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

A mass meeting was held in Johannesburg on 24 June to discuss the 'breach' by the Transvaal Government of ‘the spirit of the compromise' of 30 June 1908. The meeting was held under auspices of the British Indian Association. In the following, document Gandhi explains the breach. Source: Indian Opinion, 4 July 1908.

The receipt of so many telegrams shows the unanimity with which the object of this meeting has been received, but though I have read these telegrams to you, it is due to this meeting, due to the executive of the British Indian Association, and due to the Transvaal public to state also that there is, at this meeting, electricity in the air, and these telegrams by no means demonstrate the whole truth. The whole truth is that there is, even in this meeting, a number of Indians who are seething with discontent over what the leaders have done, and over what especially I myself have done, in connection with the compromise. There is a number of Indians in this meeting who believe, as the chairman has stated in his speech, that the whole Indian community has sold for selfish purposes. The chairman has repudiated the charge, and so do I, but I do not blame my countrymen who bring that charge against me especially.

Some of my countrymen tell me and, perhaps, with some justification, that I did not take them into confidence, when I approached General Smuts on the strength of the letter that was placed before me in the gaol-yard, and I believe that I myself should voice their complaints. I believe that, in seeing General Smuts as I saw him, I acted correctly and in accordance with my conscience but time has shown that they were right, time has shown also that I need not have gone to General Smuts as I did. What I did was simply and solely to accept voluntary registration that was placed that before him for over a year by the whole Indian community. I felt that I was yielding nothing, not a single new principle, not a single concession, in accepting this voluntary compromise. I believed that I had full instructions from my countrymen to do so, but I believed too much. I did not know what was to come after. I did not know that there was to be repudiation of the emphatic promise that was made in connection with the repeal of the Act. I know now that the compromise is not to be respected by the Government.

General Smuts says that he never made any promise of repeal, but there are documents, which the world will see, which will show, at least, that there was a talk and a conversation with reference to the repeal of the Act. There are witnesses also in connection with it, but as the chairman has rightly said, that is left for the lawyers to decide. The Indian community only knows that the repeal of the Act was the object, and that was the object which was to be gained by undergoing voluntary registration, but today the Indian community finds that voluntary registration has not sufficed [for] the purpose. It finds also that it has become necessary to hold this mass meeting again, and it has become necessary again, perchance, if it is the will of God, to undergo the same measure of suffering, only far more bitterly.

If, therefore, you find there is electricity in the air, I do plead guilty. I am responsible for it, responsible because I had too great faith in the statesmanship of General Smuts, in his honesty, and in his integrity. If my countrymen today believe that I have sold them, they have good reason to believe so, although [there is] no justification for it, in my own estimation. They can only judge me by the results obtained. They cannot judge, the world is not today so constituted that it will judge, men by the motives they ascribe to themselves, but by the result of their actions; and they judge me by the result of my action, the result of having foisted the compromise on the whole of the Indian community, and I include also the Chinese community, because although there were two other gentlemen who signed the letter that was addressed to General Smuts, they did so fully believing in my own good faith, fully believing that what I was doing was what they were all working for, namely the repeal of the Act not only in word but in deed; not, indeed, to secure a revised edition of the Act, but to obliterate the Act and all its consequences, if the Indian community and the Chinese community voluntarily proved that they were capable of being trusted without any legal restraint. If they proved that the large majority of the Asiatics had entered the Transvaal with perfect right, and if they proved that the documents that they held were correct documents and were properly obtained by them, and were not fraudulent documents, then they undoubtedly believed that the Act would be repealed, that their position was to be much better than it would have been under the Asiatic Act. They believed also that they had fought for 16 months, not merely to secure a nominal repeal of the Act, but to secure recognition for themselves as human beings, to secure a voice in the management of their own affairs, to secure a voice in the legislation that may be passed so far as they are concerned; not a voting paper by any means ”” a voting paper for the Indians or the Asiatics may not be worth the paper on which the signature might be put ”” but they wanted a real voting paper, they wanted to be consulted before any legislation was passed.

And what did they find? They found that there was a Gold Law, they found that there was a Municipal Bill, both these Bills still further curtailing the rights of those having a right to remain in this country. Have they not every reason to believe that Gandhi has misled them? Have they not every reason to believe that they have no longer any business to suffer because Gandhi advises them to suffer?

I see before me a warrior, a military man, who was my fellow-prisoner. He tells me 'How shall I trust you? You have misled your countrymen, you have given 18 finger-impressions. I have not. I hold my medals, and that is my registration.'

Another of his fellow-religionists, or a fellow-Pathan, has assaulted me. He deserves every thanks for having assaulted me, because he believed that I was selling the community. He had no grudge against me, he was my client. He had a perfect right to do what he did, as I find now from the consequences that have been entailed on the whole of the Asiatic communities.

Gentlemen, those who are here and whose influence reaches far beyond the four corners of this building, go away from this meeting knowing full well what the consequence of General Smuts' act will be ”” General Smuts' act undertaken in the name of the white communities. I may understand, I may distinguish, but, just as my fellow-countrymen could not distinguish and they only had the remedy of assaulting me, another had the remedy of telling me that I had sold my countrymen; similarly it is not possible for them distinguish between one white man's word and another white man's word, especially when that word happens to be the word of almost the highest man in the state.

I state most emphatically and definitely that General Smuts did promise that he was going to repeal the Act, in the presence of the Registrar of Asiatics, if the Asiatic communities abided fully, frankly, and freely by the terms of the compromise, if the Asiatic communities enabled General Smuts to identify every Asiatic in the country, and if the Asiatic communities enable General Smuts to see to it that there was no Asiatic who could surreptitiously enter into the country and not be found out by his police. These terms Asiatic communities have fulfilled, and yet we find today, we meet this afternoon to find out, this Act is not to be repealed as it should be repealed, and that the promise of repeal is hedged in all sides by such restrictions as could never be accepted by any self-respecting man.

The passive resistance movement has been undertaken only to gain rights for the whole of the Asiatics who have a right to remain in this country and not for a chosen few, and if ”” there is one man, whom I can recall, who Ladysmith, who came to the country in 1885 and paid £25 to the Boer Government for remaining in this country, carried on a trade, and possesses European credentials ”” if he cannot enter this country,I, for one, do not wish to remain in this country, if my countrymen before that time do not remove this head which seems to have done grievous wrong to them.