From the book: A.I. Kajee His Work for the Southern African Indian Community by C. H. Calpin
A domestic interlude should be revealing. No man's private life can bear strict scrutiny. No man's private life should be called upon to bear it. In these days we expect all our leaders to be "good" men. The more a politician can talk of God, the more he is certain to be popular. Since 1914 Godliness has become synonymous with statesmanship. A former era was full of men who combined integrity and probity in public life with an eighteenth-century robustness of living. We turn to these men when the "good" religious men have brought us to the edge of disaster. The Walpoles, the Pitts, and the Churchills have always saved us from the Baldwins and the Chamberlains. And even at lower levels preachers have proved to be failures in the business of political leadership and government.
Kajee was not a "good" man, in the strict orthodox sense.
He was so busy with politics and business that he set up a separate establishment for himself at Ryde Avenue. Ryde Avenue is off one of the roads leading up to the fine residential areas of Durban called the Berea, the beauty of which is red-roofed and red-flowered in the sun. It is a modest side street in a mixed area where a few Europeans live cheek by jowl with a few coloured people. Kajee's house is set back from the street in a little culde sac wide enough to park a car. The house is small and unpretentious, comfortably furnished and spotlessly clean. There are a few roses in a patch of garden, and two or three out-houses which Kajee turned into Guest rooms for the never-ending casual visitors from distant parts of the country who came to enjoy his hospitality with or without invitation. Some of these guests arrived, stayed for weeks, and departed without his knowledge.
Kajee never longed for a better or bigger house. He showed no desire to move up the road into the prosperous residential areas. Europeans need never fear that he would penetrate their districts or intrude upon their resolute respectability. He could well have afforded it. He might have kept an establishment with a dozen servants inside and outside it. It never occurred to him to do so. There was no social competition in him, no social jealousy, and no social envy.
You never found Kajee, as you do so many Indians, wearing diamond rings and diamond tiepins, impressive of their wealth and prosperity. He despised jewellery in males. He was completely unostentatious in private and public, extremely simple in his habits and tastes, fastidÂious in his person, and quiet in his dress. His wardrobe consisted of about two dozen suits, all double-breasted, with a proportionate number of other necessities. He always wore a collar and tie, an achievement which used to be looked upon by Europeans as a sign that the Indian wearer must clearly be westernised. On noticing the new summer fashions adopted by Durban's business men to counteract Durban's summer humidity he remarked that he must be behind the times. The European male in Durban is just beginning to rid himself of the collar and tie and adopt the open-neck shirt effect. "If this goes on I'll never catch up," said Kajee; tightening the bow of the "Paisley" he was wearing.
Kajee dressed was a better figure of a man than Kajee in his shorts. On his travels he often found himself in charge of some inexperienced person making a trip to Cape Town or Johannesburg. It might be a small boy or a timid lady in semi purdah. A boy of nine turned up at the station one day. Kajee put him to bed in his comÂpartment, and, after reading a while, and thinking the boy was asleep, prepared for bed himself, being strangely shy of undressing in the presence of others. As he pulled his vest over his head, the boy, watching him, surprised him with the question "Mr. Kajee, what for are you so like a baboon?" Kajee had the shoulders of a swimmer and was as hairy and matted as an ape.
He lived quietly and well, and was served by one native servant, John, who came to him early in his life and stayed with him to the end. Between Kajee and John there was an understanding and affection which, though not uncommon between masters and servants in South Africa, was still a wondrous thing. Indians as a rule do not inspire life-long affection in their native servants. Fewer Europeans do now than did half a centÂury ago. If a man is never a hero to his valet, he can sometimes be more than a friend and the valet more than a servant. John knew more about Kajee than any man alive, and John was the only person in the world with whom Kajee would never get angry, and for whom he would always find excuse at native peccadillo. John might come home drunk. Kajee would say, "John's been giving it a bang?" as if in memory of the days when he, too, "gave it a bang". Drunk or sober, John was: at his beck and call, as nurse, cook, waiter and between-maid.
