Passive resister, political prisoner, President of the Natal Indian Congress, Vice President of the Transvaal Indian Congress and member of Council of the South African Indian Congress.
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.
He requested 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 The charges were withdrawn later.
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.”
Rustomjee was prominent in Indian politics after the end of the Satyagraha (passive resitance). He was elected a member of the council of the South African Indian Congress at its inaugural session in 1923, and President of Natal Indian Congress in 1928. He later moved to the Transvaal and was elected Vice-President of the Transvaal Indian Congress in the 1940s. He served a term in prison during the Indian passive resistance in 1946 and was a member of a delegation that went to New York in November 1946 to lobby at the United Nations for action against South African racism and to advise the South African Indian delegation. After his return from New York, his wife Khurshed and their daughter Dhan went to prison.
Rustomjee and his daughter, Themi, visited Gandhi on 30 January 1948, the day of his assassination.
Sorabji Rustomjee passed away in Durban on 22 February 1960.
• Gerhart G.M and Karis T. (ed)(1977). From Protest to challenge: A documentary History of African Politics in South Africa: 1882-1964, Vol.4 Political Profiles 1882 ”“ 1964. Hoover Institution Pres: Stanford University.
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