his home - a distance of about two miles.”

“Dadoo was found guilty of contravening the Emergency regulations and sentenced to one-month imprisonment or a fine of twenty-five pounds. Instead of pleading in mitigation, Dadoo read a statement to the court, which reflected accurately the views and attitudes of the anti-warites.”

“After denouncing the oppression suffered by the non-Europeans, especially by the African population, and cataloguing the various disabilities, the statement concluded:

"The present war is an imperialist war and therefore an unjust war... to maintain and extend imperialist domination. This war could only be transferred into a just war ... when full and unfettered democratic rights are extended to the non-European peoples of this country and when the oppressed peoples of India and the coloured and semi-coloured countries are granted their freedom and independence".

“A great deal of publicity was given to the trial and the two nationalist blocs organised meetings to protest against it. The trial had
the effect of increasing the enthusiasm and determination of the radicals to pursue their policies in spite of any reprisal action from the authorities.” “In January 1943 Dadoo was once again arrested for allegedly inciting the public of the Benoni location (mainly African) to oppose the government.

“This time he was sentenced to four months imprisonment or a fine of forty pounds and he elected to go to gaol. Once again the court proceedings were turned into a political demonstration.”

“The trial had a stimulating effect on the non-Europeans, especially the Indians in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. In all three cities protest meetings were held to express solidarity with Dadoo and support for the NEUF and the nationalist blocs.”

“In Durban, the Guardian reported that there was hardly a street, which did not display a slogan demanding Dadoo's release, and that it was the "chief topic" of discussion amongst the non-Europeans. That Dadoo's activities and arrests had had a marked effect is also emphasised by Roux and by the reports of the High Commissioner for India.”

When, “in June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union” the SACP changed its attitude to the war. It now supported the war, as “the War had changed from an "imperialist war" into a "people’s war" ... the Nazis had to be defeated.”

“Alan Brooks felt that the changed policy proved beneficial to the SACP, for it made it easier for them to link support for the war with the demand for the equal treatment and arming of the non-European soldiers, and consequently raised "the 'broader issue of democratic rights for non-whites which became more insistently a major theme in party propaganda".

“Gradually the radicals began to win the support of the non-Europeans, especially the Indians, for their policies. ... In Durban, a pageant and rally, predominantly supported by the Indians, was organised by the local branch of the Friends of the Soviet Union Committee to express moral and material support for the Soviet Union. Indian women factory workers made the costumes, and trade unions with a large Indian membership and leadership were prominent.”

“It can, therefore, be seen how the war issue contributed to the radicalisation of the activists and through them the Indian political

The radicals worked closely with trade unions and workers and promoted political co-operation and unity amongst all black people.


In the Transvaal, though the radicals were involved in the war issue, they still continued their activism against legislation that prevented Indians from acquiring more land.

The war had not stopped the Union government from continuing to pass legislation to restrict Indian rights to property and

The Transvaal Asiatic Land Tenure Act of 1932, amended in 1934, 35, 36, 37, was replaced by the Asiatics (Transvaal Land and Trading) Acts of 1939 and 1941.

In 1940, the Indian Penetration Commission (the first Broome Commission) was set up to inquire into the alleged Indian penetration into European areas in Natal and the Transvaal since 1 January, 1927. The radicals in the Transvaal held a mass
meeting to protest against the setting up of the Broome Commission.

When the Asiatic Land and Trading (Transvaal) Act became law in April 1941, the radicals called a mass meeting for the 27th of
April. About 1,000 people, attended. The radicals were ready to engage in militant action. They called for passive resistance. The term “passive resistance” is a misnomer. The radicals were calling for militant action in the form of non-violent resistance [Gandhi’s Satyagraha].

“Wealthier Indians and landlords, who benefited under the law, were reluctant to support or participate in any militant action.” But the meeting supported the radicals and condemned:

1) further attempts to segregate Indians, 2) TIC officials [moderates like S.M. Nana] who held on to their positions unconstitutionally, 3) Dadoo’s arrests, 4) the arrest by the British of Subhash Chandra Bose and other leaders in India.

