1913, satyagraha, passive resistance and its legacy

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1913, Satyagraha, Passive Resistance and its Legacy Edited by DEVARAKSHANAM (BETTY) GOVINDEN KALPANA HIRALAL


First published 2015 © Devarakshanam (Betty) Govinden and Kalpana Hiralal, 2015 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior permission of the editors and the publisher. ISBN 978-93-5098-078-1 Published by Ajay Kumar Jain for Manohar Publishers & Distributors 4753/23 Ansari Road, Daryaganj New Delhi 110002 Typeset by Ajay Arts New Delhi 110002 Printed by Salasar Imaging Systems Delhi 110035

Contents PA R T I

1913, SATYAGRAHA, PASSIVE RESISTANCE AND ITS LEGACY 1. Introduction Devarakshanam (Betty) Govinden and Kalpana Hiralal


2. ‘Strange Bedfellows’: Gandhi and Chinese Passive Resistance 1906-1911 Karen L. Harris


3. Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines Kalpana Hiralal


4. The 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign in Natal, South Africa: Origins and Results Ashwin Desai


5. ‘Gagged and Trussed Rather Securely by the Law’: The 1952 Defiance Campaign in Natal Goolam Vahed


6. ‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’ : The Dilution of Satyagraha in South Africa Scott Everett Couper


7. Resistance and Change – Religion in the Middle: Assessing the Role of Religion in Social Transformation in South Africa P. Pratap Kumar




8. An Approach to Peace: Gandhi on Conflict Resolution through Satyagraha Namita Nimbalkar 19. Evaluating the Legacy of Non-violence in South Africa Gail M. Presbey




REFLECTIONS – IN PROSE AND POETRY 10. The 1913 Women’s Marches – Learning from the Past Ela Gandhi


11. Poems Betty Govindan










Every century has its defining features, and the twentieth century is no exception. It will surely go down in history as the one century that saw the most dramatic struggles between reactionary and resistance forces worldwide. In South Africa this contest was particularly marked. In the earlier part of the first decade of the twentieth century, the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902) between the English and the Dutch had ended and the two white tribes of South Africa were moving towards reconciliation, which culminated in the Union of South Africa in 1910. This consolidation of white power was effectively about two opposing but conservative forces uniting and building on the increasing alienation and disenfranchizement of Blacks. It is not surprising that the South African National Native Congress (SANNC) was inaugurated in 1912 to mount resistance against the increasing discrimination that was planned against Blacks in South Africa. Nothing confirmed this fear of growing reactionary forces more than when the 1913 Natives Land Act, that effectively left only 13 per cent of the land to Africans, was passed *Our special thanks to Professor Anand Singh, Department of Anthropology, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Anil Nauriya, Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, New Delhi and Advocate, Supreme Court of India, New Delhi and Dr Namita Nimbalkar, Department of Philosophy, University of Mumbai for their constructive comments on an earlier draft of this article.



by the Union Parliament. It destroyed the peasantry at the stroke of a pen and forced Blacks to provide a cheap unskilled labour force for the white-owned mining industry. The impact of this history was to be experienced throughout the twentieth century, and is not eradicated to this day in our developing democracy. The SANNC would become, the African National Congress (ANC) in 1923, and would play a key role in the liberation struggle in South Africa for the rest of the twentieth century. It is not surprising that 1913 was also the year that saw several epoch-changing forms of resistance, forms which re-surfaced in different ways in the decades that followed. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi played a pivotal role in the Colony’s politics in these early years of the twentieth century and his influence was far-reaching. His first-hand encounter with discrimination meted out to Indians, both indentured and Free Indians in the Colony led him to forge resistance against the regime and the British Crown. He launched the ‘Passive Resistance Campaign’ in the Transvaal and galvanized the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), which he had formed after his arrival in South Africa in 1893. Gandhi left South Africa in 1914 and became an integral part of the protracted struggle for India’s Independence. This was realized in 1947 and his approach of nonviolence (Satyagraha) influenced the rest of the colonized world. In South Africa, Gandhi and the ideals of ‘Satyagraha’ in general, and the NIC in particular, continued to influence resistance politics for the rest of the twentieth century. The ‘Satyagraha’ movement ran parallel with different groupings across the political spectrum at the time, allowing them to enjoy intermittent, to increasing and visible solidarity by the mid-century. This Special Issue celebrates, in the main, a hundred years of history that emanated in different ways from the crucible of Gandhian ‘Satyagraha’ in 1913. It also opens up discursive spaces for contemporary critical reflection from various vantage points. GANDHI AND SOUTH AFRICA Gandhi first arrived in South Africa in 1893 as a young lawyer but by 1914, at the time of his departure, he had become a ‘Mahatma’ for the peoples of India and South Africa. In a new publication on Gandhi, historian Ramachandra Guha (2013) illustrates that



Gandhi’s work in South Africa was profoundly influential on his evolution as a political thinker and social reformer.1 South Africa provided the foundations for the development of his political philosophy and moral consciousness. Indians were subjected to racist treatment and Gandhi responded to their grievances. In so doing, he acquired experience in politics, communication and negotiation skills, and his ideas about race, class, gender, identity and the concept of leadership began to emerge. He also learnt about human relationships, the concept of sacrifice, moral consciousness, dignity, suffering and social accountability. His experiences in South Africa taught him the efficacy of active non-violent resistance as well as the need for unity of the oppressed communities. Although Gandhi did not originally envisage a mass movement, he soon realized that the success of a movement must rely on the masses, which included women, who he believed can play a crucial role in its success. UNDERSTANDING SATYAGRAHA The term ‘Satyagraha’ was first coined, developed and practised in South Africa, and the background to the emergence and use of the term shows the continual attempt to depict an evolving concept. It is worth acquainting oneself with the history of its origin, and the seemingly never-ending attempts to understand and clarify its meaning. The terms ‘passive resistance’ and ‘satyagraha’ had been used interchangeably to describe the movement in 1913, most noticeably in Gandhi’s newspaper, Indian Opinion. In January 1908 the Gujarati section of Indian Opinion switched to ‘Satyagraha’ while the English section continued to call it ‘Passive Resistance’. The following announcement appeared in the Gujarati section of Indian Opinion on 28 December 1907: We have been using some English terms just as they are, since we cannot find exact Gujarati equivalents for them. Some of these terms are given below, which we place before our readers. We shall publish in this journal the name of the person who supplies Gujarati equivalents for them which may be found acceptable. We shall also present him with 10 copies of the booklet we have published on the new law, which may be circulated by 1 Ramachandra Guha, Gandhi Before India, London: Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2013.



him among friends. The book is not offered by way of inducement, but to honour the recipient and spread information about the obnoxious law. We hope that our readers will take the trouble of suggesting suitable equivalents not for the sake of the prize but out of patriotism. The following are the terms in question: Passive Resistance; Passive Resister. . . . , Civil Disobedience. There are other words too, but we shall think of them some other time.

Only four entries were received for the Gujarati equivalent of ‘passive resistance’; three were deemed not suitable.2 The Gujarati section of Indian Opinion announced on 11 January 1908 that the fourth suggestion was ‘sadagraha’. Gandhi wrote: Though the phrase does not exhaust the connotation of the word ‘passive’, we shall use ‘satyagraha’ till a word is available which deserves the prize.3 The aim was to find a Gujarati equivalent of the term ‘passive resistance’, hence the choice of ‘Satyagraha’ was tentative. Gandhi initially used the terms ‘passive resistance’ and ‘Satyagraha’ as equivalents and continued to praise the British suffragettes. It was only some years after he returned to India that he elaborated on the distinction between the two terms and rejected the term ‘passive resistance’4 which, for Gandhi, did not capture the higher moral principles that ‘Satyagraha’ connoted. That Gandhi struggled to find a word that will do justice to the concept he had in mind is evident from time to time. In Chapter XII titled ‘The Advent of Satyagraha’ in his book Satyagraha in South Africa, written from memory a decade after he left South Africa, Gandhi stated: None of us knew what name to give to our movement. I then used the term ‘passive resis­tance’ in describing it. I did not quite understand the implications of ‘passive resistance’ as I called it. I only knew that some new principle had come into being. As the struggle advanced, the phrase ‘passive resistance’ gave rise to confusion and it appeared shameful to permit Indian Opinion, 7 March 1908. Maganlal Gandhi, Gandhi’s son, made this suggestion. He did not claim the offer of 10 booklets on the registration law as he was on the staff of Indian Opinion. 4 The term ‘passive resistance’ was not used in India. Instead there was, for instance, the ‘Non-Cooperation movement’ and the ‘Civil Disobedience movement.’ In 1940-1, there was ‘individual satyagraha’ by people chosen by Gandhi. 2 3



this great struggle to be known only by an English name. Again, that foreign phrase could hardly pass as current coin among the community. A small prize was therefore announced in Indian Opinion to be awarded to the reader who invented the best designation for our struggle. We thus received a number of suggestions. . . . Shri Maganlal Gandhi was one of the competitors and he suggested the word ‘Sadagraha’, meaning ‘firmness in a good cause’. I liked the word, but it did not fully represent the whole idea I wished it to connote. I therefore corrected it to ‘Satyagraha’. Truth (Satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian movement ‘Satyagraha’, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase ‘passive resistance’, in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word ‘Satyagraha’ itself or some other equivalent English phrase. This then was the genesis of the movement which came to be known as Satyagraha, and of the word used as a designation for it.5

