While historians are generally in agreement that the main anti-Indian feeling in South Africa was directed towards the merchant class, these sentiments were also directed against the "indentured" and "free" Indians. This was ironic as in the 1850s the Natal plantation owners desperately petitioned the Governor to introduce Indian labour. While people such as Harry Escombe, were stirring up anti-Indian feeling, there remained many other factors which influenced the Colonists. According to CG Henning, the following list of twenty anti-Indian attitudes compiled by him, contains real as well as imaginary complaints:
- The withdrawal of grants of Crown Land (Act 25 of 1891) was meant to prevent Indians from settling in South Africa. Originally the colonists had hoped that nearly all the indentured Indians would either return to India or stay as re-indentured labourers on the plantations. As it turned out, very few re-indentured and they began to settle in large numbers in Natal.
- Act 17 of 1895 (the £3 tax) kept Indians in indenture; it made them return to India after five years labour (i.e., it assisted repatriation); and as the Indian contributed nothing towards income tax and the Colony's revenue, it was intended as "indirect taxation"65 just as the Black paid his annual "hut-tax." (The Act did not apply to Indians already domiciled at the time of the passing of the Act.)
- Some White colonists believed that the Indian had been assisted to become richer and therefore was under obligation to return to India.
- The Indian cultivator had succeeded in displacing nearly every White market gardener in the Colony.
- The Whites were alarmed at the increase in the number of Indian landowners (farmers). In truth, only a small percentage purchased farms, the majority rented land.
- "The 'free' Indians had taken over trades and occupations which previously had been the prerogative of the White man. This coupled with 4 and 5 , above, may have brought about a reduction by some "five thousand of the White population"67 and, . . . "by means of his rabbit-like fertility, the Indian has literally ousted the White man not only from his occupation, but literally from standing room."
- According to Spencer Tyron, in the Zulu War of 1879 and in the Boer War, the Whites were capable of mustering a thousand (possibly more) volunteers to the defence of their country. The Indians contributed nothing towards the defence of the country, although this contribution in the form of the Stretcher Bearer Corps in 1900 was acknowledged.
- The insanitary habits of the Indian peasants remained a long-standing grievance. It is possible that Indians introduced the bubonic plague, smallpox and other diseases.
- The Indian was accused of outclassing the Zulu in crime. At one time "the Indians had the bulk of the illicit liquor traffic with the ?natives? in their hands.
- The Indian belonged to a race which could not "amalgamate with the Whites by marriage."
- The growing dislike of the Black towards the Indian caused racial friction.
- The Black regarded the Indian as an undesirable competitor in the labour market.
- The Whites objected to Natal becoming "a mere dumping ground for the refuse population of India."
- The Indian population of Natal had increased considerably; by 1910 it was estimated to be about 130,000.
- The Indian is a "very destructive and exhaustive cultivator." He neither manures, drains nor terraces hilly areas, and consequently after heavy rains, the soil is washed away (a vindictive complaint).
- The Indian prefers "light" occupations, such as hawking or waiting in hotels, working in offices or in factories. There existed the possibility of a rising class of young educated Indians who were entering clerical work as posing a threat to the European Colonist. However, by 1914, there were still relatively few educated Indians.
- As long as the Indian remained on the Estates, Durban Whites remained happy. However, as soon as the "free" Indians took to urbanisation and swelled Durban by becoming hawkers, artisans, market-gardeners and purchasing land, Durban's Whites were alarmed because, . . . "They perceived the Africans as a passive threat and affected a paternal regard for their allegedly natural subordination, but eventually they saw in the Indians a sophisticated and active menace to their position in Colonial society, competing for space, place, trade and political influence with the Imperial authority. "
- The imperialist factor however characterised White reasoning: "He does not consider he would be a good imperialist if he allowed any part of the Empire adapted to, and originally occupied by, a superior race, to be largely occupied by an inferior race, (and) the interests of White South Africa must not be subordinated to the general needs of the Empire." Expressed differently,
. . . "The future of South Africa must forever be with the European races, governed by European ideas of government, and peopled by a race of Europeans . . . ". The force behind this motive being, "the natural instinct of self-preservation,"74 a factor which came to characterize the attitude of Whites towards all other inhabitants of South Africa.
- Coming so soon after the Boer War, if Great Britain interfered too much in the affairs of self-governing states, she might possibly be faced with "a rebellion of both English and Dutch Colonists." In other words, Great Britain would not be allowed to dictate or determine South Africa's future non-White policy. (This factor ultimately materialized in 1961 when the Union of South Africa declared itself a Republic outside the Commonwealth.)
- A final factor which must be taken into account was that the years prior to 1910 witnessed great challenges in the development of Durban and other towns in Natal, which by now had already acquired a multi-national character with citizens from Europe, Africa and India. Maynard Swanson has made an interesting study of this aspect, which he sums up in these words:
"The towns (of Natal) thus emerged as the cockpits of communal conflict, and their municipalities stood forth as the protagonists of one racially defined segment of the community against the other, promoting baleful "solutions" to their common problems and their other Colonial rivalries."
Viewed in retrospect, the British concept of the great British Empire which was based on the concept of one monarch, with equality between all subjects, irrespective of race, creed or colour, was for its day a magnificent vision particularly if one takes into account the fact that India with its millions was part of this Empire. This concept formed the basis of all the Colonial territories. For example, according to the Natal Charter of 1856,
... "time expired Indians are in all respects free men, with rights and privileges not inferior to those of any class of the Queen's subjects in the Colony," recalled the Governor of Natal, Sir H. Bulwer.
