From the book: A.I. Kajee His Work for the Southern African Indian Community by C. H. Calpin

In the early nineteen twenties the Indian problem had not assumed the proportions that we know today. Never­theless the Indian community, particularly in Natal, was undergoing a difficult time. During the 1914-1918 war anti-Indian agitation had died down. But immediately after it there was an outcry against the expansion of Indians, and to meet this outcry the Prime Minister, General Smuts, appointed the Lange Commission of Enquiry to investigate the complaints made against Indians in trade and residence. Although this Commis­sion found that most European complaints were un­founded, the general agitation persisted and became sufficiently clamorous to persuade the Smuts Government to introduce a bill whereby Indians would be segregated in special areas.

The political parties raised the subject of Indians as an important issue, and there is no doubt that it had much to do with the result of the general election in 1924 when the Nationalist party under the leadership of General Hertzog, defeated the South-African party. The Nationalist party formed a Pact government with the Labour Party. One of its pledges during the election campaign was the solution of the Indian problem. The Minister of the Interior in this Government was Dr. D. F. Malan, and it was he who introduced the famous Class Areas Bill, a bill not unlike that proposed a year or two before by General Smuts.

At the same time certain anti-Indian moves were being made within the Natal Provincial Council, where it was proposed to abolish the municipal franchise for Indians. General Smuts when Prime Minister had refused assent to this ordinance. When General Hertzog became Prime Minister however, he recommended that the Governor General-in-Council give assent to it. It was in this atmosphere that Kajee began his political career. There were some great names among the older generation of Indians at the time. These had served under Mr. Gandhi. They included Tayob Hajee Khan Mahomed, Hajee Habib, Aboobaker Amod, Dawood Mahomed, Osman Ahmed Effendi, Abdoola Hajee Adam, Moosa Hajee Cassim, V. S. C. Pather, E. M. Paruk, V. Lawrence, Omar Hajee Amod Jhaveri, and Amod Bayat.

These men were mostly merchants; highly respected and esteemed in European commercial circles. In those days they could walk in West Street, where some of them had their businesses, and chat with European busi­ness men on terms of friendship and mutual confidence. They represented in the Indian community those old English families to whom Durban could look for honesty and probity in all their ways. The period was one of those troughs in Indian affairs which mark their history in this country. For redress of their grievances they had no appeal except to the Govern­ment of India, and through it to the good offices of the British Government. The Government of India entered an immediate protest against what it looked upon as an unwarrantable attack upon the rights and privileges of Indian subjects of the British Crown. Both in India and in Britain public opinion was aroused and representations made to the South African Government to hold the progress of the Class Areas Bill pending discussions between the Government of India and the Union Govern­ment. As a result of these representations a deputation was sent from India which prepared for a round table conference between the two governments. The leader of the Indian delegation was Sir Mahomed Habibullah. The outlines of the story of the round-table conference, and the Cape Town Agreement which emerged from it are (or should be) well known.

The interest which these years had for Kajee was vital. This was his first introduction to something bigger than purely local politics. In local politics, during the time Indians had the municipal vote, he had taken an active part in election campaigns of one or two Europeans standing for the Labour Party for election to the Durban Town Council, and had enjoyed himself in the way that young people do enjoy themselves in polit­ical campaigning. This experience is always useful, and it was of special use to Kajee in bringing him into con­tact with many Europeans from whom he learnt some­thing of European attitudes to political and party affairs. It must be remembered that at this time in one or two wards the Indian vote was almost decisive, and could be relied upon to ensure the return of any candidate who managed to gain its favour. Kajee was partly instru­mental in helping to put a young European friend of his, Sidney Smith on the Durban Council, a young man who eventually became Mayor of Durban and a member of the Union Senate. This may not appeal to all Europeans as something to Kajee's credit, but the fact remains that to this extent he had an influence with some of his fellows, upon European affairs.

The prospect of participation in national politics with the appearance of a delegation of important people from India was of a different order. He was now a political secretary, responsible with a committee for the reception and the itinerary of the incoming delegates. It was a job after his own heart, and for twelve months he was seldom free to pursue any other purpose than the particular cause which occasioned the round-table conference. Daily meetings took place, and almost daily travelling, showing one or other of the Indian visitors the conditions under which Indians lived. All this was back room and committee work which brought him into contact with many improved minds and prominent men. It was an education in itself, and Kajee rejoiced in it, working early and late in the mastery of his subject.

