Introduction

The energies of South African Indians, mobilised in the 1890s against growing anti-Indianism in various parts of South Africa, were channelled into a concerted movement which aimed at eradicating the various disabilities from which Indians of all castes, classes and creeds suffered. The documents show the dramatic way in which satyagrahacampaign unfolded from 1906 to 1914.

Gandhi, the man at the centre of the movement, explained satyagrahaas 'soul force, pure and simple', a weapon for those in search of truth. The defiant spirit of the Empire Theatre mass meeting reflected the commitment of the Indians, who took Gandhi's message to heart. However, they were quick to learn the complexity of the man and his message. The 1908 compromise was interpreted by one person as a betrayal of the original commitment, and he almost killed Gandhi. The agonies of doubt and failure, and indeed the sense of achievement, are captured in the documents, which speak of the progress of the campaign from the time it was resumed in June 1908 until its final conclusion in 1914.

Although Gandhi labelled the 1914 Smuts-Gandhi Agreement as a 'Magna Charta', he recognised that it provided no more than a 'breathing space' from which greater freedom had to flow. Albert Christopher observed perceptively that the Indian question had to be resolved by the South African-born Indian, in whom would be found ‘material worthy of a part in the structure of South Africa'.

So much was clear. However, an era indelibly linked with the name of one man had ended. The new era had of necessity to plot its politics, draw up its programmes, establish its priorities and enunciate its philosophies minus the presence, the pen, and the mind of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

A Documentary History of South african Indians