Kajee's morning ablutions took a long time. There would be people waiting for him while he was still asleep. Once dressed he stuck a neat handkerchief into his breast pocket, sprinkled Eau de Cologne 4711 over his shoulders, and went into breakfast.
It was at the office he showed the least-pleasing side of his character. At times nobody could do anything right for him, not even the tongue-tied and confidential personal and political clerk whom he rescued in 1935 during the Falkirk Iron Company strike.
The clerk, Mr. Govender, put it like this:
"Through the recommendation of the Labour DepartÂment several Indians and myself secured work in the factory. The pickets asked us not to take on the work, as it would mean robbing them.
"I was interested in public work and knew Mr. Kajee as a politician. I approached him with the idea of enlisting his aid to secure a job through his influence, as he knew all those connected with commerce.
"One day I went straight into his private office at 175 Grey Street and explained my mission. I explained that I can't hear too well and he took the trouble to write out questions. I believe that he was satisfied and then asked me to write out my application and bring it with me the next day. I followed his instruction and after reading my letter he gave me a file of political papers (His pending file) and asked me to put them in order of subjects, sequence and dates. I did what he asked and then he said I could start the next day. That was the beginning.
"The Natal Indian Congress was on the rocks at the time. The community was divided over Sir Raza Ali's marriage but obtained a room from Mr. S. J. Randeria behind Dr. Seedat's surgery and opened an office for the Natal Indian Congress. His friend Mr. Bull Goordeen then joined us and both himself and myself set about working for the Natal Indian Congress and we did so much the result was Swami Bhawani Dayal also put his shoulders to the work and in 1938 the Natal Indian ConÂgress held its first Conference. Both Mr. Bull Goordeen and Swami Dayal were just propaganda men but the whole clerical work fell on my shoulders and I did my work much more than Mr. Kajee expected to receive. I was paid at that time £1.0.0 a week. One day I left him and started at Kazi's Agencies-he then sent Bull Goordeen and brought me back and offered me 25/- a week and I then got stuck to him against all odds. Several people who opposed his political thoughts offered me many jobs but I refused to desert him. Mr. Kajee saw that my work was good so he asked me to take on the work of the South African Indian Congress also and that organisation too began to wake up from its sleep as after eight years it held its 16th session in Johannesburg in 1943 (the last was in 1935). When we shifted from Grey Street to Albert Street in 1941, my work was not only politics but also work for his business, because all the work was performed in his office irrespective of politics, business, or whatever subject he may be interested in.
"Mr. Kajee was a very cute and shrewd man where money was concerned. If one sought an increase we must beg for it a dozen times. At times he was generous for often he would dig his hands into his pocket and a £1 or 10/- tip at a time would not matter to him. To work for him a man must be like a machine and he was a ruthless exploiter. One must work for him day and night and on top of that on Saturday afternoons and Sundays too. In my twelve years service for him I only had ONE holiday for 10 days in 1941. He couldn't just part with a good worker.
"If there was any important work to do he would pay my expenses and take me to Pretoria, Pietermaritzburg, Johannesburg and Cape Town. This was the case with other good workers too."
Govender became Kajee's PooBah. Govender served n the office as the Zulu John served him in the kitchen, but without receiving the benefits of excuse for misdemeanour.
Kajee was a magnificent swearer. His English curses through the office and rose in rich cresendo if anything went wrong. And something was always going wrong, in Kajee's opinion. At his every departure on politics or business his office staff sighed with relief. It only because his departures were frequent that his clerk could stand the racket and his confounded charm. There was a bug in his brain that ate him up with the idea that he was always being robbed and that all his employees, his sons and his nephews and the rest of them, "were bunches of.... idiots". They couldn't spell, they couldn't type, they couldn't file, they wasted his time, they wasted his money, -"just a bunch of.... rogues".
