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

A colonisation scheme was suggested for Indian South Africans by the second Round Table Conference, held at Cape Town in January and February 1932. The South African Indian Congress decided to participate in an enquiry into the possibility of Indians emigrating to a suitable country without in any way agreeing to support a colonisation scheme as a desirable solution to the South African Indian issue. Indeed, the S.A.I.C. rejected colonisation as a solution in a carefully worded statement which it submitted to the Colonisation Enquiry Committee on 9 January 1934. However, its decision to participate in the enquiry raised a storm among Indians. Below, Omar Hajee Amod Jhaveri defends the S.A.I.C. stand in a presidential address delivered at an emergency conference, held in Johannesburg on 19 and 20 August 1933. Source: Pachai Collection.

This emergency conference has been convened for the express purpose of removing any misconception, due to misunderstanding or want of further information, which apparently exists in the minds of a section of our people on the question of participation of the Congress in the preliminary enquiry which has been instituted by the Union Government on the subject of a colonisation scheme for Indians elsewhere than India and South Africa.

It will be remembered that when the matter was brought forward at the Round Table Conference at Cape Town in January-February 1932, the officials of the Congress, specially delegated to represent the case of the community to the Government of India delegation and to assist them with information in an advisory capacity, had lengthy and protracted discussions on the subject of a colonisation scheme with the Indian delegation. Your representatives made it quite clear that they were wholly opposed to any attempt to reduce the Indian population and did not admit that the Indian was undesirable in this country and should be got rid of. It was then pointed out by the Government of India delegation that there could not be any wrong in participating in an enquiry into the possibilities of Indians from India and South Africa emigrating to some suitable country so long as such co-operation on the part of the Congress was accepted by the Government in the spirit in which it was offered. In other words the Congress need not and did not give way on the matter of principle. They could allow such an enquiry to be made without opposing it; and could even co-operate, with patriotic motives, in an attempt to relieve the congestion in India caused by an increasing population suffering from poverty. At the same time, if such a country could be found whose climatic, political and economic conditions are suitable, South African Indians, if they so desire, might also participate in the scheme. The result was that a statement was drawn up on the 23rd January 1932, signed by all the Congress representatives and handed to the Government of India delegation. The statement was as follows:

1. The Congress agrees to co-operate with the Governments of India and the Union of South Africa in the former's mission to explore outlets for colonisation in regard to her increasing population, provided that such co-operation on the part of the Congress is taken as inspired by patriotic motives and to ascertain whether there exist any good opportunities for South African Indians in the countries explored, and not on the score of Indians being deemed undesirables in the Union or that the Indian population is to be reduced; provided also that the assisted emigration scheme which formed part of the last Agreement is eliminated and that the Congress will be free to oppose it as its policy.

2. The Congress also reserves the right to reject the Agreement and to withdraw its co-operation in the above scheme should any points in the Agreement or other subjects dealt with by the Round Table Conference not meet with the approval of the Congress.

In April 1932 the Union Government through the Secretary for the Interior wrote to the Congress with a request to appoint a representative in terms of the Cape Town Agreement but the Congress deferred its decision until a conference had been convened. The Congress assembled in conference at Johannesburg towards the end of August 1932, at which practically all the persons who signed the statement referred to were present as well as a full representation from all the provinces.

At the conference the subject of a colonisation enquiry was again fully discussed and the following resolution was unanimously passed:

The South African Indian Congress, in answer to the letter of the Secretary for the Interior dated 18th April 1932 and in accordance with the statement submitted to the Government of India delegation at the last Round Table Conference, agrees to co-operate with the Governments of India and the Union of South Africa in the former's mission to explore outlets for colonisation in regard to her increasing population, provided that such co-operation on the part of the Congress is taken as inspired by patriotic motives, and to ascertain whether there exist any good opportunities for South African Indians in the countries explored and not on the score of Indians being deemed as undesirables or that the Indian population is to be reduced.

It was then decided to leave the appointment of a member representing the Indian community on the colonisation enquiry in the hands of the Congress executive. This resolution was communicated to the Government of the Union in September 1932. Then followed a change of Government.

On the 15th June 1933 the Minister for the Interior in the new Government made a statement in the House of Assembly in which he stated that the Government had come to the conclusion that the investigation, in which the Government of India and the Union Government were to co-operate, would be considerably facilitated and expedited by a preliminary investigation of the ground to be covered and it felt that such a preliminary enquiry could as far as the Union was concerned best be undertaken by a small departmental committee. The Minister stated that he was glad that the South African Indian Congress had indicated that it was the desire of the Indian community to be associated. The Government, he said, was anxious that the Indian community should also be associated with the preliminary enquiry since it considered that such participation would be of material assistance to the committee in its work. The Minister also stated that these proposals had been discussed with the Government of India, which had expressed its concurrence therewith. The Government of India had also stated that its Agent General in South Africa, Kunwar Sir Maharaj Singh, had been requested to place himself and his staff entirely at the disposal of the committee for such informal help as might be in his power.