Gandhi explained that at a meeting of Europeans in Germiston, William Hosken had said that the Indians ‘have taken to passive resistance which is a weapon of the weak’.6 Gandhi contradicted him and defined the Indian movement as ‘soul force’. So his concern was not to find an equivalent to ‘passive resistance’ but to find another term which was more appropriate. The term ‘Satyagraha’ was invented three weeks before the provisional settlement with General Smuts on 30 January 1908, which Gandhi considered a complete victory. He claimed: We shall not come across many instances of this kind in world history…. We consider this a victory for truth. We do not claim that every Indian adhered to truth in the course of the struggle. Nor do we claim that no one thought of his own interests during the campaign. We do, however, assert that this was a fight on behalf of truth, and that most of the leaders fought with scrupulous regard for truth. That is why there has been such a wonderful result. Truth is God, or God is nothing but Truth. . . . If this is a victory for truth, it is also a victory for satyagraha. Every Indian should by now be convinced that satyagraha, or passive resistance, is an infallible remedy. It can cure the most dangerous of ailments.7 M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Press, 1961, pp. 109-10. The term ‘satyagraha’ was not used in the English section of Indian Opinion during the struggle in South Africa. 6 The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’, vol. 3, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishers, 1968, p. 153. 7 Indian Opinion, 8 February 1908 (from Gujarati). 5



However, probably expecting people to call for ‘Satyagraha’ for redress of other grievances, of which there were many, he warned that it should be used on proper occasions. It must also be realised that there are evils to which satyagraha cannot be applied. . . . That is, if we are required to do anything which violates our religion or insults our manhood, we can administer the invaluable physic of ‘satyagraha’. There is one condition, however, to be observed, if the remedy is to be effective: we should be prepared collectively to accept hardships. . . .8

Gandhi began to think about the wider implications of ‘Satyagraha’ and of developing a philosophy. The more he thought about it the more enthusiastic he became, for he was trying to articulate and aspire to an ideal which was not yet reached in the practice of the movement: The sword of satyagraha is far superior to the steel sword. Truth and justice provide its point; divine help is the hilt that adorns it. One who has the use of this sword has no cause to fear defeat. Therefore, brave Indians, arise, and without ado, draw the sword of satyagraha and fight unto victory!9

In her impressive, scholarly work, Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading (2013), Isabel Hofmeyer, shows how Gandhi fashioned The Indian Opinion so that the very act of reading it became a meditative exercise in concentration and self-discipline, whereby ethical values and knowledge were slowly imbibed.10 The essays here show that there has been a continual attempt to understand and grapple with the term ‘Satyagraha’. Some have been at pains to remind adherents of the essence of ‘Satyagraha’. At the same time, there were those who modified and adapted ‘Satyagraha’ according to their own understandings and objectives or who used the idea as a strategy rather than as an ideal. While some clung to the ideal of ‘Satyagraha’, others did not violate its principles through a lack of understanding, but felt that a purist interpretation was not feasible on the ground. R.K. Narayan, in Indian Opinion, 8 February 1908. Indian Opinion, 27 June 1908 (from Gujarati). 10 Isabel Hofmeyer, Gandhi’s Printing Press : Experiments in Slow Reading, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013. 8




his interesting novel, Waiting for the Mahatma, first published in 1955, and where Gandhi appears as a character, shows that not all Gandhi’s followers began with altruistic motives.11 The shifting and fluid differences on a wide spectrum among many who worked with Gandhi or with his concept of ‘Satyagraha’ are reflected in the essays in this collection. Various views and understandings of ‘Satyagraha’ are evident at different times (which has sometimes become a debate around the morality of the practice of ‘Satyagraha’), and this is also reflected in our contributors’ positions in this Special Issue. Scott Everett Couper and Namita Nimbalkar, in their respective essays here, draw from precise and original understandings of ‘Satyagraha’ as envisaged by Gandhi. Couper sees ‘Satyagraha’ as an inviolate principle and, like Gandhi, does not accept that the means justify the ends. He states that we should assess passive resisters on the criteria of ‘tactics of opposition that do not physically harm other human beings through physical force’, and that one cannot employ both violent and non-violent means. Ashwin Desai, in his essay, that includes the events around Mandela’s decision to take up the armed struggle, shows the different approaches and practices in relation to ‘Satyagraha’. Desai points out that people like Nana Sita, Manilal Gandhi and Monty Naicker were among those who more convincingly adhered to ‘Satyagraha’ principles. He recounts Mandela’s reasoning at the historical juncture when ‘Satyagraha’ had to be revisited: ‘If peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end. For me, non-violence was not a moral principle, but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon’. For Mandela, the greater morality was fighting oppression and injustice effectively. Mandela observed that whatever was done by the resisters was met by an ‘iron hand’, and they were forced to ‘fight fire with fire’. The incessant, incipient question becomes: Was the problem the lack of proper application and practice of ‘Satyagraha’ that was making it an ineffective weapon or was it the unbearable intransigence of the apartheid regime? 11 R.K. Narayan, Waiting for the Mahatma, 1955, rpt, Mysore: Indian Thought Publication, 1999.



Fatima Meer, as Desai points out, shows the tension between the philosophy of ‘Satyagraha’ as espoused by Gandhi, and its practice in India and South Africa. Meer, as Desai reminds us, pointed out that Gandhi did not envisage ‘mass utilization of the technique’. She was of the opinion that remaining ‘pure’ to ‘Satyagraha’ would have placed the ‘brakes upon the militancy of the people’. In trying to understand ‘Satyagraha’, and its practice, it is worth remembering that Gandhi’s thoughts on it, as with the other concepts he was espousing, were ‘experiments with truth’. Indeed, Claude Markovits describes Gandhi’s autobiography as a ‘masterwork of ambiguity’ and shows how Gandhi himself was ‘unGandhian’. Markovits argues that to engage in an ‘instrumentalization of Gandhi’ and derive from Gandhi ‘some paradigm of universal value’ is misleading. Markovits suggests that Gandhi himself had a susceptibility to being ‘reborn’ as much as he was ‘reinvented’ by others.12 This Special Issue opens up the space for different understandings and opposing points of view to be aired and reflected upon. SATYAGRAHA INSPIRES SOUTH AFRICA In South Africa the ‘Satyagraha’ movement ran parallel with different groupings across the political spectrum at the time, with intermittent solidarity, but there was increasing and visible solidarity by the mid-century. The events of the 1960s – Sharpeville, Treason Trial and Rivonia Trial, the detention of the architects of the Freedom Charter – saw the inevitable recourse to the armed struggle and the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), but the values of non-violence ran parallel with this, or criss crossed. This was evident in the Durban strikes of the 1970s, the Black Consciousness Movement, which stressed ‘self-reliance and nonviolent resistance’, the Soweto uprisings of 16 June 1976, the formation of a mass democratic movement which included the ANC, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the United Democratic Front (UDF) and UDF affiliates, the South African Council of Churches (SACC), the new Defiance Campaigns Claude Markovits, The UnGandhian Gandhi: The Life and Afterlife of the Mahatma, Anthem South Asian Studies: Anthem Press, 2004, p. 163. 12



