From the book: A.I. Kajee His Work for the Southern African Indian Community by C. H. Calpin
One of the immediate effects of the split over Sir Raza Ali's marriage was to hold up certain negotiations between the Natal Indian Congress and the Natal Municipal Association. The Natal Municipal Association was originally established to encourage co-operation between town councils in matters of common interest. The body was composed of representatives of town councils and performed some useful work in subjects such as public health and sanitation, police control, uniformity of bye-laws. One of its special concerns was to safeguard the towns in the three cornered contest between the central government, the provincial government, and the municipalities.
In the early thirties concern was felt over the alleged intrusion of Indians in what were looked upon as European residential areas, and in 1934 a resolution was passed at a conference of the Natal Municipal Association calling upon the Government to introduce legislation which would enable either the Provincial Government or the Municipality to prevent such intrusions. No official action was taken in the matter and the resolution re-appeared in 1935 and 1936, as the result of intermittent European agitation in the Press. During the interim Kajee had discussions with Mr. J. H. Hofmeyr, the then Minister of the Interior, who, knowing the disabilities of Indians, had advised the Natal Municipal Association to seek in co-operation with Indian leaders an alternative to legislation for the solution of the problem.
Unlike their fellows in the Transvaal, Indians in Natal enjoyed freedom of movement. There was nothing to prevent them from living where they liked and from purchasing property, either for investment or occupation. There were certain areas in the town which were looked upon as Indian areas, but these had grown up in a natural way and as a result of the tendency of people of the same race and culture to congregate together. There were no locations in Natal as there were in the Transvaal to which Indians were relegated.
Previous to 1927 few complaints were heard of Indians moving into what were looked upon as European residentÂial areas, but as a result of the Cape Town Agreement an impetus was given to the Indian community in almost every direction. Indians felt they secure in South Africa for the first time. The Government had promised to look upon those who could attain western standards of life as an integral part of the population. A clause in the Cape Town Agreement stated that Indians would not be allowed to lag behind other sections of the community. Encouraged by these assurances, Indians who could afford it sought to provide themselves and their children with more desirable dwellings than they had hitherto occupied.
There began a process which has since been called Indian penetration. An increasing population demanded outlets and found them in the only territories which offered opportunities and which happened to be European in character. In the early thirties this movement outward from their own areas into ' the larger European areas was scarcely noticeable. It was a matter of a few individuals buying houses and occupying them on the fringes of the Indian areas. It affected Europeans living in near proximity, and it was these Europeans and the politicians representing them, who directed attention to what was happening and began an agitation which dictated the character of Indian politics in South Africa, and which, for that matter, influenced European politics, and to some extent Commonwealth relations.
To all the European agitation, the Natal Indian Congress answered with an emphatic opposition. The word segregation arouses in them fierce protests in defence of their rights or national honour. In the words of the Natal Post-War Works and Reconstruction Commission, "the Asiatic is fearful of legislation which will relegate him to an inferior position in the eyes of the law, and which may cause him to be regarded as an alien intruder. He is suspicious of terminology and hypersensitive where racial differentiation is concerned; he is aware of a large positive European opinion which wishes to see him segregated entirely from the European population; he is acutely conscious of the fact that all political power lies in the hands of the European. In this atmosphere any willingness to see the other man's point of view disappears entirely on the slightest provocation and the difficulties of negotiation are increased."
This was written in 1944 and by men who had come to appreciate the nice distinction which must be made in any approaches to a proud but dispossessed and subject race on questions touching their affairs. The average politician and member of the general public show no finesse in their relations with Indians. They are clumsy and crude and have little understanding of the feelings of others. It is the more surprising to find in 1936 the Natal Municipal Association referring to its desire to separate Europeans and Indians by laying out "areas for European occupation only", as if, conscious of Indian susceptibilities, they were willing to incur the humiliation of European segregation. Needless to say, such conÂcern for Indian susceptibilities was always accompanied by the knowledge that the best residential areas remainÂed in European ownership and occupation.
