From the book: A Documentary History of Indian South Africans edited by Surendra Bhana and Bridglal Pachai

Indian Opinionreflected on the way in which the 1903 Immigration Restriction Act operated under Harry Smith, the Immigration Restriction Officer. In all 6,763 would-be immigrants were denied entry into Natal during the first year the Act was administered; of these nearly 50 per cent were British Indians, while 1,869 Indians were admitted; and 269 certificates of domicile belonging to persons already in the Colony were confiscated. Source: Indian Opinion, 10 March 1904.

We give in another column the main points of the interesting, exhaustive, and able report drawn by Mr. Smith and presented to the Honourable the Colonial Secretary.

Before proceeding to examine the different points, we venture to draw Mr. Smith's attention to what appears to us to be the one fault in his otherwise unexceptionable summary of the year's work in restricting immigration into the Colony. Mr. Smith has a vigorous style of writing, but, with all deference, it is hardly becoming in an official report to adopt a theatrical or newspaper style. Speaking of the complaints of delay on the part of passengers at the time of examination, he says:

Facts are of little account to the man with a grievance associated with the landing basket and a sixty minutes' wait in a tug at the anchorage in fresh weather. The circumstance that the officer in question may have finished his work and be himself anxiously waiting to get ashore is unknown to him. He has heard someone (probably a returned colonist) speak disparagingly of the Department, and he takes up the tune with facility. Full of uncharitable feelings, he hurries to his hotel to write and despatch to the press a commentary on the shortcomings of the Department, and to exercise his altruistic instincts in the framing of impracticable suggestions for the amelioration of the lot of future passengers.

Take, again, the following:

I have already shown the futility of expecting any relief from passenger who 'know the ropes'.

The report is interspersed with such racy paragraphs which no doubt make interesting reading, but, in our opinion, are out of place in a matter-of-fact document, such as official reports should be. Moreover, the style adopted betrays irritation on the part of Mr. Smith, who is otherwise not easily upset and who is universally courteous to those who have any dealings with his office. We think that the public has a perfect right to make complaints. Sometimes the complaints are unreasonable, often expressed in forcible language, and occasionally exaggerated. Unfortunately, that is a state of things that cannot be corrected and, on the principle that 'what cannot be cured should be endured', officers who have to perform unpleasant duties are expected to tolerate such things from the public and not ridicule them. We do not at all mean to convey that Mr. Smith should not have attempted a reply to the complaint. Our objection is to the manner in which it is done.

Coming to the report itself, Mr. Smith, in his opening paragraph, takes pardonable pride in the fact that the original Immigration Restriction Act 1897 'has been repealed and been substituted by the new and more comprehensive measure on the lines which I (he) had the honour of suggesting'. To us, it is not easy to see why there should be any occasion for glory in the fact. To refuse entrance to men who may come to the Colony for the purpose of earning a livelihood, and whose only fault is probably their poverty or their skin, could at no time be a pleasant duty, and it must be particularly painful to a man of Mr. Smith's generous temperament. We find in his report that he succeeded in shutting out 6,763 would-be immigrants, of whom 3,244 were British Indians, including 24 females and 37 children. Of course, the Immigration Act being the law of the Colony, and Mr. Smith being the officer entrusted with the work of enforcing it, he could not but turn away the men who did not fulfil the test applied under the Act, but it shews how harsh the law itself is and with what terrible effect it is telling on the British Indians, for it should be remembered that these men had undergone a long voyage, and had probably invested all they had in taking out a passage for Natal, thinking that they would not be prohibited from landing in a British Colony. In spite of the Act, which has hardly reached the ears of the millions of India, the people there cannot assimilate the doctrine that there could be differences in the nature of their rights as citizens of the Empire under the same flag in different parts of it.

The immigrants admitted after examination were 1,869 Indians, including 195 females and 499 children, 21 Chinese, 1 Egyptian, 38 Greeks, 8 Singalese, 1 Syrian and 8 Turks. Of the Indians admitted, 158 passed the educational test. This is less than one-tenth of the total admitted. It may be here remarked that the new Act has only just come into operation, and the next report from Mr. Smith will, we very much fear, show us a considerable decrease in the number of those who would have passed the educational test.

Mr. Smith gives the interesting information that during the twelve months some 269 certificates (of domicile) were confiscated, and the men who produced them sent about their business.

Seeing that thousands of such certificates are now in vogue, the number of certificates improperly used is remarkably small. All the same it shows that the Legislature in its wisdom has put a temptation in the way of the public to evade the law. That is the history of all restrictive legislation throughout the world, and it is especially so when it is restriction of personal freedom and personal movements.

The report would have been more complete if Mr. Smith had included in his summary the grounds on which intending immigrants have been debarred from entering the Colony. Another thing also seems to have been omitted from the report, namely that British Indians who entered the Colony after 1897 after having passed the examination under the Department are being turned out of the Colony although they may have settled. While we may not say much against a ruthless carrying out of the law so far as new immigrants are concerned, we do feel that the Department will be going a little too far in attempting to drive away men who are already established in the Colony. It is hardly fair to hound decent people out of the Colony as if they were criminals, especially when it is known that the very Department which allowed them to enter the Colony is driving them away. We would not go into the question of how and why they succeeded in establishing themselves after 1897. Although they did not fully satisfy the requirements of the law, the fact stands that they have not stolen into the country, but that they entered after having been properly examined by the officers engaged to do the work under Mr. Smith. We, therefore, trust that Mr. Smith would be pleased to stay his hand so far as the British Indian residents of the Colony are concerned, no matter whether they were in the Colony before 1897 or not.