of the 1980s, and the approach of CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) in the early 1990s.13 Since the democratic dispensation inaugurated in 1994, Ela Gandhi, the grand-daughter of Gandhi and one of our contributors, has worked hard to keep the ideals of ‘Satyagraha’ alive. In South Africa, she has done more than anyone else to prime a new generation on the principles of non-violence into the twenty first Century. Ela Gandhi is one of our most notable peace activists. We have included her article in the second section of the Special Issue, ‘Reflections’, alongside selected poems on Gandhi and on ‘Satyagraha’. SATYAGRAHA STILL INSPIRES ‘Satyagraha’ inspired individuals and peoples beyond the shores of South Africa. It freed India of colonial rule under the British Empire. Several acts of ‘Satyagraha’ were carried out by Gandhi and the people of India through various means, such as prayer and fasting, the Salt March, boycott of British goods and hunger strikes. It was the Indian National Movement and its success in achieving independence under the leadership of Gandhi that inspired postcolonial movements in the rest of the world. This is not to deny the unfortunate incidence of violence on the subcontinent, especially after Indian Independence, and the sectarian violence in Gandhi’s home state of Gujarat in 2002, to cite just two examples.14 The Civil Rights movement in the United States, led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was influenced by Satyagraha. It utilized the law and the courts because of the special situation in the United States where the State laws imposed racist oppression while the Federal laws called for equality. Because of violent attacks against peaceful demonstrators in the United States, training camps were organized and the volunteers learned how to 13 S. Zunes, ‘The Role of Non-Violent Action in the Downfall of Apartheid’, The Journal of Modern African Studies 37, no. 1, March 1999, pp. 137-69. 14 Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R. Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India, New York : Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 167-77; Sanjoy Majumder, ‘Narendra Modi “Allowed” Gujarat 2002 anti-Muslim Riots’, From http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13170914. Retrieved, 2 November 2013.



take blows without hitting in return.15 What is not well known is that Gandhi also influenced W.E.B. du Bois, the respected AfricanAmerican intellectual and leader, who published The Souls of Black Folk in 1903. Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha has continued to influence nonviolent movements in the twentieth century, and has continued into the twenty first Century. Among those who have been influenced by Satyagraha is the Chipko movement in India, led by Vandana Shiva, among others. Reacting to environmental degradation, the movement consolidated resistance to deforestation as a practical necessity as well as a sacred duty.16 Akeel Bilgrami, a professor at Columbia University, who recently visited South Africa, has emphasized Gandhi’s ‘idea of the unalienated life’, which included both the natural and social worlds.17 A leading figure who has continued to espouse the values of non-violence is Aung San Suu Kyi, who is respected for her prodemocracy struggles in Burma, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991. She was directly influenced by Gandhi’s writings she encountered during her studies at Oxford in the 1960s. The Dalai Lama was also influenced by Gandhi. Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar, now resident in the US, is an important peace activist in the twenty first century. He started the Gülen Movement, which promotes global peace through education and works for interfaith understanding.18 15 Steven F. Lawson, ‘Freedom Then, Freedom Now: The Historiography of the Civil Rights Movement’, The American Historical Review 96, no. 2, April., 1991, pp. 456-71; Rod Bush, ‘The Civil Rights Movement and the Continuing Struggle for the Redemption of America’, Social Justice 30, no. 1 (91), ‘Race, Security & Social Movements, 2003’, pp. 42-66. 16 The Hindu, ‘Nehru, Gandhi Among Greatest Sources of Influence: Suu Kyi’, 24 September 2012, From http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/ tp-in-school/nehru-gandhi-among-greatest-sources-of-influence-suu-kyi/ article3930376.ece. Retrieved 9 November 2013; Gulen Movement, From, http://gulenmovement.com/. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 17 Christopher Lee, ‘Gandhi’s Lessons for Modern Life’, in Mail and Guardian, 25-31 October 2013, p. 40. 18 The Hindu, ‘Nehru, Gandhi Among Greatest Sources of Influence’: Suu Kyi, 24 September 2012, From http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/ tp-in-school/nehru-gandhi-among-greatest-sources-of-influence-suu-kyi/ article3930376.ece. Retrieved 9 November 2013; ‘Gulen Movement’, From, http://gulenmovement.com/. Retrieved 9 November 2013.



Active non-violent resistance clearly became a force in the twentieth century and has continued to become relevant in the twenty-first century. The current conflicts in the world are characterized by greed, power, border disputes, religious ideologies, and ethnic and racial discrimination. Too often violence is used to sustain personal and national interests at the expense of the gullible and unconscientized masses. The traditional conflicts between Israel and Palestine or China and Tibet, the events in Afghanistan, and the Middle Eastern uprising popularly labelled as the ‘Arab Spring’ in countries such as Iraq, Libya and more recently Syria, bear testimony to this fact. However, internationally, the need for political transformation through non-violent means has led to resistance to dictatorships by social movements in the Arab world, most notably in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. The appeal of Gandhi and to non-violence continues to proceed apace. Anthony Parel has urged that India and the rest of the world needs ‘the Gandhian paradigm’ as it teaches everyone not to sacrifice ethics, beauty, and transcendence.19 Arun Gandhi, the son of Manilal Gandhi, who was born in South Africa, has contributed a great deal to the promotion of non-violence into the twenty-first century. He has founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence, in the US.20 In South Africa the need to adopt active non-violent resistance is more and more articulated. Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, a former anti-apartheid activist wrote on the culture of violence which ‘poisons SA society’. The spate of political killings, and police brutality during the Marikana massacre in 2012, the assassinations of more than 50 district and grass-roots politicians between 2009-12, is indicative of the violence that has characterized South African society. According to Madlala-Routledge, ‘What we need is disciplined, non-violent, direct action campaigns addressing issues of injustice and inequality, drawing on the theory and spirit of practitioners such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Albert Luthuli, and the large body of non-violence experience developed in South Africa, Western Europe, South America and 19 Anthony J. Parel, Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 205. 20 M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence, From http://www. gandhiinstitute.org/. Retrieved 7 November 2013.



the events of the Arab Spring’.21 She adds further that we need to ‘engage in deep dialogue about the use of violence. . . I urge South Africans to reject violence in all its forms and return to the proud legacy of non-violence bequeathed to us by Luthuli and Gandhi’.22 The challenge to re-think the way we address conflicts in the twenty first century is ever before us. *** THIS SPECIAL ISSUE The different contributors to this Special Issue, which commemorates the centenary of the 1913 Satyagraha Passive Resistance movement, address this history from various vantage points. Karen L Harris, in her paper, ‘Strange Bedfellows: Gandhi and Chinese Passive Resistance 1906-11’, approaches the topic of Gandhi and ‘Satyagraha’ in South Africa from an interesting angle. She points out that one aspect that has increasingly come under scrutiny is Gandhi’s relations with non-Indian communities in South Africa. Her paper is set against the criticisms of Gandhi’s professed rejection of racism and his claim to universalism. An important contribution to Gandhian historiography, the paper shows the co-operation of the South African Chinese community in the passive resistance movement, and thereby presents a different perspective on Gandhi’s perceived ‘political exclusionism’, ‘ethnocentrism’ and ‘illusiveness’. Kalpana Hiralal, co-editor of this volume, in her paper, provides an exhaustive account of the ‘Satyagraha’ movement in the Natal Midlands, where the defiance by Indian labourers on the coal mines was phenomenal. Inspite of the firm but conciliatory politics adopted by the striking miners, employers remained intransigent, and enlisted Government assistance to repress the strike. This article contributes to a deeper understanding of the dynamics of labour unrest and social protest in 1913 in the Natal Midlands. This is a little-known history and this type of excavatory work is necessary as it gives detailed descriptions of the perseverance and opposition that marked protests outside the main urban centres at an early period in the century. Sunday Tribune, 4 November 2012, p. 34. Sunday Tribune, 4 November 2012, p. 34.

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The 1940s and 1950s also showed the increasing tension between reactionary and oppositional forces. Ashwin Desai shows the endurance of Satyagraha values into the mid-century, even though there was conflict within the ranks of the NIC. In 1945, the radical wing of the NIC, led by Monty Naicker, gained control, against the conservative grouping around A.I. Kajee and P.R. Pather. Monty Naicker was joined by leading trade unionists and young university students, and this new leadership was confronted with the government’s Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act, popularly referred to as the ‘Ghetto Act’. Desai points out that the NIC’s response to the Ghetto Act was to result in the most public application of Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of ‘passive resistance’ in South Africa after his departure to India in 1914. The core of the campaign centred on the occupation of a piece of land in Gale Street in Durban. The article includes an important examination of the role of women, and how they came to interpret Gandhi’s notion of ‘Satyagraha’, as well as the links forged with Gandhi and the Indian National Congress (in India). Desai concludes his essay with an interesting and provocative evaluation of the dynamics of Gandhian strategies up to the mid-century. He states that the: [I]rony is that the Gandhian strategy of piece-meal improvements, the acceptance of white minority rule, and the aversion to violent resistance lived on in the camp of those Indians who sought to collaborate with the apartheid government, staying within the confines of apartheid strictures, participating in structures that cut them off from Africans. These were institutions like the new South African Indian Council and the House of Delegates which were established in the period from the 1960s to the 1980s.