To the outsider it was grand fun. To the slightly deaf Govender all this came through the sign language of having papers chucked at him, and of scribbled notes across his work and on odd bits of paper, all of which the clerk filed with the same care that he led his employer's documents. The aggrieved Govender, working night and day, would go back to his desk, some-times sorrowful, sometimes maddened, and type out an answer. Kajee was invariably sorry. "If I can't swear it my friends," he used to say, "Whom can I swear at?"
Kajee: (scribbing across a letter) "This is nonsense-If Charles is a fool, is it necessary for you to be an idiot?"
Clerk: "Then Mr. Kajee is a fool too because he gave the instructions."
Kajee: (writing) "It would appear that you want to destroy me! I am an impatient man." "Don't be so sensitive."
"I appreciate it-you are dealing with-idiots." "You must just go on to the end, we all must." "I'll try and get you 25 shillings." "Why should I have to put up with blind, deaf and dumb idiots?"
Clerk: "Mr. Kajee doesn't like trade unions."
"I have always made allowances for your weakÂness with your temper."
"We all can't expect to be in Mr. Kajee's shoes or to be gifted with his brains." . :
"You simply scratch good work and in the end when your theory is compared with mine it all comes to the same fact."
Kajee: "I'm sorry."
"I realise that."
Kajee's desk had a glass top. Every morning when he sat down before it, he found new cuttings of quotations under the glass put there for his admonition.
"A man cannot be a Muslim till his heart and tongue [are so."
"The Islam of the heart is its purity; and the Islam of the tongue is the withholding it from [fruitless words."
From "The sayings of Muhammed".
"Kindness is a mark of faith and whoever hath not kindness hath no faith." "One learned man is harder on the devil than a thousand ignorant worshippers."
"A woman may be married by four qualifications: one on account of her money; another on account of the nobility of her pedigree: another on account of her beauty; The fourth on account of her virtue. Therefore look out for a woman that hath virtue: But if you do it from any other consideration, your hands are rubbed with dirt."
"Sayings of Muhammed".
"Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind."
But for all this Kajee could make amends. He appreÂciated the days and nights his personal clerk put into the political struggle, and realised that he could never have done what he did without the donkeywork of this man, who, on his part, assumed a sort of political oversight of his movements. Some serious letters and telegrams passed between them dealing with important questions. Kajee was always sensible enough to reply appreciatively of the interest taken. At the same time, Kajee could strip a clerk, or even a son, of his manhood by dressing him down in front of friends or strangers. Like the IrishÂman he was up in a moment in consuming anger and down the next in contrite apology. His contrition was at times pitiful. "I'm sorry. Forgive me."
It had always been the custom of Indian leaders to carry on their political work in their business premises. Until recently there was no separate Congress office. Because of this, Congress affairs became too personal and there was always a danger that the files were not available to interested people. Kajee retained his authorÂity over these files to an extent that infuriated many Indians. He did so for one reason that once they escaped his care they would be lost altogether. Indeed, had he not kept the Congress library of files and cuttings, no records at all would have been preserved?
Repeated mention has been made of the way in which Kajee mixed politics with his business, to the advantage of both but to the great disadvantage of his clerks who were burdened with more work than any trade union would permit. (Whereas Kajee was a supporter of trade unions in principle he discouraged his own employees from joining one.) It wasn't as if all his clerks were allied to the cause he had at heart. Some of them were on the other side, and he often suspected that they took information to his enemies to be issued against him. "Damned communists," he called them.
Indian business houses employ young people on a differÂent basis from that of European houses. An Indian will willingly let his son work in a business house for six months without pay, merely to learn the business, and this is apt to create in the minds of some Indian emÂployers, though not all, a niggardly attitude towards remuneration. So many Indian merchants having been through the mill themselves think it a good thing. The self-made man is the hardest of taskmasters, and Kajee could be a Pharaoh in setting the tasks of making bricks without straw.