“The nationalist bloc had become very militant, not only in relation to the struggle in South Africa, but also to that of India.”

“In 1941, the nationalist bloc of the TIC launched a limited form of passive resistance.” It was limited because it was individual, not
collective, resistance. According to Joshi, “War regulations disallowed the holding of mass demonstrations.” (The Struggle for Equality, 89)
“On Monday, 12 May, four resisters, M.E. Nagdee, S.B. Medh, Naranswamy Naidoo, and Yusuf S. Patel, initiated the campaign. They set up fruit stalls outside the Johannesburg Magistrates Court and the City Hall,without licences, shouted slogans, put up placards and distributed propaganda material explaining their actions.”

“... the Government neither arrested the law breakers nor gave any opportunity for the progress of the campaign.” (The Struggle for Equality, 89)

Even though it was not really effective, “they sustained the campaign for nine months and finally called it off in March, 1942.”

Moderates and Radicals battle for leadership of the TIC

“During this period, the moderates retained control of the TIC and had not called a general meeting for five years.

The nationalist bloc put pressure on them and they were forced to call “a mass election meeting for 24 January 1943 - the first such meeting since 1938.”

The radicals wanted: 1) democratic changes in the TIC; 2) a militant struggle against segregation and discriminatory legislation,
3) closer co-operation with the other non-white political organisations.

According to Pahad the moderates had ignored the small Indian working class, composed mainly of Tamil-speaking Indians. The nationalist bloc aimed to bring them in.

“The moderates disputed the view that they acted mainly in the interests of the Muslim traders, claimed that their strategy was still the best method, and wanted to keep the Indian question separate from that of the African and Coloured peoples.”

“An old wound was also opened by Rev. B.L.E. Sigamoney, the Tamil Benefit Society and the Tamil Progressive Group, who once again accused Nana of referring to the Tamils as "Kolchas" [Coolies] at a meeting in Johannesburg in 1934. Nana once again denied the allegation.”

Both the moderates and the Nationalist Bloc, entered into a vicious election campaign to try to secure control of the TIC.

“At a final election rally, Dadoo claimed that the Nana group had played on religious feeling and used threats of violence, financial inducement, and pressures in the form of rent reduction and the distribution of rice (a commodity in short supply), to win support. He also accused the opposition of registering the congress as a private limited liability company as an insurance against defeat. The Nana Group did not deny the last accusation.”

The election meeting on 24 January 1943 “took place in an electric atmosphere.”

“... the supporters of both sides were herded on to different sides of the Wemmer Sports Ground. After the constitution had been adopted (previously the TIC had no constitution), Nana and Dadoo agreed that their respective supporters should leave by different exits, thereby making it easier to count the votes.

“To the delight of the moderates they won the election by 3,797 to 3,315 votes.

A jubilant Nana told a celebration meeting the same evening that he and his officials would exercise their powers in the interests of the community for: "Though I am a Muslim, I am an Indian first and last, and in all matters pertaining to the well being of our people I shall act as an Indian".

An equally jubilant A.I. Kajeecalled the radicals: "reckless young men who felt that the exhibition of a red tie and the utterances of the principles of Marxism entitled them to abuse their own people who were merchants or who were blessed with the goods of this world".

“In analysing the defeat of the radicals, Dadoo said that the "power of money" had won the day, but that the "power of the masses" would win tomorrow. He attributed the defeat to the violence perpetrated on S.B. Medh, a veteran resister, and to the exploitation of religious beliefs that had brought the moderates the vote of 500 Muslim women.

His optimism apparently not dimmed, he claimed that it was a "moral victory", since the Nana group could not ignore their substantial support, including that of the workers.”

“... up to the time of the elections, all the signs suggested that the nationalist bloc enjoyed a larger support. Their meetings were well attended and the passive resistance resolution of July 1939 was adopted by 6,000 people. Even the Agent-General, a supporter of the moderates,believed that Dadoo had "the majority of the Transvaal behind him".

But the nationalist bloc lost the election and the moderates remained in control of the TIC.

