The South African Indian Congress was formed in 1923 to fight the 'principle of segregation' embodied in the Class Areas Bill. The first move to form a national political body, however, had occurred in February 1919. Parts of the first annual report of the S.A.I.C., dated 21 April 1924, are reproduced below. The general secretary, V. S. C. Pather, compiled the report. Source: Pachai Collection.
It is with sincere pleasure that I beg to submit my report of the working of the South African Indian Congress since its inception for your information and favourable consideration.
Before doing so, I may be pardoned if I refer here briefly about the two previous conferences.
In February 1919, some of the leaders of the Cape Indian community convened a conference at Cape Town, with a view to forming one central body for the whole Union, and this was attended by prominent Indians from Natal, Transvaal, and the Cape. The lack of any definite mandate from the communities of the said provinces did not tend to the formation of such a body. Beyond those passing certain resolutions relative to the grievances our community suffers in those provinces and forwarding them to the authorities concerned, this conference did nothing further. It must, however, be conceded that it served its purpose in a way, as it was the means of giving an impetus to other conferences being held, as would be seen by the subsequent events.
In August of the same year, the Transvaal British Indian Association in Johannesburg called a second conference for a similar purpose. Duly accredited representatives from the three provinces met and various resolutions dealing with our grievances and praying for redress thereof were passed and sent to the proper quarters. A provisional constitution for the creation of a South African Indian Congress was after a few days' sitting framed, but for some inexplicable reason it did not see the light of day.
Last year the Natal Indian Congress, in accordance with the undertaking given by the Natal delegates at the conference held in Johannesburg, convened what came to be recognised as the third session of the South African Indian Congress.
OPENING OF THE THIRD CONFERENCE
The delegates of the Cape, Transvaal and Natal having previously met at the Parsee Rustomjee Hall, Queen Street, Durban, and arranged the preliminaries, on the 31st day of May 1923 the opening of the third conference of the South African Indians took place in the Durban Town Hall under the chairmanship of the mayor, Councillor Walter Gilbert J.P., who in declaring it open said that though he could not see eye to eye with the Indian community in their claim for equal rights with the European community, yet they as citizens of the British Empire were, he maintained, entitled to be dealt with justly and fairly. He was amazed at the immense gathering – for an immense gathering it was ”” the capacious hall and the two galleries, the platform and the side galleries were filled to overflowing. Hundreds of our countrymen and women who had come from afar had to be turned away for want of room.
The president-elect, Mr. Omar Hajee Amod Jhaveri, was formally elected on the proposal of Mr. V. A. Pillay of Port Elizabeth delegation, which was seconded by Mr. P. K. Naidoo of Johannesburg delegation. After the presidential speech had been read and a vote of thanks by Mr. Albert Christopher and a vote of thanks to the mayor for presiding had been moved and seconded by Messrs J. W. Godfrey and Bernard Gabriel respectively, the conference adjourned till the following morning on the motion of Mr. V. Lawrence.
This conference was without question a huge success both from a spectacular and communal point of view, reflecting as it did great credit to the sagacity and energy of the Natal Indian Congress, which were the convening body and reception committee.
FORMATION OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN INDIAN CONGRESS
The opening having taken place in the town hall the previous night, the adjourned conference held its sittings on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th June 1923 in the Parsee Rustomjee Hall for the more serious and important work of building up a constitution for a central and parent body and for the deliberation of the standing orders for such, a body and of the various resolutions relative to our grievances.
The several provisions of the constitution were carefully gone into and adopted after the necessary amendments and the resolutions [were] hotly debated and passed without a dissentient voice.
The standing orders were on the proposition of Mr. Rahim adopted formally, subjected to same not being put into operation at that conference and any revision thereof to be brought forward at the next conference.
The Cape British Indian Council, the Transvaal British Indian Association and the Natal Indian Congress affiliated themselves to the newly formed South African Indian Congress and thus became the foundation members thereof with equal representation at the periodical conferences in the number of delegates, but their financial contributions to the parent body, whether by way of subscription or levy, was agreed upon to be two-fifths for the Transvaal and Natal and one-fifth for the Cape.
One provision has been made for the admission and representation of organisations in territories not mentioned above on such terms and conditions as the conference may decide.
ELECTION OF OFFICIALS
The delegates attending the conference prior to the opening thereof elected Mr. Omar Hajee Amod Jhaveri as president, and in terms of the constitution, the presidents of the constituent bodies became vice-presidents.
Mr. S. Emmamally was elected as hon. treasurer and myself [V.S. C. Pather] as hon. general secretary.
Messrs. Joseph Royeppen, N. A. Camay, P. K. Naidoo representing the Transvaal British Indian Association; Messrs. A. Ismail, V. A. Pillay, and S. S. Cassoojee representing the Cape British Indian Council, and Messrs. A. Christopher, Sorabjee Rustomjee and S. R. Naidoo representing the Natal Indian Congress, were elected provisionally as councillors subject to approval by their respective organisations....
CLASS AREAS BILL
The Union Government on the pressure of the anti-Asiatics embodied their segregation policy in the above Bill for the degradation and humiliation of our community. It aimed at a slow process of annihilation of our people. We presented to the Minister an elaborate statement dealing extensively with the defects in the Bill and emphatically, unequivocally, vigorously and totally objected to the principle of segregation contained in the Bill. A deputation comprising the representatives of the three provinces waited upon the Minister of the Interior in February last. Dr. Abdurahman, M.P.C. of the Cape Province, introduced the deputation with a spirited speech. The Minister gave the deputation a sympathetic hearing and denied that it was intended to degrade, ruin or oppress the Indians; on the contrary to provide them [with] separate [areas] where they can reasonably live and trade according to their best ideas and develop according to their own lines and civilisation.
Mrs. Sarojini Naidu interviewed the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior, the leaders of the Opposition and other prominent members of Parliament this month on this Bill and presented our case to them, and was present in Parliament while the Bill was being discussed there. The result of the Bill you all know. Owing to the dissolution of Parliament, the details of all these are [so] well known to you that I need not recapitulate [them] here”¦.