The agitation by anti-Asiatic vigilante groups grew strong after 1902. Indian traders in outlying Transvaal towns were singled out for the criticism of unfair competition largely by white traders, who felt particularly threatened. The next document is a memorial by Abdool Rehman, secretary of the Potchefstroom Indian Association, addressed to the High Commissioner, Lord Selborne, in October 1905. Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol.5, pp. 96-8.
Did we not know that what has been called the Anti-Asiatic Vigilance Society, is to make representations to Your Excellency with reference to the British Indians, so far as regards Potchefstroom, we would not have given any trouble whatsoever to Your Excellency, especially as we are aware that Your Excellency is to meet very shortly a deputation of the British Indian Association at Johannesburg.
Mr. Loveday it was who stated that Potchefstroom was being inundated with indentured Indians from Natal. To this we beg to give an emphatic contradiction. Some of us know the Natal laws, and we know that [it] is next to impossible for an indentured Indian to escape. In any case not a single instance has been brought forward to prove the statement above referred to.
The mayor of Johannesburg made another statement when he was here. He is reported to have said that, whereas there were nineteen licences issued to Asiatics before the war, now there were ninety-six traders' licences and thirty-seven hawkers' licences. This statement, so far as traders are concerned, is not true. We supplied before the war a list of British Indian traders in the town of Potchefstroom to the British Agent, and there were twenty-two British Indian stores in the town of Potchefstroom, as distinguished from this district. We have a true copy of the list that was sent to the British Agent, and we are today in a position, not only to give the names, but also to locate each of the storekeepers. Seeing that Mr. Goch mentions ninety-six traders' licence in connection with the nineteen before the war, we take it that he refers to ninety-six traders' licences for the town of Potchefstroom. If so, this is grossly untrue. There are only twenty-four British Indian stores in this town at that present day. We state this with a full sense of responsibility and knowledge and we challenge our detractors to prove the contrary.
A third statement that has been made against us in Potchefstroom is with reference to the so-called insanitary condition of our dwellings and shops. These, indeed, speak for themselves, but when the charge was made, we took the opportunity of showing our places to the district surgeon of Potchefstroom, and the following is the report that the gave:
In going through the various premises, I am pleased to say I was greatly impressed with the general condition of each place I visited, both internally as well as externally. Taking all things into consideration, the backyards are all perfectly clean and sanitary. I saw no accumulation of rubbish, this I understand being carried away daily by the contractor. The bucket system is enforced as in other parts of the town, which is also attended to by the Sanitary Department, and I can find no fault from what I saw. There appears to me to be no overcrowding as regards sleeping accommodation. At the back of each business premises, in addition, I noticed a kind of mess room capable of seating about five to eight persons, and each has its own kitchen; these are also well kept.
We mention these things to show under what disadvantages we have to labour, and what misrepresentations are made against us. We have no hesitation in saying that the whole of the anti-Asiatic agitation is due to trade jealousy. Nothing can be further from our wish than to enter into an unfair competition with the white storekeepers.
Much has been said against our mode of life. We are proud to think that we are sober and simple in our habits, and if thereby we have an advantage over the rival white traders, we hardly think that it should be brought up against us in order to traduce and degrade us. It is totally forgotten, in this connection, by those who denounce us, that the white traders have other advantages which we cannot dream of having, namely their European connection, their knowledge of the English language, and their better organising powers. Moreover, we are able to carry on our trade only because of the goodwill of the poor whites, and curability to please the poorest class of customers; also, we have the support of wholesale European houses. It has been said that our competition resulted in many European shops being closed. We deny this. In the first instance, some of the shops that have been closed were not shops with which we could possibly enter into competition, for instance hairdressers and others. Some general goods stores have undoubtedly closed, but to connect their closing with Asiatic competition would be [as] unfair as to connect the closing of several Asiatic shops with European competition in this town. There is trade depression all over South Africa, and it has only resulted in getting rid of overtrading that was indulged in soon after, the war, based, as it was, on high expectations which have never been fulfilled.
May we also, in this connection, state that much of the agitation against us is kept up not by bona-fide British subjects but by aliens who can have very little indeed to complain of against us. The policy adopted to drive us out of the township is a policy of irritation and insults which, though petty in themselves, are galling enough to be very much felt by us.
Without the slightest occasion, we are now served at special counters in the Post Office. We are debarred from having a breath of fresh air in a park which is called a 'public' park, and which is kept up from rates which we are called upon to pay in common with other citizens. We mention these instances to draw Your Excellency's attention to the awkward position in which we are placed without any fault of ours. No opportunity is missed of degrading us and humiliating us. We do not wish to burden Your Excellency with such other instances. We have a right, we submit, to expect the British Government to protect us from such humiliation, and insure for us that freedom to which, as loyal British subjects, we are entitled wherever the Union Jack flies.
We beg to thank Your Excellency for giving us a patient hearing, and in conclusion hope that, as a result of Your Excellency's visit to this township, there will be amelioration in our condition.