We are certain that Desai’s contention will open up many debates on how this history is read? At the same time, alongside Desai’s view, it is worth pondering over the lineage of Gandhian resistance that might be traced through the rest of the century in the more confrontational politics that was to evolve in the rest of the century. The NIC saw a revival in the 1970s, and was active in the politics of non-collaboration in the 1980s. Leaders such as Jerry Coovadia, Pravin Gordhan, Fatima Meer, Ela Gandhi, Mewa Ramgobin and Yunus Mohamed, all from the NIC, did much to strengthen a non-racial consciousness at this time. The NIC participated in nationwide campaigns to boycott



the apartheid-driven elections of the Tricameral Parliament. These leaders continued their non-collaborationist, activist work through strong affiliation with the United Democratic Front (UDF). Whatever, different and alternative turns and choices were made on the long road to freedom in the decades that followed, the courage, moral outrage, and defiance inaugurated in the early years of the twentieth century in South Africa, were to continue unabated. Goolam Vahed’s article also foregrounds some of the midcentury events in Durban. After the election to power of the National Party in 1948 the consolidation of apartheid proceeded apace, with the institution of Bantustans and the promulgation of several segregation laws. If the 1950s was one of the most repressive decades of the century, it also saw a phenomenal momentum of resistance. Vahed shows that under the leadership of Yusuf Dadoo and Monty Naicker a solid coterie of activists, schooled during the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign, sought to build unity with the ANC. The gathering momentum of the Defiance Campaign, which began in 1952, culminated in the landmark signing of the Freedom Charter. Once again, the non-violent strategies of ‘Satyagraha’ became defining strategies of resistance. Vahed shows how the 1952 Defiance Campaigns burgeoned into mass movements, built on the legacies of the 1913 and 1946 campaigns, ‘which brought into the public domain the idea of open non-violent defiance’. His chronicling of the rugged journey towards African-Indian collaboration following the 1949 riots between Africans and Indians makes for instructive reading. It shows the courageous levels of defiance and civil disobedience that was mounted, notwithstanding the violent crackdown by the apartheid state. Scott Everett Couper provides a critical, if not controversial, analysis of the appropriation of Satyagraha, and opens up debate and contestation on who ‘true’ Satyagrahis were/are. By looking at the original Gandhian ideals against ways of practising or interpreting Satyagraha at different historical moments, he argues that there have been ‘dilutions’ at various points in our history. Couper interrogates the recourse to violence under MK, the appropriation of Luthuli in contemporary official narrativisation of the freedom struggle, which paints him as a supporter of the armed struggle. He also criticizes the granting of awards of the Gandhi Development Trust,



formed under the leadership of Ela Gandhi, to those who did not strictly adhere to non-violent methods of resistance. There are many questions and points for consideration that readers may wish to ponder over. To what extent was Luthuli following non-violence ideals in general, and to what extent were they specifically Gandhian? If there was slippage and ambivalence between intention and practice on the matter of non-violence, is this not inevitable (as alluded above), given the growing intransigence of the apartheid regime during this time? What is clear is that there was deep soul-searching about the option to resort to violence, even if non-violence was the ideal. The formation of MK was not lightly taken. After the Treason Trial and Sharpeville massacre the imperatives for increasing the opposition to apartheid became pressing. The apartheid regime was even opposed to the (peaceful) Defiance campaigns that culminated in the signing of The Freedom Charter, dismissed it as ‘Communist’, and imprisoned its leaders. One question that may be asked is: Why did India and the followers of Gandhi and the pacifists of the world support the South African liberation struggle in general, and Mandela in particular, despite his leadership of MK? It is arguable that the moral claims of the liberation struggle, as alluded above, in the face of the tightening grip of the apartheid regime made the call to arms justifiable. Couper shows that Luthuli was guided by his Christian principles, which espoused non-violence. But we have to acknowledge that even the Church agonized over the question of non-violence, and came to a position where it argued for recourse to violence to overthrow an unjust state, developing and refining its thinking on ‘a just war’. There was no unanimity on this position among Christian groups, with the more conservative churches maintaining a general stand on non-violence (but not really following even Gandhian non-violent strategies, which would have included sanctions or other forms of protest against apartheid); and the more radical churches coming under the influence of Liberation Theology, and supporting armed overthrow of the apartheid regime. Alongside the debate generated around Luthuli and the armed struggle, it is, arguably, also worth exploring the role of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA), the



church to which Luthuli belonged, and the competing tendencies within it, between liberal and more radical responses to apartheid. For example, radical elements within the UCCSA supported the World Council of Churches Programme to Combat Racism, and some of its eminent theologians, such as Bonganjalo Goba, Roxanne Jordaan and Steve de Gruchy, supported the Kairos Document, and even played a role in its development in the 1980s. It is also worth remembering that Inanda Seminary which played a key role in providing alternative education during the apartheid era, and associated with anti-apartheid luminaries such as Bertha Mkhize and Ellen Kuzwayo, was a UCCSA institution. Should Satyagraha be defined and applied clinically or is there room for nuanced and even ambivalent understandings and practices? If Gandhian institutions today acknowledge only those who used strictly non-violent methods, would we not be creating two classes of freedom fighters? The Nobel Peace Prize Committee itself, in honouring Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk shows that purist lines of demarcation between violent and non-violent strategies are difficult to pursue. Indeed, de Klerk was a perpetrator of violence against the oppressed at a certain time in apartheid history, and then changed to conciliatory solutions. One also needs to take cognizance of the temporal dimension, of the shifting perceptions from one historical moment to another. To cite one example: Mandela was praised in the 1990s for espousing reconciliation, yet Alan Paton, through his book Cry the Beloved Country, was criticized in the late 1940s for a similar stance. Couper’s contentions certainly encourage readers and scholars to pursue these and many more vexed issues further, in order to understand the competing imperatives that shape historiography, where constructions, mythologizing (on both sides of the spectrum), ideology and political standpoints, all play their part. P. Pratap Kumar, in his contribution, discusses contemporary challenges facing South Africa, with particular reference to religious differences and discrimination. He shows how much needs to be done to deepen our democracy, especially in the field of religious tolerance and the present-day imperatives for fostering Gandhian ideals. He argues that religious intolerance



has the potential to deepen conflict and endanger peace and economic prosperity in South Africa. He underscores the Gandhian approach to resolve social tensions within South Africa’s multi-cultural society. His analysis provides a way forward in conflict resolution in the context of race, religion and culture in post-apartheid South Africa. Namita Nimbalkar’s paper delves into the finer meanings of passive resistance and Satyagraha, clarifying the similarities and differences between these two important concepts. Nimbalkar argues that by choosing the word Satyagraha, with all its rich and deep connotations, Gandhi was stressing the inclusive nature of non-violent action, where the moral and spiritual dimensions of ‘Satyagraha’ or ‘soul force’, propelled not by power but by the quest for ultimate Truth, is important. She also shows how Gandhi used ‘Satyagraha’ as an effective means to end conflicts. Would pure non-violence have worked in South Africa? This is the question that Gail M Presbey takes up in her paper, ‘Evaluating the Legacy of Nonviolence in South Africa’. Working retrospectively, she explores the efficacy of non-violence in confronting an unjust apartheid regime. She addresses the complexities between non-violent and violent courses of action in our history, given the myths and stereotypes on both sides. While peace activists understandably argue in an idealistic manner for the non-violent position, the reality might sometimes demand different tactical strategies. Indeed, as Presbey argues, the ANC came to see the efficacy of both non-violent and violent approaches. Her nuanced paper shows the importance of problematising onedimensional constructions of historical narratives, of circumspectly evaluating and re-evaluating historical events or trends against the evidence and, indeed, of the need to constantly ferret out evidence before making historical judgements. It is an instructive lesson on how to read history. In Part 2 of the Special Issue we have included a section on ‘Reflections – in Prose and Poetry’, which includes Ela Gandhi’s article, ‘The 1913 Women’s Marches – Learning from the Past’ and poems on Satyagraha. In her piece, focusing on women, Ela Gandhi has sketched important signposts of resistance at different



times in the history of the twentieth century, and we laud her efforts to aim for inclusivity. The poems by (Betty) Govinden capture the spirit of Gandhian thinking and living. In conclusion, the history of Satyagraha in South Africa, aspects of which are highlighted in the essays here, is an illustrious one. It forces us to not only deepen our critical understanding of the past, but also to know this past as the legacy from which we draw for the present and future. We take the position that Satyagraha as a force against totalitarian and immoral leaderships is, and will continue to be, imbued with relevance and currency when jadedness in war or in sheer self-interest wears down the will to defend the violent and the corrupt wherever they are in the world. Martin Luther King Jr. rightly reminded us that passive resistance is not non-resistance.