When indentured Indian immigrants were transported to the various islands of the West Indies and the surrounding tropical areas, they were easily assimilated into their new communities. However, when they went to a predominantly White controlled Colony such as Natal, this great idealistic vision was doomed to failure. Perhaps the differences were not so much due to the mixture of races, but more for cultural, social and materialistic reasons. No one will deny the existence of strong racial prejudice between Whites and Indians at this particular period. At the Colonial Office the senior clerk for South Africa, Edward Fairfield, confirmed the prejudice when he remarked that . . . "The prejudice against Indians throughout South Africa, even in the Republics, is wholly English.
While Henry Polak condemned any type of discrimination outright, the Revd W. Pearson adopted a more sympathetic attitude and looked more objectively at the situation. The discrimination he attributed to "the conflict of civilisation" between the more complex 'civilisation of Western nations and the simpler ideals of the civilisation of the East. In South Africa the intense colour prejudice which existed he attributed firstly, "to the existence of a large native population which is four times as great as the White population" and secondly, to the evils of the indentured system which had produced "a lack of clear understanding or appreciation, of the great and ancient culture and civilisation of India, makes the White man in South Africa look upon the Indians in the same wayas he regards the native."
Pearson was intensely aware of the situation, one which has in fact plagued South African society up to the present day. In 1914 he wrote: 'This colour prejudice is the root cause of most of the grievances of the Indians at the present time. So long as it exists, it cannot be expected that the Indians will receive justice in political, social or legal matters. Christian principles do not seem to help in this matter, for very few of the Europeans seem to extend their Christianity so as to cover their relationships with coloured people. In this respect their Christianity is not even skin-deep."
As far as Natal was concerned, Pearson noted that "the Indian and European communities are mutually dependent on each other and benefit one another."82 The White for example cannot boycott the Indian hawker "because it touches his pocket." On the other hand, the White's attitude should be more realistic: "I may make as much money out of him as I can, but I cannot tolerate the idea of his making any money out of me."
This is commercialism with colour prejudice added on and it is obvious that commercial rivalry was at the root of the new class struggle. Viewed in perspective the emergent new society of "free" Indians posed a threat to Whites from the poorer class, while the Indian merchant class posed a major threat to the wealthier White businessman.
Fortunately, Pearson in 1914 noted with pleasure the steadily rising standard of living, especially of the "free" Indians who, being in closer touch with the European community, were becoming more westernized. Indian children born in Natal were using English as the language of instruction and of communication. There was no question of Whites having to lower their standards; rather there was a gradual upliftment and advancement of the Indians. He personally advocated three factors which would go a long way towards establishing racial harmony:
- "a greater patience and tolerance on the part of the European;"
- "a greater sense of security of vested interests on the part of the Indian community"
- Indians "should conform to the European's ideas of cleanliness and sanitation."
Of special interest was Pearson's idea for improvement in education. He believed that . . . "the disabilities which the Indians suffer can only be overcome by a persistent endeavour to show the Government their earnest desire for education up to a considerably higher standard than that at present generally amongst them."85
His recommendations remain noteworthy for 'self-help' projects, an aspect which has certainly come to distinguish the Indian community from any other group in South Africa during the first six decades of the twentieth century. In this respect, Pearson's advice reveals him to have been a man of far-sighted vision,
. . . "If the Indian community will itself lead the way by starting schools and asking for Government support, the education question will solve itself in time."
This remarkable prophesy certainly materialised with the establishment of "State-Aided Indian schools" and the establishment of Sastri College in 1930, the first Indian High School and Teacher Training College. At one time three-quarters of Indian schools were State-Aided, and today there are about 450 educational institutions. Further, by means of a policy of "upliftment" and "improvement," the Indian by 1990 has, generally speaking, been able to raise his standards to reach the same socio-economic level as that of Whites.
The hostile attitude of the White Colonists in Natal (and to an even greater extent from the Whites in the Transvaal) brought about in turn, a complete disillusionment on the part of the Indians towards the administrative policies of His Majesty's Government. Fortunately they retained a strong loyalty to the Crown and to the Empire because,
"the uneducated Indians look upon their Sovereign as their all-powerful protector. They believe in the divine right of kings. They know nothing of constitutions or self-government. So far as they are concerned, the only personality that exists in the political world is that of their Emperor." 87
It must be remembered that the indentured Indian labourer was invited to come to Natal and up to 1891, was even offered grants of land. Thereafter, they realised with dismay that British Natal did not want "free-passenger" Indians or "free" Indians but that the "indentured Indian labourer is warmly welcomed because he does work which a White man would not stoop to perform." Opportunities in the less-crowded Colonies were better than in India and a return to India, may mean a life of penury. The series of restrictive laws passed in Natal revealed strong anti-Indian feeling. The Indian wanted to be "treated on terms of perfect equality with the White subjects of the British Sovereign." As far as they were concerned, the British in Natal had broken their promises, because as British subjects it was difficult to purchase land or trade freely in any area; further, discriminatory practices prevented them from obtaining lucrative employment.
The Government and the people of India took a very dim view of the situation, but what alarmed them the most were the reports during the first decade of the twentieth century, of the so-called ill-treatment and irregularities which were committed against their Indian compatriots in Natal. This, perhaps more than any other factor, hastened the end of the period of indenture.