Kajee's obsession with making money and gaining power often burned up his better self. His ambition was a furnace fired and blown to a white heat that scorched his employees. There were no hours that he would not work himself, and none that from the very first he did not expect and obtain work from his clerks. His first clerks when he opened his small office at 175 Grey Street, Durban-Harry and Maganlal-often slept on the floor in two-hour shifts during the strenuous periods of political activity and business. He was only a few years older than either, and he got more out of both than any employer has a right to expect. Harry was one of the few Indians who could type, and came in useful in Congress work in the early days, while Maganlal concentrated on the "brokerage" business. Loyalty can go no further than Harry Naidoo went for Kajee or much further than Maganlal who finally started in his own business with the legacy of Kajee training behind him.
It was not only with his employees that this Pharaoh- like task setting was used. His close friends knew him, but he could be as bad with them as with his clerks, expecting them to wait upon him and carry out his biddings. Such was the affection they bore him they did so. They were not blind to his weaknesses. Asked to explain why they served him they could not answer. He attracted service. He was the sort of person people could not keep away from, even when they disliked him. He had magic in him-sometimes it was black magic.
His office was as wide open as his house. All sorts of people came to him in distress. A never-ending importunÂity was his lot. He enjoyed it. As a result there were always scores of hangers-on at the office and at Ryde Avenue. They were not all Indians. Many of them were Europeans. In his youth he had made the mistake of believing that all Europeans who hung upon his words and who slept at his home were not only friends of his but also friends of the Indian cause. It was possible to be a friend of Kajee and yet be an enemy of Indians but he couldn't understand this at first, nor distinguish between friends and enemies among Europeans.
At his funeral there was not to be seen one European who could be looked upon as a life-time friend. There were a few European officials representing various public bodies who held him in distant affection. The European friends of his youth were not there, except one. The many deserted him, even as during the years so many Europeans have deserted the Indian cause which they once served. Kajee was not unmindful as he grew up to adulthood of those Europeans who were the friends of his youth. He showed them many a kindness. He raised one or two of them to a rung in the ladder from which they shot upwards to some political success and certainly to some economic independence. It will be said, it is said, that his friendship with them gained for him many a business and political advantage. In some cases this was undoubtedly true, but to scores his generosity was unselfish and charitable. If the European public often cursed him, some of its public men had reason to bless him.
Relations between these Europeans and Indians are interesting. Today very few Europeans take an active interest in Indian affairs and certainly no city counÂcillors exist, as there once did who are prepared to stand up for Indians. Before 1924 when, in Ward 4 of Durban Municipality, a sufficient number of Indians possessed the Municipal franchise to be a decisive factor in local elections, no European could get into the City Council without the help of Indians. If Indians voted as a bloc they could put their European choice into the Council, and they did. They put Sidney Smith, a mere youth, no older than Kajee, who had a barber's shop, and Sidney later became Mayor of Durban and rose to the Senate, as one of the best brains the Durban Municipality ever had. They put others in, some not so good as Sidney Smith, whom they regretted putting in. They discovered that the type of man they put in was far from being as able as the type of man they put out. This had someÂthing to do with the determination of Mr. C. F. Clarkson, who was then a member of the Natal Provincial Council, and who later became Senator Clarkson and a Cabinet Minister, to abolish the Indian Municipal franchise altogether. Towards many of these men Kajee showed a generous friendship, and some of them rewarded him not only by forgetting him but also by spurning him and the Indian cause.
In those days in Ward 4, if nowhere else, candidates for the City Council had to cultivate Indians. Today no one who shows any care for the political welfare of Indians has a hope of getting into the Council. Candidates must vie one with another in vituperation of Indians. He whose language and intention is the most vituperative wins every time and hands down. For Europeans who come into close contact with them Indians prove a stepping stone to success or a sliding avalanche to perdition and ostracism.