“One reason ... was that the spirit and determination of the people, as expressed in July 1939, had ebbed away by 1941. Dadoo also suggested [other] reasons ... such as the unexpectedly large Muslim women vote; the use of and threats of violence; and the exploitation of religious belief.

Pahad asks why the large majority of the Muslims voted for Nana. “Dadoo, Molvi Cachalia, Salim Saley, G.H.I. Pahad, Yusuf S. Patel and A.I. Minty [were] well known Muslims in the nationalist bloc.”

According to Pahad, Muslims in South Africa were influenced by the division between Muslims and Hindus in India. And the nationalist bloc had paid special attention to organising the Hindu community at a time when Muslims were expressing their loyalty to Muhammed Ali Jinnah, proponent of a separate state for Muslims – Pakistan.


The Asiatic (Land and Trading) Amendment Act (Transvaal), 37/1919 which placed restrictions on Indian ability to purchase land freely and to trade, was supersededby The Transvaal Asiatic Land Tenure Act of 1932, which was amended in 1934, 35, 36, 37 to close unforeseen loopholes that still allowed Indians to purchase land.)

In 1939 and 1941, The Asiatics (Transvaal Land and Trading) Act continued restrictions on Indian efforts to acquire more land. Though the act did not apply to Natal, the ordinances of the Durban City Council attempted to restrict Natal Indians from free buying and selling of land.

In May 1940, the Lawrence Committee, comprised of members of the NIA and the DCC, began to deal with cases of Indians who had bought land in white areas. But NIA members, who opposed segregation, and DCC members, who proposed it, could not come to amicable agreements. The meetings of the committee became irregular.

As the Lawrence Committee, was not effective, The Indian Penetration (Broome) Commission, was set up in 1940. It had to report on the extent to which Indians in the Transvaal and Natal had acquired property in white areas since 1927.

On 7 October, 1940, the radicals held a mass meeting to protest against the setting up of the Broome Commission. The radicals called on Indians to boycott the Broome Commission.

The Broome Commission found that Indians had acquired 512 sites in European areas. Of these, Indians occupied 150. “The first Broome Commission found that the extremist claims of the Europeans of Natal, that so-called penetration had occurred, were not substantiated.” (Pahad)

In 1942, it was proposed that the Lawrence Committee be reconstituted. The DCC did not ratify the changes and did not appoint members to the new committee. That brought the Lawrence Committee to an end.

The DCC continued its policy of segregation: expropriating Indian owned land and creating Indian townships on the outskirts of the city. Indian protest against segregation continued. White protest against “penetration” continued.

A second Broome Commission, a one-man commission consisting of Justice F.N Broome, set up in 1943, had to report on the extent to which Indians had bought into European areas since September 1940. Indians had acquired 326 sites, but only 54 were occupied by Indians. Nevertheless, this represented an increase in Indian penetration of European areas.

“The [second Broome Commission] report cleared the way for the government to introduce the Asiatic Trading and Occupation of Land (Natal and Transvaal) Bill, commonly known as the Pegging Bill, and when it became law, the Pegging Act.” (Pahad)

[Pegging: preventing free buying and selling of land; Indians would be locked into land they already occupied. The Indian population was growing and their areas were over-crowded.]

H.G. Lawrence, The Minister of the Interior, “made a minatory statement in the Senate ... that the Government had every intention of intervening in a position that appeared to be getting out of hand, ... such legislation would ... ‘peg’ the position of land ownership and occupation to prevent the escalation of ‘penetration’ and would be retrospective from 22 March 1943.” (Bagwandeen, 57)

“7 April, 1943The Draft Bill for the Trading and Occupation of Land (Transvaal and Natal) ("Pegging Bill") is presented. This Bill places restrictions on trading and occupation of land by Asiatics in Transvaal and restrictions on acquisition and occupation of land in Natal. The following measures [to be] taken while [the] Bill is debated in Parliament.
“i) The Interim Act, Asiatic (Transvaal Land and Trading) Act 28/1939, amended
in Act 28/1941 and extended to 1943, renewed for further period of three years toÂ31 March 1946.
“ii) In Durban the position is to be pegged. No Indian is permitted to occupy orÂacquire property occupied or owned by aEuropean before 22 March 1943.Europeans prohibited from acquiring property owned by Indians. Provisions to continue until 31 March 1946.” (SAHO)