This contact with the Indian delegation widened his outlook and enlarged his mind, and did much for his character. He became at home on a public platform, and was never happier than when acting with men who had much to teach in politics and in the art of diplomacy. It was during these years he met and came to know Sir Evelyn Baring, whose friendship was delightful to him. At this time too he made some of his first contributions to affairs in the written word, and from 1925 onwards it is possible to see the rapid progress he made in his mastery of the English language and in the presentation of a case.

There is no need to recapitulate the significance or the terms of the Cape Town Agreement. What is more important here is to appreciate that for Kajee the Cape Town Agreement became the foundation for all his future works and hopes. It was from the Cape Town Agreement he argued, and to the Cape own Agreement he returned every time an issue dealing with the Indian problem was raised. In education, in housing, in employment and in the intangible promise which it held, it was the rock on which he erected his hopes, his policy, and his political ideology.

Many of these hopes and aspirations were doomed to disappointment but he never failed to remind his fellow Indians of the rejoicing and unanimity the Agreement brought about. It was not surprising that once the Indian delegation had left South Africa, and once the promise of the Cape Town Agreement was dissipated that doubts and divisions recurred to obsess and confuse the Indian community. The explanation of these divisions does much to excuse Indian follies. When the brightest hopes disappear it is a common experience to find the disappointed quarrelling among themselves.

It will be remembered that the choice of the first Agent General was the Honourable Srinivasani Sastri. Mr. Sastri's profound knowledge and broad humanity appealed to Indian and European alike. But even his presence could not silence the internal dissatisfactions which appeared between 1927 and 1930, as the high hopes of the Agreement fell away. There was widespread dis­content about the manner in which Indians repatriated to India had been treated, and. there arose a division in the community between those who had been born in South Africa and those who had entered it more recently.

Like other small communities in distress Indians have an easy proclivity for division. By the time the Cape­ Town Agreement had to be examined in a second roundtable conference, there had sprung up within the com­munity a new political body which called itself the Indian Settlers and Colonial-born Association. This Association was largely Hindu in character. It was not the first attempt to break away from congress. It happened to be the most serious at the time. The Union Government was concerned with the failure of the repatriation scheme, and in 1932 with the co-operation of the Government of India appointed what came to be known as the Colonisation Commission. The task of this Commission was to explore ways and territories outside South Africa which might be suitable for the settlement of Indians from South Africa and from India.

The appointment of this Commission infuriated thou­sands of Indians who, being colonial-born, were in no mood to take part in a commission of inquiry the function of which was to discover territories to which they and their fellows might be encouraged to go. The dissatis­faction which arose over this matter was Kajee's first big test in meeting opposition among his own people. He had come across a few minor occasions when disunity threatened the work of Congress. One of those minor occasions was the opposition instigated by a few Indians who formed themselves into a Natal Indian Federation against almost every clause of the Cape Town Agreement. They opposed, for example, the assurances the Agreement gave in the Industrial Conciliation Act, and the Wages Act. One of these assurances was that Indians should take their place with Europeans on the basis of equal pay for equal work. "If these gentlemen claim equality with Europeans in things that suit them, why do they not accept the disabilities that general laws bring to them?" Kajee asked.

A few objectors were opposed to the facilities for higher education at Fort Hare, the College for non-Europeans that is associated with the University of South Africa. They objected to being educated in the same lecture rooms and to sharing the same college life as Natives. "If it is the proper thing," said Kajee, "to claim to sit alongside a European for your studies, why not alongside a native of the country? If the European does wrong by refusing this right, has the Indian also the right to look down upon a native because he is a native? What is more regrettable about these objections to Fort Hare is that they savour of base ingratitude in return for what that institution has done for many Indian youths."

The appointment of the Colonisation Committee split the Indian community asunder. It was the biggest thing had happened since Mr. Gandhi has left the country, and the noise of its reverberations went through the Indian world and beyond, giving editors of European newspapers a subject for leading articles, and providing local Indians with opportunities for holding mass meetings, a habit traditional to them. It is characteristic of the Indians," wrote the Natal Advertiser. "A reaction perhaps from centuries of subjection to despotic rulers, that, now he has the right to lift up his voice on matters affecting his well being, he becomes the easy prey of the first mischievous demagogue at makes a bid for his support. We do not say this in mockery of his credulous air when the gusty rhetoric of the agitator shakes him at his very base. We say it rather from a deep sense of compassion that his ignorance makes him so often the victim of the glib-tongued harangues of men who see in him merely gun fodder for their political ambitions and advancement."