There is much more that needs explaining about Kajee's friends and the European friends of other Indian leaders. There was some excuse for Kajee's choice of friends in his youth. It was only a certain type of EurÂopean from whom he could draw his friends. They were a mixed lot enjoying what hospitality he could provide and the help he could give to further their political and their business interests. Although the Municipal vote was abolished in 1924, those who possessed it at that date remained on the electoral roll, and for years afterwards Indians had to be reckoned with during election campaigns. Kajee and his gang of Indian associates did more than see to it that Indian voters voted for their European choice. They worked slavishly for their candidate, often financed him, did the committee-room work, put his election posters up and tore his opponent's election posters down. In addition, as many an Indian recalls with a smile, if there was any doubt about the outcome of the election they saw to it that the names, on the roll of voters', of Indians who had died since the printing of the roll were represented by suitable live Indian substitutes. How could the polling booth officials know whether Applesammy was dead, or whether the Naidoo that took his place and made his cross against the chosen candidate was not Applesammy alive. No one knew then, no one knows now, which is Applesammy and which is Naidoo, who was Mutt and who was Jeff, who was Flotsam and who was Jetsam, and which was which. It was a lark played on the Mayor and Corporation. There is irony in the thought that some considerable and popular public careers have been made by the votes in Indian dead-mens' shoes-a European phoenix as it were, rising from some wretched Indian's ashes'.
That is one side of the matter. There are others. There were Europeans who fell foul of Kajee and his friends. As he grew up he saw some of these hangers-on for what they were. The worst of them, angered for one reason or other, left him, turned to hate him as person, and then projected their hatred of him into a hatred of all Indians.
Many Indian leaders know how they themselves have been similarly treated, and how their European one-time cronies have turned upon them and become the worst of racialists. No European says of Indians what many Gentiles say of Jews that they cannot hate them because they have so many friends among them. The habit of projecting hatred of the individual into hatred of the whole race is one of the unhappy features of Indo-EurÂopean relations in South Africa. And Kajee inspired much individual hatred in men whose friendship was motivated by no more than what they could get out of him.
It may be that, looking at the long list of Europeans who at one time or another associated with Kajee and with the Indian cause, and who came to reject Kajee and to repudiate the Indian cause, the new leaders of the Natal Indian Congress have been persuaded into a reluctance to welcome the interest of Europeans in their affairs. Whatever the reason, and suspicion of European intentions is surely one of them, the present officials of Congress are wary of allowing unproved Europeans into their discussions. Only the avowed leftist is now welcome among them. Congress leaders prefer to fight alone rather than to risk the treachery of European politicians.
There is no doubt that Kajee gained much from his association with European minor politicians. These early electioneering days v/ere full of rough and tumble, and Kajee learnt much about local affairs by active co-operation with candidates for municipal honours. To be able to dictate and organise these candidates and their campaigns gave him confidence and personal satisfaction. In those, days for an Indian outside trade to participate with Europeans in their affairs were unusual. It pleased Indian vanity. Now-a-days young Indian politicians despise such emotions and satisfactions, and are very right in doing so.
Kajee addressed Europeans in any position of authority as "Sir". No one can be quite sure whether in his use of this he was as sincere as he might have been. There was always a feeling when so addressed that he was to follow it by some request which might put a strain on the regulations. He explained this habit of his. He used to say that it was a good thing to give the impression at the other end of the telephone that an insignificant Indian held the European in good respect. It did no harm to make the European feel a big man, and it might do much good, a view with which no one can quarrel. But it was always amusing to hear Kajee switch from dictatorial anger with his staff to telephonic obsequiousness to some petty European officials. He probably knew what he was doing. Indeed the proof of the "sirrÂing" lies in the smoothness with which Kajee got things done, and with which he moved about the country.
Few Europeans could resist his courtesies. But let any European try to "put one across" him, and he could use the "sir" with a different implication, and meet the attempt with the quickened faculties he reserved for business deals. He was a sharp customer who between the law and cunning could beat Kajee to the draw, though there were one or two Indians who recite with mouthwatering relish the story of their victories over him. Their very recitals are proof of his shrewdness.