‘Strange Bedfellows’: Gandhi and Chinese Passive Resistance 1906-1911* KAREN L. HARRIS

For some commentators, such as James Hunt, Gandhi’s relationship with non-Indians in South Africa was, to say the least, ‘unsatisfactory’.1 Some works are in fact extremely critical of his attitude, suggesting that the passive resistance campaign suffered as a result of its limited contact. For example, Paul Power goes as far as claiming that Gandhi actually facilitated the implementation of ‘divisive segregationist policies’ and perpetuated ‘racialism’ and even ‘proto-apartheid’.2 Moreover, Gandhi’s role as a key political figure within the South African Indian community is questioned by authors such as Maureen Swan, as is his political leadership role in the broader multi-cultural South African context.3 More recently, in a reappraisal of Gandhi’s South African years, *This article is a reworked version of a chapter entitled ‘Gandhi, the Chinese and Passive Resistance’, in Judith Brown and Martin Prozesky, ed., Gandhi and South Africa: Principles and Politics, Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1996, pp. 69-95. 1 James D. Hunt, ‘Gandhi and the Black People in South Africa’, Gandhi Marg, April-June 1989, pp. 7-8 refers to work by D.B. MacArthur, G. Ashe and L. Switser. 2 Paul Power, ‘Gandhi in South Africa’, Journal of Modern African Studies 7, no. 3, 1969, pp. 445-6; M. Tayal, ‘Gandhi: The South African Experience’, pp. 722-26, Ph.D. diss., Oxford University, 1980. 3 J.H. Stone II, ‘Debate: M.K Gandhi: Some Experiments with Truth’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 16, no. 4, 1990, pp. 722-6; Maureen Swan, Gandhi: The South African Experience (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1985), pp. 270-1; Surendra Bhana, ‘Gandhi’, review of Burnett Britton, Gandhi Arrives in South Africa (Canton: ME Greenleaf Books, 1999), in Journal of African History, 42, no. 2, 2001, pp. 329-30.


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Surendra Bhana and Goolam Vahed have also paid some attention to the relationship between Gandhi and black South Africans. They argue that Gandhi paid little attention to Africans and their leaders, claiming that the ‘possibility of Gandhi’s moulding a united front with other Black groups was never a realistic one . . . given the circumstances around which Indianness came into being.’4 They admit to Gandhi’s ‘ethnocentrism’, but appear to ratify the lack of non-Indian relations by emphasizing his promotion of ‘Indianness’ as the ‘best way to make the case for Indian rights’. 5 This is done against the background of the very different ways in which Indians and Africans were treated in the South African colonies in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In a similar vein in another recent work, Claude Markovits points out that Gandhi ‘succeeded in earning respect, even friendship, of a few white men and women’, pointing to the fact that he also had a ‘European secretary [Miss Schlesin] in his legal practice at Johannesburg’.6 His relationship with Indians and whites is repeated on the very next page when Gandhi is described as having ‘showed an ability to form lasting friendships beyond racial barriers, with Indians and Europeans’.7 He then adds – in telling parenthesis – that it ‘has been remarked, however, that in South Africa he [Gandhi] had no African friends’.8 There again appears to be an attempt to contextualize this situation, as Markovits states earlier in the work that ‘Gandhi also earned a measure of respect from his European colleagues which, in as profoundly racist a society as colonial South Africa in the late nineteenth century was, was no mean achievement’.9 It therefore, becomes apparent that in numerous studies Gandhi is presented as having had relations with only certain select sections of the South African Indian community in South Africa along with a few relationships with whites, and the lack of relations beyond this is either criticized or defended. 4 Surendra Bhana and Goolam Vahed, The Making of a Political Reformer: Gandhi in South Africa, 1893-1914, New Delhi: Manohar, 2005, p. 43. 5 Bhana and Vahed, The Making of a Political Reformer, p. 151. 6 Claude Markovits, The UnGandhian Gandhi: The Life and Afterlife of the Mahatma (London: Anthem Press, 2004), p. 80. 7 Ibid. pp. 80-1. 8 Ibid. p. 81. 9 Ibid. p. 79.

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In the light of these trends in Gandhian historiography, an analysis of the involvement of the South African Chinese community in the passive resistance movement presents a different perspective on Gandhi’s so-called ‘political exclusionism’, ‘ethnocentrism’ and ‘illusiveness’. However, the Chinese passive resistance movement is a fairly unknown event and has received relatively little attention by most Gandhian scholars and other historians, barring a few passing references or trivializing comments. For example, in the work by Power, Chinese participation in the passive resistance movement earns a mere sentence, which is both in parenthesis and inaccurate.10 James Hunt also dismisses the Chinese passive resistance as an alliance of ‘mutual self-interest’,11 while G. Ashe refers to the Chinese resistance in passing as ‘joint action with a few Chinese’.12 This view is perpetuated in Maureen Swan’s renowned re-interpretive study, Gandhi: The South African Experience, in which the Chinese barely feature, and their role is reduced simply to making ‘good strategic sense’.13 She dismisses the Chinese passive resistance as a ‘parallel movement’ which ‘need play no major part in a discussion of Indian passive resistance’.14 While some recent work refers to the Chinese as being ‘subjected to the same laws as the Indians’,15 others make no mention of the Chinese at all.16 Turning to the limited number of histories of the small Chinese community in South Africa, there are a few general monographs on the overseas Chinese by international scholars that include brief references to the passive resistance movement in South Africa. Power, Gandhi in South Africa, p. 450. Hunt, ‘Gandhi’, pp. 11-12. 12 G. Ashe quoted in Hunt, Gandhi and the Black People, pp. 7-8. 13 Swan, Gandhi, pp. 137-8. 14 Ibid. pp. 143, 148-9, 171, 177. 15 Keith Breckenridge, ‘Gandhi’s Progressive Disillusionment: Thumbs, Fingers, and the Rejection of Scientific Modernism in Hind Sawaj’, Public Culture, 3, no. 2, 332 and 339. Although not the focus of this insightful article, the discord that arises between Gandhi and the Chinese specifically over the fingerprint issue would have made for an interesting discussion. 16 Markovits, The UnGandhian Gandhi; D. Hardiman, Gandhi in His Time and Ours: The Global Legacy of His Ideas, Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2003. 10 11


Karen L. Harris

Once again, the relationship between the Chinese and Gandhi is not adequately addressed, but where it is, it is invariably portrayed as one in which Gandhi played a prominent leadership role.17 As early as the mid-1950s, Huang Tsen-ming indicates that ‘both Indians and Chinese resolved as a body not to register’, but he qualifies this by stating categorically that the passive resistance movement had been ‘initiated under M.K. Gandhi’.18 In her comprehensive global study of Chinese overseas, Lynn Pan also ascribes the defiance by the Indian and Chinese as having been led by ‘a young Indian lawyer, Mahatma Gandhi’. She does, however, concede that an ‘alliance was formed between the Indian and Chinese communities’, indicating that ‘Gandhi worked closely with the chairman of the Cantonese Association’.19 The work of Huguette Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo is one of the first to deviate slightly from this generalization of a Gandhi-dominated Indian and Chinese collaboration. In her work on the China diaspora in the Western Indian Ocean, a more detailed account emerges where she attributes certain initiatives to the Chinese, but still depicts them as faithful ‘collaborators’ with Gandhi and the Indians, where they ‘unite[d] their efforts’ in their ‘struggle for civic rights’.20 Although her account, which runs into several pages, includes one or two historical inaccuracies, it remains one of the first to present the Chinese as active participants in the resistance movement and also makes use of numerous primary sources, including Indian Opinion.21 In 1993, the University of Natal hosted a conference to commemorate the centenary of Gandhi’s ‘transforming experience in Pietermaritzburg’, and it was here that I first presented a paper

17 Huang Tsen-ming, The Legal Status of the Chinese Abroad, Taipei: Chinese Cultural Service, 1954, pp. 49-52; Lynn Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor: The Story of the Overseas Chinese, London: Mandarin Paperbacks, 1990, pp. 667; Huguette Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora in Western Indian Ocean, Mauritius: MSM, 1985, pp. 228-39 for the most comprehensive account. 18 Huang, The Legal Status, pp. 50-1. 19 Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor, p. 66. 20 Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora, pp. 215, 228, 230, 227. 21 Ibid. pp. 238-41.