It is possible that the credit for this emphasis upon European instead of upon the more customary Indian segregation should go to the secretary of the Natal Municipal Association, Mr. W. T. Walker, who was symÂpathetically disposed to the Indian cause and who took a special interest in the attempts made to reach an amicable settlement of the problem. The personal relations between Kajee and Mr. Walker were such as to make Kajee's work with the Natal Municipal Association easy and friendly. Mr. Walker kept him informed of European opinions, and it was he who in 1935 tried to interest Kajee in the formation of an Indian youth movement for national service. About that time the Union Government introduced a scheme whereby European unemployed boys should be given some defence training in the Special Service Companies. This was part of a comprehensive plan which included the construction of national roads to achieve a state of preparedness in the event of war. Writing to Kajee a resume of these defence proposals, Mr. Walker says, "I see an opportunity here in this movement that our Indian people must not miss. Arms you cannot bear, and if you could you would not want to. Your aeons-old civilisation have taught there is another way of settling disputes besides arms. Past campaigns have proved how valuable your Indian Bearer Corps have been. Why should you not offer the Union Government the services of your people in this direction as becomes you as citizens of this country? Let the offer come from your side before it dawns on them that in your people valuable material is neglected. Arrangements could be made through the Red Cross to give our young fellows the necessary training. Given a uniform I feel certain our young people will take a pride in their work and would show that our Indian citizens are alive to their duty to their adopted motherland."
There is no record of Kajee's reaction to this proposal. Kajee was probably too busy running Congress with his new untried and "pro tern." officials to take much notice of the proposals. Correspondence with Mr. J. H. Hofmeyr and meetings with representatives of the Natal Municipal Association led to an official conference at which, according to a letter addressed to Mr. Hofmeyr by the secretary of the Natal Municipal Association, "It was made quite clear by the Indian representatives that they would be prepared to co-operate in every way possible by discouraging their community from acquiring property in an urban European area emphasizing that the Indian representatives must be allowed to proceed in their work by moral suasion and no compulsion." The letter records that Kajee explained to the conference that it would be impossible to get the Natal Indian Congress to confirm the undertaking owing to division in the community. Kajee had referred to the deadlock following Sir Raza All's marriage.
There is evidence to suggest that this tentative underÂstanding between Congress and the Natal Municipal Association was acceptable to Muslim Indian leaders in general, who felt that confirmation by the Natal Indian Congress should await the expiration of Sir Raza All's term of office when it was anticipated that Hindu leaders would return to the fold. In the meantime, it was arranged that Kajee, as secretary of the South African Indian Congress, and Mr. W. T. Walker, should co-operate in dealing with individual cases of Indians contemplating purchasing property in a European area. The idea was that when such an inÂtention became known the Municipality should inform Mr. Walker who in his turn would take it up with his "colleague of the Indian Congress" and with any help he "can obtain from liberal minded Indians in the area affected" try to dissuade the would-be Indian purchaser from doing so.
This arrangement came to be known as the Kajee Assurance. It is clear from the records that some local authorities availed themselves of these services. In the words of Mr. Walker, "this prompt action has so far registered one hundred per cent success". Mr. Kajee on one occasion immediately left Cape Town by air to be in time to prevent such a sale. Mr. Walker ends a letter to Mr. J. H. Hofmeyr with the remark that the arrangement was recognised unofficially, and that if it were left undisturbed until the departure of the Agent-General, Sir Raza Ali, much good would result. In view of this, Mr. Walker suggested that everyÂthing possible should be done to preserve the official recognition of the Indian community in South Africa.
This letter was written in 1938; it gave the European interpretation of Kajee's "assurance". It was an assurance which had the full support of the Natal Indian Congress at the time. That it also had the acquiescence if not the approval of the new Agent-General, Sir Rama Rau, is obvious from the part that he played in dissuading one or two rich Indians from purchasing properties in European areas. It is important to recognise at this stage that the limits of Congress co-operation, and, therefore, of Kajee's coÂoperation, with the Natal Municipal Association were confined to persuading would-be purchasers of properties in the Indian Community against occupying these properties. For Europeans the issue was the encroachment of Indians as residents into European areas. On this matter Kajee endeavoured to meet the wishes of the European authorities. The point needs emphasis because it has been the subject of contention ever since.
