The Asiatic Land Tenure (Amendment) Bill of 1930 threatened to impose segregation upon Indians in the Transvaal. Albert Christopher was alarmed by its implications. There is a trace of despair in his presidential address when he declared that discriminatory legislation would continue to be passed. His speech was given at emergency conference of the South African Indian Congress in Johannesburg on 5 October 1930. All except the last six paragraphs are reproduced below. Source: Pachai Collection.
The existence of our countrymen in the Transvaal is being threatened and we are met in this emergency conference to consider their position, particularly in relation to the Asiatic Land Tenure (Amendment) Bill, which will come before Parliament when it re-assembles in January next.
The Bill has come as a rude shock to our community in the Transvaal, for it takes away all elementary rights and perfects every restriction against them, and proposes to provide defined areas for their trade or residence or for both purposes. Our countrymen, according to the Bill, will be forced to live and trade and work in defined areas, except those who are protected by Act of 1919 and those who are menial servants. Whether our countryman is a professional man, a clerk, a book-keeper, a shop assistant, a skilled or semi skilled artisan or any kind of workman, unless he be a menial servant, he as an Indian will not be able to work anywhere outside a defined area, and in a defined area he as an Indian will have to work for other Indians. He can never hope, no matter what his qualification or training may be, to work outside a defined area for any European as he is an Indian, and as such his physical presence in any place outside a defined area is illegal.
What will he do when he is so segregated? How will he earn his living except by working for each other in a 'defined' area? His field of employment will be restricted and he will have a poor chance of earning a living. What will he, as a businessman, do? He will have no choice of site, no choice of customers and he will even be restricted in the choice of the nature of his business, and for the class of business he may choose will depend upon the kind of customers who may come into a defined area to buy from him. He will have these and other economic disadvantages to contend with, and he will also be subject to industrial laws of the country and also to other laws.
Where will they, I ask, give him a defined area? There is no place in the Transvaal where there is no restriction or impediment against Indians occupying or residing in such place. He cannot form a company to own fixed property and even a company formed to trade cannot own its fixed property. All rights the courts have found in his favour the Bill takes away. If he lives, trades or works, unless he is a menial, outside a defined area, he will be liable to be punished. Nowhere does the Bill better the condition of our countrymen. It is a Bill, which if it becomes law and is applied to our countrymen, will work their gradual degradation and in time their extinction as a self-respecting useful section of the Transvaal. There is much more in the Bill, which imposes fresh and new restrictions on our countrymen. The Bill with relevant matters will be placed before you and you will see how serious the position of countrymen is.
They are faced with segregation. To-day segregation stands self-condemned. Segregation when put into operation reduces the people affected by it to the condition of helotry. This happens the more quickly when such people are a disfranchised people as we happen to be in this country with no vote to influence in any way the local council or the legislature.
The Gandhi-Smuts settlement of 1914, which was looked upon by us then as a Magna Charta, was to give us a new life in this country, for in it we saw the promise of a gradual improvement in our lot in this country, as the Government promised sympathetic administration of the laws and the protection of vested interests; and we believed that there would be no more restrictive legislature against us.
Immigration, free and restricted, was stopped, and again we believed and hoped for much when General Smuts at the Imperial War Conference of 1917 said, ‘The fear which formerly obsessed the settlers there has been removed: the great principle of restricting immigration, for which they have contended, is on our statute-book with the consent of the Indian population in South Africa and the Indian authorities in India, and that being so, I think that the door is open now for a peaceful and statesmanlike solution of all the minor administrative troubles which occurred and will occur from time to time.' Again we were disappointed, for our troubles have never ceased.
Again, when the Cape Town Agreement was made by the Union and Indian Governments, we believed that there would be no more legislation restricting us and that gradually our position would improve and in course of time we would be given citizen rights, but we find that municipalities, provincial councils and parliament itself passing restrictive legislation against us. We accepted the Western standard of civilisation and we are endeavouring to do all we can to adopt Western standards of life, but on the other hand every discouragement is placed in our way by the powers that be, legislatively and administratively. Most of us who live in this country are South African born and with the passing away of those who came from India the Indian community in the years to come will be entirely South African born in character and outlook.
If segregation is forced on our people they will be reduced to a state of servitude. They might as well be dead. Our community will then have to consider once more passive resistance as a means to maintain our self-respect and our right to live as human beings in a civilised country.
I enjoin you to consider the Bill in all its aspects and come to a unanimous decision. In my own humble opinion the Bill is a violation of the Cape Town Agreement and is in conflict with the ideals that are set in it before us”¦.