The leader of the Indian Settlers and Colonial-Born Association was Advocate Albert Christopher. He was supported by Mr. P. R. Pather and by Advocate Bernard Gabriel. They resigned from the Natal Indian Congress and stumped the province arousing the people to resist on the cry "why should we take part in an inquiry whose purpose is to consider what we do not want?" Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee at this time agreed with Kajee that Congress was doing the right thing by co-operating with the Committee and by accepting Mr. S. R. Naidoo as its representative on that Committee. The Agent-General, Kunwar Maharaj Singh, and his wife, the Kunwarani, came to Natal to intervene in this Indian civil war in the hope of persuading the factions to resolve their differences. The Indian masses would have none of it. At a mass meeting held in Durban Town Hall, an audience of 4,000 men silenced spokesman of the Natal Indian Congress. Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee, who is possessed of a very bull of a voice, could not be heard in the general commotion. Into this uproar came the Agent-General and his wife. In the words of the Natal Mercury, "the only time in the evening silence fell on the massed gathering as the slight figure in the green and gold sarrie told them in a voice full of emotion of the harm their behaviour would do and the hurt it brought to her."

"My heart is too full to speak to you. I am too ashamed to speak to you. You make me ashamed of my countrymen. You do not deserve the help of your mother country. I am overwhelmed with shame. I think of Mahatma Gandhi and the way you have behaved and I think the only thing I can do is go on a fast and atone for you'." "I want to call you children. My heart breaks and aches for you, but, like children you behave like this." The Agent-General also spoke and asked his audience if it really knew what it was fighting for. "You talk of non-co-operation," he said, "but two can play at that game." "You can refuse to co-operate with the Government and it can refuse to co-operate with you."

A week later a similar meeting was held in the Maritzburg City Hall. Here rowdyism soon reached new limits. As prayers were being said loud ejaculations were heard, and as the first speaker rose to address the audience in Hindustani he was told to speak in English-"We don't understand Hindustani-we are South Africans. We are Colonial-born." Within a few minutes a free fight start­ed and attracted by the noise Europeans from the streets crowded the City Hall entrance. A police patrol arrived to subdue the uproar and to deal with a few local Indians armed with knives and knuckle-dusters, bicycle chains and iron-rods. Broken skulls were the only result of the affair.

At this meeting Kajee lost his overcoat.

The Colonisation Committee went on with its work and after some months wrote a report which is interesting as a study of the economic geography of places like New Guinea, British Guiana, the Malay Archipelago, British North Borneo. It recommended that these territories might be looked upon as suitable places for the successful operation of a colonisation scheme. The report contained notes on the Solomon Islands-Bougainville and Buka-places which could scarcely appeal to local Indians as an outlet for their energies.

The Colonisation Committee seems to have been aware of the unreal nature of its work and of the unlikelihood that anything useful to South Africa or to India would emerge from its activities. "Nowhere in any corner of the world," it wrote, "is there a garden of Eden awaiting in pristine and innocuous simplicity the disturbing and conquering advent of civilised man."

It is unfortunate that so pitiful an approach to the problem in South Africa should have caused so great a disturbance in the community. Except for a few questions in Parliament and a few echoes in the European Press nothing further was heard of the Committee's report. It passed into oblivion, but it left in the Indian Community the scar that was yet slow to heal.

For ten years the Colonial born and Indian Settlers' Association robbed the community of any hopes of unity, despite the most anxious efforts of the Agent-General and of Congress leaders. The Agent-General held many informal meetings in the hope of bridging the gulf between the two organisations. Reports of these meet­ings indicate the extent of the rift and some of the ideas which occurred to Kajee and other members of Congress to attract the rebels back to the fold. At some of these meetings the Reverend C. F. Andrews was present, who will be recalled by many as a staunch upholder of the Indian cause.