As this work was proceeding the Hindu members who had resigned in 1936 returned to Congress and the organisation was once more established. The reorganised ConÂgress neglected to confirm the policy carried out by Kajee towards the Natal Municipal Association, largely because the European public both in the Transvaal and in Natal was agitating for some statutory control of Indian movement. Mr. Stuttaford followed Mr. J. H. Hofmeyr, who had persuaded European authorities in Natal that legislation designed to control so-called penetration into European areas was not in the interests of the country, as Minister of the Interior. One of his first acts was to introduce a bill to add to the restrictions on Indians in the Transvaal, and there was a strong rumour that he would bend to the importunities of politicians in Natal and direct his attention to the Indians there. This threat had the effect of persuading Indians throughout the country to sink some of their personal and communal differences and to unite in defence of heir rights. Indians were alarmed at the shape of things to come, and they hastened to close their ranks.
Unity among Indians has always proved an unattainable ideal. More words have been spoken and written by Indians and their well-wishers on this question of unity than on any other aspect of Indian life, and all experience has shown that the Indian community in South Africa can never present a united front any more than Europeans. From Mr. Gandhi downwards Indians have been persuaded and cajoled, bullied and beaten into unity by their leaders and their public men at home and abroad. Succeeding Agents-General, and after them succeeding High Commissioners, have arrived in South Africa inÂspired by the single hope that they would be successful where their predecessors had failed. All of them must have prayed that they might leave the country at the expiration of their term of office "with something attempted, something done" for the unity of the people. The Government of India looked upon the task as more important than the official charges lay upon them. "Hope springs eternal in the human breast" was never better exemplified than by Indian leaders in their search for a condition which, by every test, is impossible of attainment.
By 1943, the turn of events had made it imperative that unity should be sought through the amalgamation of the Natal Indian Congress and the Colonial-born and Indian Settlers Association. Before Sir Raza Ali left the country he made a last effort to bring the two bodies together. His successor, Sir Rama Rau, called together representatives of both organisations. Time and again he pleaded in vain. It was not until the visit of the Indian philosopher Sir Radhakrishnan visited Natal at the invitation of Sir Rama Rau that some progress was made. A philosopher succeeded where the politicians failed.
Before leaving South Africa the philosopher issued an urgent message calling upon Indians to find strength in the united and organised efforts to improve their position. In the words of the Natal Indian Association some months later, "the final appeal for unity made by Sir Radhakrishnan touched the hearts of all". The way was open and the time seemed auspicious. Indians are always more impressed by the mystic than by the statesman.
Discussions took place between leaders of the Natal Indian Congress and the Colonial-born and Indian Settlers' Association and the terms of an agreement were drawn up which was placed before a meeting of the Natal Indian Congress. At this meeting Kajee is reported to have stated "that no price was too great for unity" and that the Congress Committee should stand by the terms of the Agreement. Only one vote, that of Mr. Abdulla Moosa was recorded opposing the proposals; it only remained for the terms of the agreement to be referred to the General Meeting of Congress for ratification. This meeting was called in the City Hall Durban and was broken up by a section of the audience.
A bald statement of the negotiations leading up to the amalgamation of the Natal Indian Congress and the Colonial-born and Indian Settlers' Association presents no picture of the domestic strife which accompanied the discussions. One of the conditions of the amalgamation was that the new body should be given a new name. The lame "Natal Indian Congress" had fallen into disfavour, principally because since 1936 Kajee had dominated it, and also because Hindu leaders who had resigned n that year felt that a new start should be made.
Mixed up with this move to adopt a new name for the new body were personal rivalries which gave colour to he proceedings. The president of the Natal Indian Congress at the time was Swami Bhwani Dayal. He was in India. When he heard of the proposals to amalgamate he declined a position in the new body. He wanted to withdraw from politics altogether.
