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

In 1942, a strike was called at the Dunlop rubber factory in Durban The Natal Rubber Workers' Union had been organised in 1939. This Union opened its membership to European, Indian and Native workers in the industry. This open membership was significant as an example of co-operation between workers of various races. Trade unionism in South Africa has always been faced with the problem of organization and the relations between European and non-European workers. In one or two industries, the representative Trade Union embraces workers regardless of race. In others are parallel unions, a union for Indian workers and a union for European workers.

The strike at the Dunlop rubber factory was called as a result of the alleged refusal of the Company to grant allowances to two hundred of their employees who were way on active service. There were other matters causing dissatisfaction. The strikers insisted that a "yellow -union" had been formed with the encouragement of the company. The Company's officials to organize the workers, and to use the Company's time and office staff for the work of this Union, it was said, gave the organizer of this "yellow union". A hundred and fifty Indian workers were put off "on the pretext of a rubber shortage". According to the strike committee "the campaign of victimisation came to head when thirteen Indian workers were dismissed on the grounds that their positions were reserved for men who returned from active service".

Five hundred Indians and Africans downed tools and were charged under the Industrial Conciliation Act and Masters and Servants Act. European employees did not take part in the strike, owing in the words of a statement issued by the secretary of the strike Committee, "to their peculiar position". They are mostly unskilled workers and have been recruited from the Platteland and from low wages and pay conditions." The statement explained that the European workers were paid comparatively higher wages, and that Europeans feared to take action that might prejudice their continued employment.

"Nevertheless, most of the Europeans had informed the management that unless the strikers were met they would not return to work after the Christmas holidays."

Kajee came into this dispute as an official of Congress. Unemployment is a recurrent condition of many Indian workers. Kajee's attitude to labour disputes and to Indian employment was based upon the promise of the Cape Town Agreement of equal pay for equal work, and upon the Industrial Conciliation Acts and Wage determination Acts on which he was an authority. "Equal pay for equal work", when it is applied to workers of different races can have a serious effect upon non-Europeans. Generally speaking an employer faced with the choice of dismissing workers all of whom receive the same pay will decide to dismiss an Indian in preference to a Eur­opean. The Indian's chances of retaining his employment at the onset of a depression or in difficult times depend upon the fact that he is willing to accept a lower wage than his European fellow. Furthermore, in those industries where equal pay for equal work applies a European employer will choose to employ a European rather than an Indian. These factors influence the degree of employment among Indian workers. In a sense they are the first to be put off and the last to be taken on.

In mixed trade unions there is always a danger of conflict between Europeans and Indians on such an occasion as a strike. An example of this was the case of the Dunlop strike. Although the solidarity of trade unionists among Indian workers has grown to compare with that in Britain and elsewhere, a few years ago the uncertainity of his economic situation often persuaded the Indian worker himself to become a blackleg. Such was the case during the strike of the Falkirk Iron Works. The difficulties of Indian workers in industry had their counterpart in official attitudes towards non-European labour. The white labour policy, lay down by the government during the nineteen twenties, resulted in keeping out of employment many Indians and in closing the channels of employment to them. Between 1934 and 1938 for example the number of Indians employed by the Railway fell from eighteen hundred to five hundred and sixty-two, and there was a proportionate decline in other Government departments. In bad times when Europeans are looking for employment there is a tendency on the part of various departments to provide them with employment at the expense of Indians. In effect Indians can only look to full employment when European employment is under-supplied.

European workers are by no means unanimous in their official and non-official attitudes towards non-European labour. One trade union is persuaded that the salvation of the white worker rests in the acceptance into its membership of Indian workers. Another trade union believes that only keeping out the Indian worker can protect the white worker. Some trade unionists see in the principles of equal pay for equal work a practice which should be universal and be free from all consider­ations of race. Others incline towards the emphasis of race.

What is taking place is the overlapping of the interests of the European as a worker over his interests as a European. To many the old slogan "workers of the world unite" means more than the defence of the privilege contained in his racial supremacy. To many more the call of race is more important than the call to the workers. It is this conflict between race antagonism and the urge to the unity of workers which explains the absence of a well-defined policy among trade unions and which accounts for the fact that what is good in principle and practice in a homogeneous society must be good in prin­ciple and bad in practice in a heterogeneous society.