Mr. Andrews, to whom at all times-Indians looked as mediators between themselves, felt that reconciliation was going to be difficult, though he did not think that active rivalry would continue if "the fire were not fanned in the South African Indian Press. The Agent suggested to Kajee and Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee that they should refrain from any further criticism of there rivals at least a fortnight. Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee insisted that they could not allow their case to go by default, and he newspaper "Indian Opinion" attacked them again they would hit back. Pressed by the Agent-General ask whether he had any practical suggestions Mr. Andrews thought there were two ways by which Mr. Christopher might be brought round. One was by the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the economic and social welfare of Indians, the other was by the appointment by the Indian community itself of a committee to make such an enquiry.

Mr. Rustomjee pointed out that the Government would not be likely to appoint a Commission. Mr. Andrews thought that Kajee and Congress leaders were not very generous in any approaches to the other side, and the conflict continued intermittently with, as the Natal Advertiser put it, "The spectacle of the Indian community cleft into two parties once more; the one distrustful of the other, their mutual divisions encouraging the looker-on to exploit this congenital genius for internal strife".

The Colonial-born and Indian Settlers' Association was a thorn in Kajee's flesh, and he found himself in daily battle with them. There is some evidence that he waged it through others, though he was always ready for a fight. The fact is that in the middle thirties his business took up a large amount of his time and that the full days of Congress work in addition made it almost impossible for him to appear publicly. He was a type more easily to be attacked on that account, for Indians in the mass ten or the last speaker whatever he might say influenced fifteen years ago, and the political leader who could reach Indians in the mass was invariably the hero of the moment. It is a weakness which is not absent from more advanced societies.

A wearying repetition of mass meetings held under the aegis of the Colonial-born and Indian Settlers' Association marked this period, all calling for a new deal by the Natal Indian Congress and all of them just failing to oust Congress leaders from their position. The people were the pawns in this struggle for power, and Kajee no less than others was content to treat them in the same manner that all men vested with authority are apt to use. He had taken on in the mind of the populace a few of the characteristics of the dictator, and his rivals were quick to label him as such. "A man without enemies is a man without friends" could certainly be applied to him, and he was quickly becoming one of the best hated and one of the most loved men in the country.

The breaking up of meetings became a habit with these rival factions. There were always plenty of volun­teers to undertake the task of ruining the meetings held by the two bodies. It was a practice in which Kajee acquiesced, and no doubt encouraged when it suited his purpose. On one occasion at a mass meeting held at the Royal Picture Palace, Victoria Street, when the Colonial-born and Indian Settlers' Association met to protest against Congress policy a few of Kajee's friends distributed circulars in the Hall itself, and then deliberately set out to hold up the speakers and arouse the audience to opposition. This particular meeting ended with the intervention of the police, after the hall had been reduced to a shambles and the uproar had disturbed the whole neighbourhood. One of Kajee's followers standing on a car in the street read his resolution of confidence in Congress which was passed with the usual unanimity and acclamation, and then went home to write his report on the back of the circulars, where it is recorded that he had as his assistants a few footballers from Mayville and Overport.

These occasions illustrate the robust times in which the domestic politics of Indians took place. Since then democratic politics in South Africa have lost some of the features which made the political hustings worthwhile. Many who took part in breaking meetings did so for the fun of the thing, and there was boisterousness about Indian mass meetings which enlivened the days and gave political life a zest which it no longer possesses. If the absence of unity in the Indian community was a dis­advantage in its relations with European authorities, disunity provided entertainment and diversion in a society which enjoyed few opportunities. Kajee, and, we may believe, his rivals rejoiced in exchanging hard blows in this political tournament.

There was much more than sport in Indian politics. Indians might quarrel among themselves, they had a course to follow with every year that passed. It may be in fact that the very disunity which tore them apart had a merit which some of the seekers of unity never appreciated. A one-party system is always dangerous. The party in power and in full control, however beneficent its intentions, cannot avoid or resist the temptation to despise the masses, to destroy freedom and to identify the good of the community with its own interests. And there is no doubt that the men who ran Congress at this time, including Kajee were the sort of men who, had there been no opposition and no alternative party around which the rebellious could unite, might have forgotten or neglected the principles and the tasks to which they were called and to which they had committed them­selves. Kajee was the type of which dictators are made, and there was a side to him which was ruthless, and relentless. He and Congress were kept on their toes by the presence of an opposition, the result of personal and political division. The very personal rivalry with which he and others were animated was a stimulus to endea­vour. It sharpened his wits, tempered his mind, and fired his imagination. There is no doubt about it; Kajee was impelled by an ambition to conquer. His ambition gave an edge to the manner in which he defended the Indian cause against European attacks.