Kajee asked the committee that consideration of the unity formula" be postponed until the return of Swami Bhawani Dayal from India. In the opinion of his rivals this was another manoevre to destroy the prospects of amalgamation. Swami Bhawani Dayal wrote to say that the proceedings should be continuing his absence. Kajee however, gained the point and decisions were postponed on several occasions, until it was learnt that the defence authorities had commandeered the boat by which Swami Bhawani Dayal was to have returned to Natal. Meanwhile, at two meetings attended by the Agent-General Sir Rama Rau, during which he used his influence to keep in order what looked like an unruly audience, the election of the officials proceeded. The president was Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee. Kajee was at is meeting. Speaking to a disorderly crowd he urged the acceptance of the decision reached by Congress Committee and stated "constitution or no constitution the meeting should give its full support to the unity agreement to amalgamate". It was here that Mr. Abdulla Moosa raised a question whether it was within the proviÂsions of the constitution to discuss any amendment of the original proposal without prior notice to members. He was urged to withdraw his objections by Kajee and the proceedings ended in an overwhelming vote for the policy of unity. In the list of new officials Kajee'-s name was absent.
On the question of the name to be given to the amalÂgamated body when it was formed, Kajee had succeeded in persuading the president of the Colonial-born and Indian Settlers' Association, Mr. Albert Christopher, to expedite the proceedings by withdrawing the proposals to appeal to Mahatma Gandhi in India for a suitable name. " What's in a name?" became an issue over which Indians fought with increasing fury. Nor did the battle remain localised in South Africa. "The Chairman of the Imperial Indian Citizenship Association", who had been informed of events in Natal, wrote to one of the opponents of the new organisation protesting the desirability of forgetting the name in the larger obligations of united action. "If I am right in thinking you did not join the new organisation because it was not called Congress. Now what's in a name if unity is achieved with a slight change? May I venture to ask you a frank question? Will you rather the name Congress or unity in the Indian Community in South Africa? I do not see any question of principle in it."
It is not easy to understand the differences of Indian leaders at this time without recognising the personal rivalries which underlined the 'principles' they advocated. The meetings were held in an atmosphere of a struggle for power and there seems to be some truth in the allegation made by one observer that the move to unity was animated by a desire to settle old scores and antagonisms. The rivalry between Sorabjee Rustomjee and Kajee at this time was tense. Personal ambitions often over-rule the real issues and though Indian leaders on all sides declared their willingness to submerge self in the common good their deliberations seem to have been intended to encourage others in self-sacrifice.
At this period Sorabjee Rustomjee was advancing. It was Kajee who was on the defensive. Kajee was satisÂfied, not without some reason for his belief, that his political rivals were determined to keep him out of office in the new body. The Natal Indian Association, for such was the name of the new organisation, began its work without him. It had the advantage of being recognised by the authorities and by Delhi as the official representative body. But Kajee was not to be defeated so easily. His personal views on the nature of the unity movement are to be found in an article he wrote at the time, extracts from which are quoted below:
"Were it not for the grievous harm that is being done to the community in the name of unity much amusement would be derived from the antics of the principle actors in this farce at present being enacted.
The first question that arises is: was there real disÂunity among the Indian people when these frenzied moves were started in the early part of this year? In reality the fight is between certain individuals."
Referring to the quarrel over the Government's Colonisation Committee he went on to say:
"Indian leaders discovered that the principle of participation and a Congress nominee on a Government Committee was sufficient to rend them asunder. The ordinary man was bewildered. He searched for the causes that divided his leaders on an issue for which they had all signed an agreed formula. No reasons other than personal ones could be found."
Kajee then quoted the case of Sir Raza All's marriage. "Again," he wrote, "the ordinary man was bewildered and wondered why the interests of a quarter of a million people should be thrown aside because of a personal matter affecting two individuals. He (the ordinary man) was answered by the mysterious word 'principle'.
As for the events which led up to the formation of the Natal Indian Association he speaks of the "satanic haste with which matters were pushed through. The strange phenomenon was observed of a president (Mr. Sorabjee Rustomjee) who had forced his own election on an unÂwilling constituency and was not given a hearing. It is true that at the meeting there were members present who acquiesced in the elections and all that followed, but as they had been enrolled as members by the president elect twenty-four hours before the meeting the proceedÂings were beyond their understanding.
"The so-called amalgamation meeting will therefore be a first stepping-stone to real disunity. Because of personal hatreds and animosity, proved workers belongÂing to a particular section of the community have by this long process of subterfuge been driven away from the area of public work. This history of the Indian community in South Africa is a sad one. Perhaps the saddest page is yet to be written."
And so, in the event, it proved.