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on the Chinese and passive resistance.22 This was later published in 1996 in an edited volume by Judith Brown and Martin Prozesky, and forms the core on which the current article is based.23 The Chinese passive resistance also formed a substantial part of a chapter in my doctoral dissertation, which was on the Chinese in the Transvaal at the turn of the twentieth century.24 In the splendidly-illustrated and researched community history of the Chinese in South Africa by Melanie Yap and Dianne Man, Colour, Confusion and Concessions, this episode in the history of the South African Chinese also received extensive attention.25 The chapter dedicated to Chinese passive resistance presents a detailed discussion of the event, highlighting the Chinese participation and focusing ‘primarily on the attitudes and activities of the Chinese’.26 However, although this is indeed a very insightful account of the period of Chinese passive resistance, and one that the authors describe as the ‘most turbulent times in the history of the community’, it surprisingly still adheres very much to the conventional perception that the Chinese ‘rallied behind Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign’ alongside the Indians.27 Despite this more recent research, which acknowledges the Chinese passive resistance within the broader context of South African historiography, and in particular that of Gandhi and satyagraha, the Chinese involvement in the period 1906-11 remains fairly unknown. This historical narrative is crucial, given that the Chinese were the only non-Indian group to participate in the passive resistance movement, and therefore serves to contradict Karen Harris, ‘Gandhi, the Chinese and Passive Resistance’, International Conference on Gandhi and his Significance: Centenary Celebrations’, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1993. 23 Karen Harris, ‘Gandhi, the Chinese and Passive Resistance’ in Gandhi and South Africa: Principles and Politics, ed. Judith Brown and Martin Prozesky, Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1996, pp. 69-95. My thanks are due to Natal University Press for granting permission to rework and publish this chapter. 24 Karen Harris, ‘A History of the Chinese in South Africa to 1912’, D. Litt. and Phil., unpublished thesis, Unisa, 1998. 25 Melanie Yap and Dianne Man, Colour, Confusion and Concessions, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1996, chap. 6. 26 Yap and Man, Colour, Confusion and Concessions, p. 137. 27 Ibid. 22


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assessments of Gandhi’s lack of participation with non-Indians. However, this involvement is even more significant when we realize that it was a unique political occurrence in their own history in South Africa. It was the first time that the Chinese community was directly active in political agitation, yet it was not the first or only time that they were subjected to discriminatory legislation. The question therefore arises whether Gandhi was the instrumental catalyst in Chinese participation in passive resistance? Was it merely a coincidental and mutually beneficial alliance forged for purely pragmatic reasons as has been contended, or can a degree of leadership and influence among the South African Chinese be claimed for the Mahatma? Moreover, how did Gandhi view other Asians and what was the nature of his interaction with the Chinese community, notwithstanding his being stereotyped a ‘segregationist’, disinclined to seek allies because they were apparently unnecessary?28 SUGAR AND GOLD Before considering the part played by the Chinese in the genesis of passive resistance in South Africa and Gandhi’s role in its evolution, a brief comparative overview of the Indian and Chinese communities in South Africa will serve to illustrate their common experience of oppression under discriminatory legislation and therefore explain the feasibility of a political alliance, given the common ground. At the turn of the eighteenth century, Chinese and Indian immigrants were both part of the social landscape at the Cape. They were mainly traders, servants, ex-convicts or slaves.29 Their numbers were extremely small and hardly any growth was recorded until the mid-nineteenth century when the sugar, diamond and gold industries emerged. Free Chinese and so-called passenger Indians arrived to serve these developing areas, particularly the gold-mines in the Transvaal, and Hunt, ‘Gandhi and the Black People’, pp. 20-1. Richard Elphick and Herman Giliomee, The Shaping of South African Society, Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman, 1990, pp. 116, 184, 209, 213, 217-24; Karen Harris, Ling-chi Wang and Gungwu Wang, eds., ‘The Chinese “South Africans”: An Interstitial Community’, The Chinese Diaspora, Selected Essays, vol. 2, Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1998, p. 276. 28 29

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to establish small trade and service businesses.30 The volume of this late nineteenth century immigration was augmented by disasters experienced in both countries of origin, where droughts, famine, floods, overpopulation and internal strife prevailed.31 As a result, there were over a thousand Chinese living in the Transvaal by the turn of the twentieth century,32 and although the Indian population was estimated at between ten and fifteen thousand at the outbreak of the South African War,33 Swan argues that the non-dependent adult male Indian population was also around a thousand.34 In the absence of accessible information, it has to be assumed that the Chinese occupied the same privileged stratum of Transvaal society as the independent Indians35 – a position they could perhaps have retained if it had not been for the importation of indentured labour. In 1860 the first Indian contract labourers were introduced, to work on the sugar plantations of Natal,36 and in 1904 the Chinese indentured system became an integral part of gold-mining in the Transvaal.37 It is significant that in the deliberations surrounding the introduction of this kind of labour both Indians and Chinese 30 Surendra Bhana and Joy Brain, Setting Down Roots: Indian Immigrants in South Africa, 1860-1911, Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 1990, pp. 34-5; 96: Karen Harris, The Chinese in South Africa: A Preliminary Overview Kleio, xxvi, 1994, pp. 16-17. 31 Ta Chen, Chinese Migrations with Special Reference to Labour Conditions, Washington: Washington Government Printing Office, 1923, pp. 5-11; Bhana and Brain, Setting Down Roots, p. 35. 32 PRO (Public Record Office): CO 291/75, no. 10687, 24 March 1904: Colonial Secretary Lyttelton in Parliament; Indian Opinion, 31 August 1907; Huang, Chinese Abroad, p. 50. 33 B. Pachai, ‘The History of the Indian Opinion, 1903-14’, Archives Year Book for South African History, Pretoria: Government Printers, 1963, p. 22; Bhana and Brain, Setting Down Roots, p. 78; Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora, p. 218. 34 Swan, Gandhi, pp. 1-2. 35 Indian Opinion, 31 August, 26 October 1907; Bhana and Brain, Setting Down Roots, pp. 96-7; Swan, Gandhi, p. 2. 36 Surendra Bhana, Indentured Indian Emigrants to Natal, 1860-1902: A Study Based on Ships’ Lists, New Delhi: Promilla and Co, 1991, p. 19; Bhana and Brain, Setting Down Roots, p. 29. 37 Peter Richardson, Chinese Mine Labour in the Transvaal, London: Macmillan Press, 1982, p. 166.


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were considered for the scheme.38 Of more importance, however, was the influence that the Natal experience of indentured labour had on the Transvaal system which, on white insistence, stipulated that the Chinese were not to enter the Transvaal on the same conditions as Indians had entered Natal.39 Consequently, there was a stark contrast between the terms of the Natal legislation and those of the subsequent Transvaal ordinance.40 According to Law 14 of 1859, Indian labourers were to serve a five-year term of indenture, at the end of which they could either be re-indentured or live as free people in the country. After ten years’ residence in Natal they also had the option, until 1891, of taking a free return passage to India or a grant of land equal in value to a sea passage.41 The Labour Importation Ordinance of 1904, on the other hand, stipulated that all Chinese labourers had to enter a contract of service not exceeding three years, with the right of renewal for a similar period, after which they were to be returned to their country of origin.42 Therefore, apart from the other severely restrictive regulations entrenched in the latter legislation, the indentured Chinese represented a temporary expedient and could never become ex-indentured as the Indian could. In terms of political activity this meant that while the Indian merchant class and Gandhi could choose to distance themselves from their ex-indentured compatriots, the Chinese did not have that option. Furthermore, during the public furor which preceded the introduction of Chinese labour, the Chinese community in the Transvaal made it quite clear that it was ‘neither interested nor concerned with the introduction or otherwise of Chinese labour PRO: CO 291/65 no. 15307/03, ‘Correspondence re-Labour from India for the Mines’; Indian Opinion, March 1906, p. 24; Natal Mercury, November 1855, p. 9; W. Gait, The Rand Crisis’, Natal University Law Review 1, 4, 1975, p. 191; Richardson, Chinese Mine Labour, p. 32. 39 Persia Campbell, Chinese Coolie Emigration to Countries within the British Empire, New York: Routledge, 1923, pp. 171-2. 40 For a detailed analysis of this see Karen Harris, ‘Sugar and Gold: Indentured Indian and Chinese Labour in South Africa’, Journal of Social Sciences, Special Volume, no. 11, 2010, pp. 147-58. 41 Leonard Thompson, ‘Indian Immigration into Natal, 1860-72’, Archives Year Book for South African History, Pretoria: Government Printers, 1952, p. 14. 42 Campbell, Chinese Emigration, pp. 176-7; Richardson, Chinese Mine Labour, p. 166. 38