The personnel of the committee was announced as follows: Mr. James Young, formerly chief magistrate of Johannesburg; Mr. G. Heaton Nicholls M.P.; a representative of the South African Indian community; Mr. P. F. Kincaid, Commissioner for Immigration and Asiatic Affairs. Its terms of reference were:

To undertake a preliminary investigation in South Africa in connection with the proposals set forth in paragraph 3 of the Cape Town Agreement for the exploration of the possibilities of a colonisation scheme for settling Indians, both from India and South Africa, in other countries; and to report as to the country or countries in which further investigation as to the successful operation of such a scheme might advantageously be made, having regard to the political, climatic and economic conditions in such country or countries, and the extent to which Indians in the Union would participate therein.

The Congress on receiving a communication as to the appointment of an enquiry committee convened an executive meeting at Durban on the 9th July 1933, at which all the provinces were represented. At this meeting it was decided to nominate Mr. S. R. Naidoo as a member of the committee enquiry, and he has already taken part in the work of the committee, which opened its first session in Durban on the 28th July 1933.

At the executive meeting a difference of opinion arose, one section holding that a principle was involved and that the present enquiry was a distinct departure from the Agreement in that under the original enquiry the initiative was to be taken by the Government of India. The majority of those present, all except two, felt that co-operation was right and that they were bound by a honourable undertaking. Since then an agitation has been set up by the colonial-born Indians of Natal and meetings of protest have been held in various places. A demand was made that the Natal Indian Congress should hold a mass meeting to voice the opinion of those who objected to operation. The executive of the Natal Indian Congress refused to call a meeting on the ground that the matter was one within the jurisdiction of the South African Indian Congress, and as an affiliated body it was not competent for it to interfere in a decision reached by the parent body.

We are met here to-day to review the position in the light of all that has happened, and to give this conference the opportunity of discussing the position afresh, if it so desires. Before deciding this matter, however, it is necessary for us to calmly consider every aspect of the question in dispute. It has been suggested that in allowing our representative to sit on the committee we are dishonest. I maintain that this is not the case. I have told you how the decision to co-operate was arrived at. We have never said that we are in favour of a colonisation scheme nor have we committed ourselves to any principle of colonisation. We merely agreed on behalf of South African Indians that our representative should sit on the enquiry committee.

Having agreed to co-operate I consider it would be foolish to withdraw our representative at this stage. The committee can do no more than report possibilities. It will be time enough to withdraw our co-operation if we are asked to approve of a scheme which is unacceptable. In the meantime I can see no harm in the enquiry committee proceeding with its work of preliminary investigation, as laid down in the terms of reference. I have every hope that the committee will report that any attempt to force, by any means, the Indian population to leave the country is doomed to failure and that it will advise the Government as a result of its investigations that the wide spaces of South Africa provide all that is needed. Should the evidence given before the committee be such as to cause it to report in favour of looking to South Africa itself rather than elsewhere for a colonisation scheme, we should be willing to change our attitude of passive acquiescence to one of active and enthusiastic co-operation. I put it to you that there is every possibility that the committee report in the manner I have indicated. Time may prove my words to be prophetic. Let us look at the position fairly and squarely. Let us not turn a principle into a bogey. We are here to guide our people aright and to ensure their just and fair treatment, and this can only be accomplished by calmly viewing the present activity of the Government with tolerance and patience. The present phase will pass, and the future will bring us further opportunities of proving our right to live as free citizens of the Union. I have faith enough to believe that this investigation by the Government, based on whatever motives one may attribute to it, will eventually react in our favour. I would also add that I have faith in the European press and public opinion turning in favour (there are already evidences of this) of the abolition of the provincial barriers. Let us not therefore do anything that will alienate sympathy at this critical time. A false step such as the withdrawal of your representative from the committee would be misunderstood by the Government and by the large body of fair-minded men and women in this country, who are ready to look at our position from a practical point of view. If we are an asset to the country, and we maintain that we are and could be a greater asset if we were given the opportunity of expansion, neither the Government nor the European population will be willing to 'cut off their nose to spite their face’ by driving us away.

Gentlemen, in conclusion, let me earnestly appeal to you to give this important matter your serious consideration. There have been differences of opinion but mainly on minor points. We are all of one mind on the main consideration, and that is the welfare of all Indian residents of the Union. Whether we are represented on this committee of enquiry, or decide to withdraw our member, is for you to decide. What is perfectly clear to me is that our cause will suffer if we reverse the policy we adopted at our last conference.

The vital question at the present is not co-operation, for there can be no co-operation before there is a scheme. Let us not cry 'wolf’ when there is no wolf. Rather we should reserve our energies for the time when we may need all the strength we can muster. And finally, may I entreat everyone here present to put aside all personal feelings and resentment. Let us forget those things which have been a cause for dissension and remember only that we are brothers striving for the betterment of the whole community. A house divided against itself must fall. Let us see to it that we present a solid and united front to all the evil forces that may be arrayed against us, speaking with one voice, through the Congress. By consistent effort on the part of our leaders, with the able support of our esteemed friend the Agent for the Government of India, we have established the right to be consulted on all matters affecting us. I am sure you will agree with me that the right of consultation, which the past has been fought for with much suffering, should not be thrown away, but that we should use every opportunity that may be offered us to state our case with dignity and confidence.

In all these circumstances I have, therefore, no hesitation in urging this conference to set its seal of approval upon the action of our executive in nominating Mr. S.R. Naidoo as the Indian member of the committee of enquiry.