According to P.S. Joshi, The Interim Act placed Natal “on the same footing as the Transvaal so far as “pegging”was con-cerned.” (Struggle for Equality, 99)

On the same day, “Tuesday, 7 April, 1943, the NIC convened a mass meeting of Indians ... at the Avalon Theatre to protest against the proposed legislation.”(Bagwandeen, 87)

“... the radicals organised a mass meeting in Durban on 18 April, under the auspices of twenty-five Durban organisations, seventeen of which were trade unions. All the speakers vehemently condemned the Bill and the crowd of 5,000 adopted two
resolutions. One "affirmed the Indians'" intense opposition to the Bill and the other called for unity in order to organise "a militant mass struggle", and for the recall of the High Commissioner of India if the Bill became law. (Pahad)

The Asiatic Trading and Occupation of Land (Natal and Transvaal) Act (the Pegging Act) went to Senate on 22 April 1943

A mass protest meeting was ... organised by the NIA on 25 April, at which S. Rustomjee tore up a copy of the Atlantic Charter, because,he claimed, Smuts flouted it with impunity. (Pahad)

The Asiatic Trading and Occupation of Land (Natal and Transvaal) Act (the Pegging Act) became law in May 1943.

Natal Indians Unite

Conflicts between the NIA, the Nationalist Bloc, and the NIC had weakened the Indian struggle. Indian Agents-General had
appealed to the NIA and NIC to unite ever since the breakaway in 1932 of the Colonial Born and Settler Indian Association (CBSIA) [which became the NIA in 1939].

It took the Pegging Act to finally unite the NIA and the NIC. In July 1943, “A.I. Kajee and P.R. Pather met informally ... to terminate the rift between the NIC and the NIA.” (Bagwandeen, 99)

“On 29 August [1943], the NIC was formally constituted at a mass meeting in Durban. A few of the radicals, such as George Singh, D.A. Seedat, George Ponnen, M.D. Naidoo, Billy Peters and Dr. G.M. Naicker, were elected onto the committee. For the first time since 1933, there was one body representing the Indians in Natal.” (Pahad)

4. P. R. Pather and the Pegging Act

On 9 July 1943, P.R. Pather was the first person to be arrested and charged under the Pegging Act for having bought a white-owned property at 232 Moore Road, Durban.Â

PR had been a prominent member of the CBSIA and then the NIA and had served on the Joint Committee of the Lawrence Commission.

According to Riashnee Pather, “Mrs Pather had purchased the property from the Dutch Reformed Church on 17 December 1942. By 13 March 1943, PR had paid enough to have full responsibility for the property and a relative occupied a section of the house ... On 16 April 1943 the house was paid for in full and PR and his family moved in.” (Riashnee Pather, Master’s Thesis)

The Pegging Act became law in May 1943. When Mrs Pather bought the property in December 1942, it was by no means unlawful as there was no Pegging Act then.

On 29 October 1943, PR appeared before Mr. H. Barrett,the Chief Magistrate of Durban.Sentencing was postponed to November so as to allow PR to apply for a residential permit. His application was turned down and he was given until 7 February 1944 to vacate his premises in Moore Road. He refused to leave, was ordered to pay five pounds or spend seven days in prison.’ “PR refused to pay the fine and was prepared to go to prison.

"As PR was getting ready to be escorted to prison, the clerk informed him that someone had paid the fine. Who bailed PR out in 1944 remains unresolved up until today.” (SAHO)

After the fine had been paid PR still refused to vacate his home in Moore Road.

He was arrested and ordered to pay a fine of twenty pounds or spend a month in prison. The sentence included a two months suspended sentence if he vacated the property by 30 June 1944.” (Riashnee Pather, Master’s Thesis)

Again he refused to pay; again someone anonymously paid for him.

He regarded these payments as a betrayal. He was standing up on principle; payment undermined his position.

OnTuesday, 18 April 1944, he joined a deputation to the Prime Minister.