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for the mines’.43 Such sentiments were remarkably like those of Gandhi towards both Indian and Chinese indentured workers.44 The large-scale influx of these indentured labourers into South Africa had a profound impact on the position of those who had already settled, and on future immigrants of the Asian communities. The fear and animosity felt by many whites towards the indentured and ex-indentured Indians in Natal was extended to all Asian communities.45 Moreover, the gradual increase in the Asian population during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and in particular of the Indian trading class in the Transvaal, resulted in the passing of a deluge of legislation to curb and control them.46 The first ordinance to focus specifically on Indian merchants was passed in 1885 in the Boer Republic of the Orange Free State. It required the registration of Indian communities in their magisterial districts, but as there were fewer than a dozen Indians and hardly any Chinese, the law was of little consequence.47 However, the subsequent South African Republic legislation had far wider implications. Law 3 of 1885, and its amendment, denied the ‘native races of Asia’ the right to citizenship and ownership of fixed property, except in ‘streets, wards and locations’ which the government assigned to them.48 It also called for their registration and insisted that they carry a pass with a stamp to the value of £25.49 The Chinese were included in both these laws and were subjected to the same legislation as Indians, regardless of whether or not they had been directly implicated in the reason for its enactment. In fact, much of the future legislation which was aimed at Indians, probably because of their far greater numbers, was also applicable PRO: CO 291/67 no. 20153/1903, Chinese Grievances, 25 May 1903. Swan, Gandhi, xvi, 60, pp. 113-14. 45 Harris, Chinese in South Africa, p. 13; Pachai, History of Indian Opinion, p. 22. 46 Edna Bradlow, ‘Immigration into the Union 1910-1948: Policies and Attitudes’, Ph.D. diss., University of Cape Town, 1978, p. 12; Pachai, Indian Question, pp. 13-14; Bhana and Brain, Setting Down Roots, p. 78. 47 Swan, Gandhi, p. 38; Harris, Chinese South Africans, pp. 18-19. 48 Statute Laws of the Transvaal, 1, Law no. 3, 1 June 1885, p. 135. 49 Volksraad Resolution, Artikel 1419, 12 August 1886. 43 44


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to the smaller Chinese community.50 It was only after Union in 1910 that ‘the Asian question’ became ‘the Indian question’ and acts of Parliament referred to Indians in particular rather than to Asians in general.51 Although the Indians and Chinese were therefore subjected to similar legislation and treated in a similar manner, it does not follow that they also reacted as a united force. The 1885 Transvaal legislation became a case in point, and was also significant in terms of what Swan refers to as ‘pre-Gandhian politics’.52 During the draft phase of Law 3 in 1884, the Indian merchants petitioned the South African Republic Volksraad (State Assembly) not to introduce the discriminatory legislation as they were ‘men of substantial standing . . . engaged in flourishing businesses’.53 They also made a point of forcing a class division between themselves and the ‘labouring class of Indians and the Chinese’.54 Despite the paucity of archival material on Chinese activities, there is some evidence of their response to the 1885 legislation. Once the law had begun to be more seriously enforced, a memorandum was sent to the Volksraad in 1898 on behalf of 283 Chinese in Johannesburg, requesting that they are not segregated as a group and placed in one location.55 This petition suggests an emergent independent political consciousness on the part of the Chinese in this pre-Gandhian period. It also appears that the Chinese did not wish to be forced into locations with other Asians. Their petition also contained an objection to being removed from areas where they had established viable trading enterprises.56 It revealed an economic exclusivity similar to that of the Indian merchant class, a type of elitism which was to characterize both their separate political activities, and much Huang, The Legal Status of the Chinese Abroad, p. 275. K. Kirkwood, ‘The Group Areas Act’, South African Institute of Race Relations, n.d., p. 1; Huang, The Legal Status of the Chinese Abroad, pp. 52-3. 52 Swan, Gandhi, p. 38. 53 Pachai, Indian Question, p. 13. 54 Pachai, Indian Question; Swan, Gandhi, p. 106. 55 Notuten van der Eersten Volksraad der ZAR, 1898, Art. 1599, p. 1056. 56 Both interpretations were indicative of future Chinese objections to the 1950 Group Areas Act. See Karen Harris, ‘Accepting the Group but not the Area: The South African Chinese and the Group Areas Act’, South African Historical Journal 40, 1999, pp. 179-201. 50 51

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of Gandhi’s initial outlook, for the next half-decade or so. However, apart from the Indian economic claim to superiority, Indians also demanded certain rights as British subjects, based on the terms of the Proclamation of 1858 made by Queen Victoria at the commencement of British Crown rule in India.57 This declaration provided Indians with potential political leverage, since the British government had pledged itself to safeguarding the interests of the ‘natives of [their] Indian territories by the same obligation of duty which binds [them] to all [their] subjects’.58 This was an important part of the strategy Gandhi was to employ, coupled with his emphasis on what J.H. Stone calls the ‘common Indo-Aryan origins of the English and Indians’, which was a cultural mark of the ‘naturally superior status of the community’ he represented.59 The majority of the Chinese had no such ‘rights’, with the exception of those who came from Hong Kong and Mauritius and could therefore claim to be British subjects by birth.60 On the subject of British/Indian equality and superiority, the Chinese kept themselves aloof, since any acknowledgement from them would simply have reinforced British imperial chauvinism, and denied their own sense of cultural superiority which they were to repeatedly refer to in their petitions to the authorities. Ironically, it was apparently not until a treaty concluded in 1858 that the Chinese actually agreed to relinquish the term ‘barbarians’ when referring to Westerners in official correspondence.61 From the outset, South African Indian politics involved an interplay of three continents – Britain, India and Africa – a dimension which would feature prominently in the South African Gandhian period. In 1903 the South African Chinese officially gained a similar status. With the coming of indentured Chinese labour, a Chinese Consulate-General was established in Johannesburg under the provisions of the protection granted to contracted emigrants.62 57 Judith Brown, Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991, p. 44; Pachai, Indian Question, p. 5. 58 Stone II, Debate: M.K. Gandhi, p. 727. 59 Ibid. pp. 726-7. 60 PRO CO 291/67, no. 20153/1903, Chinese Grievances, 25 May 1903. 61 Milton Meyer, China: An Introduction, New York: Littlefield Adams, 1978, pp. 168, 173. 62 Richardson, Chinese Mine Labour, p. 37.


