Even though the South African Indian Congress was committed to a racially defined political strategy, it sent a delegation to the Non-European Conference, held in Kimberley on 23 June 1927. It refrained, however, from voting on a resolution calling for co-operation among all black organisations on local and national questions. The following document consists of the report submitted. V. Lawrence, Ahmed Mahomed, A. Ismail and T. V. Rajagopal Pillay. It is dated 19 August 1927. Source: Pachai Collection.
It is within your knowledge that at a meeting of the executive, in the month of June last, your deputy president, your general secretary and myself were appointed to attend the Non-European Conference, which was opened 23rd day of June 1927 at Kimberley, together with such representatives of the constituent bodies as were to be elected by them, not exceeding three, as representing the South African Indian Congress. Unfortunately your deputy president and your general secretary were, owing to circumstances over which they had no control, unable to attend the conference.
Having left Durban on the evening of the 21st June 1927 according to arrangement, I was not in time to attend the morning sitting. I was given to understand that owing to the inability of a few important delegates to be present at the appointed time, the formal opening of the conference had been put off till 2.30 in the afternoon that day. I was met at the station by Mr. Ahmed Mahomed and two other friends and taken to Mr. Mahomed's residence where the representatives of the Cape Province awaited me. As it was a few minutes past one and as there was not much time between then and the time fixed for the sitting of the conference, I lost no time in getting our representatives together and explaining to them what was the mandate given to us by the executive and what our attitude should be at the conference, and come to a decision, as I deemed it advisable to take this precaution in view of the decision that the Cape representatives were prepared to take a full and active participation in that conference. The position having been fully understood, delegates were agreed upon acting within the four corners of the resolution passed by you. There was, however, one discordant note. Notwithstanding the limitation placed by you in regard to the representation of the provincial bodies, the Cape insisted upon fourteen of their delegates attending the conference, thus clearly showing the intensity of the feeling and the desire to identify themselves wholly and truly with the movement that was then on foot. This is not at all surprising, considering our countrymen's close association with the other sections of the non-European community and rights of citizenship they enjoy in that province. So then I had no other alternative but to associate myself with this large number of delegates from the Cape Province. I must say that one and all of them expressed their keen disappointment and strong resentment at the absence of the deputy president and the general secretary and of Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee, who they were advised was attending the conference as representative of the Natal Province.
By the time we reached the City Hall, the conference had already started and we having presented our credentials took the seats allotted to us. The convener,Dr. A. Abdurahman M.P.C., who presided, extended a hearty welcome to us and it was very cordially received by all the other delegates, who numbered over a hundred, representing all kinds of organisations among the Coloured and Native peoples of the Union. The first resolution, 'That this conference representing the non-European organisations and communities the four provinces and in South West Africa assembled in the City Hall, Kimberley, on Thursday June 23rd 1927, resolves that the interests of South Africans as a whole can best be served by (a) closer co-operation among the non-European section of the population and (b) co-operation between non-Europeans and Europeans', was proposed by Mr. Sol T. Plaatje and seconded by Mr. Isaac P. Joshua and supported by Professor D.T. Jabavu M.A. and Mr. Alexander Jabavu, editor of lmvo, Bishop Alexander of the African Orthodox church, Dr. Rubusana ex-M.P.C., and Mr. W. Walthew of Pietermaritzburg. I was called upon by the chairman to speak in support of this resolution after the Jabavu brothers. This was of such a non-committal character and one which entirely corresponded with our own constitution, that I could not in all conscience refuse to subscribe to it. But while giving it our whole-hearted support, I made our position and our presence at that conference quite clear to everyone present. After this resolution was unanimously passed, the conference adjourned till 10 o'clock the next morning and the Subjects committee upon which Mr. A. Ismail, the secretary of the Cape British Indian Council and one of your executive, and myself were elected, went into business straight off, in the Indian Association Hall where the following resolution, ‘That in order to give practical effect to the foregoing resolution, conference urges all non-European organisations and recognised communities to as far as possible co-operate with one another in their respective districts in all local and national questions', was then discussed and passed, the Indians delegates only refrained from voting. It was at this stage intimated that in the morning of that day, the Subjects committee had already drafted certain resolutions dealing with the Coloured People's Rights Bill, the four Native Bills and other grievances chiefly affecting the Natives. Here, I again had to re-state our attitude, in view of the Indo-Union Agreement that had been come to between the Governments of the Union and of India, and of the appointment and advent of the Right Hon. V. S. Srinivasa Sastri P.C. as the first Agent of the Government of India to this Union. Mr. A. Ismail backed me up in this attitude. This was strongly supported by Prof. Jabavu and his brother Mr. Alex Jabavu, which resulted in the following resolution being unanimously passed, 'That the Indian delegates be now relieved from the necessity of voting on any future solutions, inasmuch as they have no authority to commit their community without previous consultation.'
There were 12 other resolutions passed, among which the following are of interest to our community, namely:
That this conference records its thanks to the Government for having brought about an amicable arrangement with the Indian Government, which it is earnestly hoped will ultimately bring about a permanent and peaceful settlement of what is known as the Asiatic question in South Africa.
That this conference extends a cordial welcome to the Right Hon. Srinivasa Sastri on his arrival in South Africa and as a representative of excellent achievement by non-Europeans in culture and civilization.
Resolutions relative to segregation, civilized labour, Colour Bar Act, and education, formed part of the twelve above referred to.
On the first day in the evening, the deputy mayor officially welcomed delegates and formally opened the conference, and on the second day Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee was an interested spectator and true to his previously expressed opinion took no part whatsoever.
The conference lasted for three days.On the last day donations were solicited for the printing of the minutes and proceedings and on behalf of the Indian community Mr. Ahmed Mahomed of Kimberley spontaneously promised £15 out of the £60 odd pounds, required for that purpose. This created tremendous impression upon all the Coloured and Native delegates. On the Monday following, the delegates were invited by the De Beers Company in the morning to visit the pulsator, which was a wonderful sight, and in the afternoon to Alexanderfontein for a tea party, where a very enjoyable time was spent.
The conference in my opinion was a unique one and a thorough success. Our participation, small though it was, was very highly appreciated by the non-Indian delegates. The utmost goodwill and harmony prevailed throughout. It was decided to hold the next conference in Durban in June next and Prof. Abdurahman and Prof. Jabavu were elected joint conveners [and] were instructed to send at an early date a draft constitution to the organisations which were represented at the conference, with a view to same being discussed by their respective institutions and returned to the conveners with any alterations or additions which they might consider necessary so that the constitution could be circularized before the next conference.
I cannot conclude this report without recording my gratitude and those of the other delegates who were accommodated and right royally treated by Mr. Ahmed Mahomed, for whom I recommend a letter of thanks be sent this executive for the hospitality he showered upon us. My thanks are also due to Mr. P. Dawson for his help and hospitality.