The Pretoria Agreement

General Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa was due to attend a Commonwealth Conference in London. ‘The Pegging Act ... was proving to be an acute embarrassment to him.” He was keen to avoid criticism especially from India at the Commonwealth Conference.
He invited deputations from the Natal Provincial Administration (NPA) and NIC to discuss the issue with him.

On Tuesday 18 April 1944, (two days before his departure for London), he and Senator Clarkson (Minister of the Interior), met the two deputations at his office in Pretoria..
The NIC deputation: A.I.Kajee, P.R. Pather, S.R. Naidoo, A.B. Moosa, T.N. Bhoola, Mohamed Ebrahim and S.H. Paruk
The NPA deputation: Senator D.G. Shepstone, D.E. Mitchell and G. Heaton-Nicholls (Administrator of Natal), at his office in Pretoria. (Bagwandeen, 111)

According to Bagwandeen, The NIC deputation submitted a memorandum based on a memorandum previously submitted to the Prime Minister which distinguished between

  1. ownership and occupation [of land] for trade, commercial and investment purposes,
  2. ownership and occupation [of land] for residential purposes.

The memorandum also proposed that “machinery” be set up “to control and regulate future juxtapositional residential occupation of Europeans and Indians.” (112)

The NIC deputation agreed that:

  1. A Board composed of two Europeans, two Indians, with a European chairman ... which would have jurisdiction over all dwellings in Durban be established.
  2. Licences to be issued by the Board to persons of a particular race group for the occupation of premises previously occupied by persons of another race group.
  3. The Pegging ActÂbe repealed once these measures were initiated.

This was the Pretoria Agreement.

“The Agreement was ... attacked from all directions and AI Kajee in particular, as the leading promoter of the Agreement, was the main target of all the criticisms.” (Riashnee Pather, Master’s Thesis)

“According to I.C. Meer it [The Agreement] suggested that Indians would accept residential segregation as along as their trading areas were not affected. Meer adds that to Smuts this was a big concession since his friend, Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India, was bringing an increasing amount of pressure to bear on him. (Pahad)

“Dadoo accused them [the NIC delegation to Smuts] of bartering away the right of the Indian people for "temporary gain in
investment for an inconsiderable but wealthy class". He added that Smuts, who had previously poured "venomous scorn" on these leaders, now entertained them, because his government was criticised for the Pegging Act in India, Britain and the United States, and that, because of the [Pretoria] Agreement, Smuts was "able to show his face with equanimity in the Councils of the Empire and United Nations".” (Ibid)

“The first organisation to protest against the [Pretoria] Agreement was the Durban district branch of the SACP. It held a protest meeting in Durban on 25 April 1944 at which several speakers condemned the Agreement as a "shameful betrayal". In addition to the holding of protest meetings, the Durban branch also circulated a petition, which in a short time attracted thousands of signatures. On the numerous meetings held outside factory gates, the Guardian reported: "Everywhere the workers have unanimously rejected the Board and expressed their determination to fight segregation in all its aspects, voluntary or otherwise, and to struggle for the franchise". (Ibid)

At the same time, 14 members of the NIC Committee issued a statement denouncing the Agreement and called for a mass meeting to decide on the issue.” (Ibid)

“... the radicals marshalled their forces ... on 28 April [1944], they decided to form the Anti-Segregation Council (ASC) ... to oppose the [Pretoria] agreement; to achieve the repeal of the Pegging Act; and to obtain full franchise rights for the Indian people ... the ASC was to lead the fight against the Agreement and to dominate the Indian political arena in Natal.” (Ibid)

“Sixty-seven delegates, representing various trade unions literary, religious and educational bodies and some branches of the NIC, attended the first conference of the ASC in May [1944]” (Pahad) where the Pretoria Agreement was condemned.

“... on 14 May [1944] ... 10,000 crowded Red Square, Durban, at a rally organised by the communist party, and once again the Agreement was passionately rejected.”

“Both the ASC and the Durban district branch of the SACP articulated, in a forthright and aggressive manner, the opposition of a large segment of the Indian population.” (Pahad)