Like most men, Kajee's politics moved from a youthful enthusiasm for revolutionary socialism to a steady conservatism. A man's politics are almost invariably a function of his bank balance. The young Kajee who at a debating society meeting at Aligar College could offend the college authorities, and get himself expelled by the virulence of his attack upon the British raj, became in his latter days the leader of moderate opinion. His concern, however, for the employment and working conditions of the Indian community was one of the greater passions of his life. His knowledge of trade unionism was extensive, and in South Africa he took part in most of the commissions of inquiry appointed to investigate wages and working conditions. It was one of the functions of the Natal Indian Congress to assume some responsibility for the care of families of unemployed workers. During a strike this responsibility often entailed the setting up of soup kitchens and large-scale expenditure. Many will recall the service rendered in the early nineteen thirties in this direction. It was to Kajee as the leader of the Natal Indian Congress that trade unionists often applied for counsel and advice in their difficulties, and it was to him that they looked for such intervention as the Natal Indian Congress might decide upon to sustain their claims.

It was in the field of employment that Kajee's fears took real shape. Many people have the idea that Kajee's struggle for political recognition for his community was an aggressive thrust towards equality with Europeans. For thousands of Indians politics is a game played by those who can afford it for their own interests or amusement. The vote means little to the Indian peasant, but to Kajee it meant a great deal. He was less concerned with it because it gives a man a sense of pride. He saw it as a factor in ensuring that these fellows obtained a fair deal in such things as employment.

One of his fears was that under the political restrictions existing in South Africa there was a danger that unemployment would be a permanent condition of many thousands of Indians except in times of war or bounding prosperity. For this reason he never ceased to insist that ways should be found to open up new channels of employment for Indians and to throw open some closed channels. Without that he felt that the Indian community, and particularly the Muslim section of it, was doomed.

Related to his work in these directions Kajee took a close interest in Indian education. Most of his own education had been gained by wide reading. Where he specialised was in those subjects concerned with his own business and with political affairs. He had a very exten­sive knowledge, of law, particularly Company law and Bankruptcy law, as many Indians and Europeans know who had dealings with him. Outside these special terri­tories, however, he was extremely well informed in many branches of human affairs, and about the only blanks in his mind were music and art, in which he showed little interest.

The value of education, however, is almost always an obsession with those for whom it is difficult to obtain. His interest then in education was not unique amongst Indians, for all of them, except the more orthodox religious zealots; seek education for their children as passionately as they seek economic independence for them­selves. Quite apart from any official reluctance or ability to provide educational facilities for all Indians who demand them, there are certain domestic difficulties sur­rounding Indian children about which Kajee had some strong views. The education of the orthodox Muslim or Hindu has a dual character. In the state-aided Indian school the child is expected to spend the school day taking the subjects laid down: by the provincial departments of education. In addition to this, however, he is called upon to take classes in the vernacular and, in the case of Muslims, to learn his religious duties and the recitation of the Koran under the direction of a religious teacher. These classes are sometimes held before the secular classes begin in the morning, and sometimes after school in the afternoon. The burden upon the child is very great, not only restricting his movement, but also in passing from one type of teacher, the trained profes­sional, to another type of teacher, the religious teacher, who is often a molvi.

This accounts to a large extent for the fact that the Indian boy is often two years behind his European fellow in taking his matriculation.

Though there remains still much to be done, great progress has been made in Indian education since 1926. Much of that progress can be placed to the credit of A. I. Kajee. His opinion, however, on the education of the Indian child was not one which found favour in the eyes of older Indians. He considered that Indians could no longer be brought up within the environment of the vernacular and that conditions in South Africa did not permit the identification of education with religion to the extent observed in India and elsewhere. He was persuaded that religious exercises should take their place in the ordinary school curriculum and in the way that they do for European children, and he was never prepared to accept the principle that after a day at school an Indian child should be expected to begin on vernacular and religious education.

Ismail A. Kajee
Eldest son of A.I. Kajee, a director of the firm

A view of the head office of Kajee, Moosa, & Co., (PTY) Ltd., managing agents of Avalon Associated Cinemas

Kajee was instrumental in building, organizing and managing several state-aided Indian schools. He appeared before innumerable commissions of inquiry, and was constantly engaged on some educational project. The work attached to the Building of Sastri College fell to him, and before his death, in co-operation with several Muslim friends, he was engaged on plans for the building of an Indian boys' school, an institution which would have been established in his life time had the local author­ities been more actively sympathetic in providing a site. During the last few years of his life, he established the Avalon Bursary Fund, which provides financial assistance to suitable young Indian, native, and coloured students for their school and university education. This fund was a scheme jointly prepared by him and his partner in the cinema business, A. B. Moosa. More individually Kajee helped a large number of young people in manifold ways, from using his influence to place them in universities abroad, to the purchase of books on entry into the elementary school. There are many successful young men in the professions today who owe to A. I. Kajee the opportunities they have enjoyed in college and university education. Nor did he confine these interests to the smaller section, the Muslims. He never neglected an opportunity to advance the schooling and education of all sections, and often made a point of including in his donations institutions doing good work which were not Indian, and not even non-European.