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The Chinese Emperor ensured that under the agreement with the British government the Consul’s powers were extended to include all the Chinese in South Africa. As a result, appeals and petitions were often channelled via the local Consul to China and also to the Chinese diplomatic representatives in Britain.63 Therefore, although the British were not as constitutionally committed to the Chinese in South Africa as they were to the Indians, the combined impact of the numerous Anglo-Chinese treaties, including the peace, friendship, commerce and navigation treaty of 1858, the most-favoured-nation concessions, the establishment of the resident Chinese minister in London in 187764 and the British-sanctioned Transvaal Chinese mine labour system did call for a certain degree of involvement. As a result, the Chinese made demands not as British subjects, but as members of an Empire that had treaty terms of equality with England. On these grounds, therefore, they objected to being classified with ‘Arabs, coolies and other Asiatics . . . that [were] not a ruling race’.65 By 1900 there was thus an indication that the Chinese and Indian communities in the Transvaal were not apolitical, nor were they entirely dissimilar in status. Their resistance to the same discriminatory legislation included similar tactics, such as letters to the press, petitions to both local administrations and overseas British representatives, delegations to government, and court cases.66 There is, however, no indication of any formally organized, combined political structure or cooperation for the early period. There is some mention in the records of Indian petitioners referring to themselves as Committee members,67 and there are indications that the Transvaal Chinese had formed a clandestine organization as early as 1880,68 and a more open association or club by 1898, if SAB: Central Archives Depot, Pretoria, BEP 575 G18/54 Raadpleging en koordinasie met ander instansies: Sjinese organisasies, 7 December 1963. 64 Meyer, China, pp. 170-5. 65 PRO: CO 291/67 no. 20153/1903, ‘Chinese Grievances, Petition from Chinese Community’, December 1902. 66 Indian Opinion, 14 January 1904, 7 April 1906; Swan, Gandhi, pp. 85, 105. 67 Swan, Gandhi, pp. 83, 124, no. 14. 68 Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora, p. 129. Unfortunately no primary reference is given. 63

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not earlier in 1893.69 It was only after the South African War (18991902), however, that any form of permanent political organization was established. In 1903, Gandhi founded the Transvaal British Indian Association (BIA).70 Coincidentally, the Chinese Association (CA) came into existence the same year, either as a resuscitated pre-War institution or as a new creation.71 Both organizations were informally structured; they lacked written constitutions and were voluntary unions for joint consultation within their respective communities and for the protection of their interests.72 This was despite the fact that the Indians, at least, had a forerunner and sister organization, the Natal Indian Congress, with well-defined leadership, formal membership and other institutional mechanisms, which they could have emulated. Moreover, neither of the bodies was particularly active in the first few years after inception,73 even though Asian legislation in the Transvaal Colony did not improve under the post-War British administration. SEPARATE STRUGGLES After the British takeover of the Transvaal in 1902, the High Commissioner Lord Milner made it clear from the outset that he was ‘reluctant to embark on fresh legislation’ regarding the position of the British Indians in the newly-acquired colony, apparently ‘in view of many difficulties’.74 But circumstances proved otherwise, as more restrictive legislation was introduced. The Peace Preservation Ordinance of 1903, which granted permits to refugees returning to the Transvaal was followed by an additional voluntary reregistration requiring more detailed certificates; Law 3 of 1885 was virtually re-enacted in Government Notice No. 356 of 1903 as far as separate locations for most Asians was concerned; a separate TAD (Transvaal Archives Depot): Witwatersrand Local Division WLD 5/129/51 1909 refers to a constitution being adopted in 1893; Indian Opinion, 31 August 1907. 70 Pachai, Indian Question, p. 33. 71 TAD: WLD 5/129/51 1909, p. 2. 72 Indian Opinion, 31 August 1907; Swan, Gandhi, pp. 103-4. 73 PRO: CO 291/67 no. 20153/1903, Chinese Grievances, 25 May 1903; Swan, Gandhi, p. 105. 74 Swan, Gandhi, pp. 103, 117. 69


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Asiatic Department was created to administer Asian affairs; and the Receiver of Revenue was ordered not to issue new annual trading licences to Asians unless proof of pre-War trading was submitted.75 The reaction, including low-key meetings, petitions, letters and deputations by the BIA and members of the Transvaal Chinese community respectively, had little effect, either in terms of government response or of political mobilization. This was also to be the case with Gandhi’s first call to passive resistance in January 1904.76 It was only in 1906, with the promulgation of the infamous ‘Black Act’, that the first signs of more concerted action by the Chinese and Indians became apparent. This legislation initiated simultaneous resistance by these two relatively exclusive communities for the first time, and also marked Gandhi’s first involvement in Chinese affairs. The legislation in question was introduced by the Transvaal legislature as the Draft Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance No. 29 of 1906. It demanded the compulsory registration of all Asians over the age of eight with the Registrar of Asiatics. A new certificate of registration was to be issued which required additional information, including name, residence, age, caste, and marks of identification, as well as finger and thumb impressions. The issue of trading licences was made conditional upon the production of such a certificate and the penalty for failing to comply ranged from a fine to imprisonment and deportation.77 The implications of this Ordinance were far more restrictive than any previous legislation78 and led to a marked increase in protest by both the Chinese and the Indians. Even before the draft Ordinance was published in the Government Gazette, the leading Indian Opinion, 4 June 1903, 13 April 1907; Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora, pp. 220-1, 249 n. 32; Huang, ‘Chinese Abroad’, p. 49; Brown, Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope, pp. 33, 45. 76 PRO: CO 291/67 no. 20153/1903, Chinese Grievances, 25 May 1903; Swan, Gandhi, pp. 105, 117. 77 Transvaal Government Gazette, vol. 52, July-December, Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance, no. 29 of 1906; Brown, Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope, p. 45; Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora, p. 228; Pachai, A History of Indian Opinion, p. 37. 78 Pachai, Indian Question, p. 33. 75

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article in Indian Opinion harshly criticized the proposed legislation. The main concern was the re-registration of the Asians yet again, which it claimed was tantamount to treating Indians as ‘criminals’. Gandhi also regarded the legislation as the thin edge of the wedge, in that it was the first piece of discriminatory legislation from which, if it were allowed to go unchallenged, more would flow.79 The principle of differentiation between British Indians and other Asians was also emphasized.80 On this point, Gandhi81 argued that the Colonial Secretary of the Transvaal, Patrick Duncan, had ‘not discriminated between Asiatics and Asiatics’, and therefore he wished to know whether Duncan was referring to British Indians or Chinese, or other Asians.82 More letters of protest followed. Gandhi approached local and overseas government representatives and then, within three weeks of publication of the draft Ordinance, the renowned mass meeting attended by about three thousand Indians was held in the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg. Here, the first declaration of peaceful resistance was passed, for which Gandhi took full responsibility.83 It was also decided on that occasion to send a deputation to England to request the British government to disallow the legislation. Up to this point no mention had been made of the Chinese by the British Indians or Gandhi. Nevertheless, the Chinese had also not taken the legislation lightly, and they too had resolved to send a delegation to the British government to address their grievances in South Africa.84 Contrary to the implications of certain secondary sources, the Chinese delegation to London in October 1906 had not been coordinated with the Indian deputation, nor was it led or initiated by Gandhi. This is borne out by press reports in Indian Opinion and The Times, as well as Gandhi’s own accounts of the Indian deputation. In addition, Chinese Association [CA] leader, Leung Swan, Gandhi, p. 119. Indian Opinion, 11 August 1906. 81 The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Ahmedabad: The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1961 (hereafter cited as CWMG), vol. 5, pp. 389-92. 82 Indian Opinion, 11 August 1906. 83 CWMG, vol. 5, p. 443; Pachai, Indian Question, p. 33; Swan, Gandhi, p. 119. 84 The Times, 1 December 1906; Indian Opinion, 6 October 1906. 79 80


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Quinn, stressed that the CA agreed with the BIA, ‘but it had acted quite independently.’ 85 The Chinese were equally dissatisfied with the Asiatic Ordinance and the general treatment they had received in the Transvaal. As a result, the CA deputed a Cantonese member of the Association to go to England and present their grievances to the British government. Yuk Lin Lew, the Chinese Consul-General in Johannesburg accompanied him.86 The fact that the Chinese and Indian deputations left for England on the same steamer, the Armadale Castle, is considered a ‘curious coincidence’ 87 and rightly so, since even Gandhi’s comments indicate an initial unawareness of Chinese protest. In his first account of the Indian delegation’s voyage, Gandhi singled out ‘three well-known men’, but did not include either the Chinese Consul-General or the representative of the CA.88 In his next report he recorded that the Indian delegation had ‘very little contact with other passengers’, but mentioned the presence of the Chinese. His reference to Yuk Lin Lew was, however, limited to his dress, manner and intellect, as well as the ‘good English education’ of his nine-year-old daughter.89 The first and only indication of any meaningful co-operation between the Chinese and Gandhi during their simultaneous but separate overseas deputations, was Gandhi’s involvement in helping to draft a letter. While in London he corresponded with both members of the Chinese deputation regarding this matter and, according to Gandhi’s Collected Works, helped compile the letter sent by the Chinese Ambassador in London to the British Foreign Office.90 It appears from Gandhi’s letters that he did not fully endorse the petition which the Transvaal Chinese community sent to the Chinese Ambassador. Gandhi commented that the petition was not in accordance with the draft he had prepared, which was to accompany the petition to the Ambassador. He declared that ‘paragraph 6 of the petition [was] open to grave objection’.91 Indian Opinion, 12 October 1907. CWMG, vol. 6, p. 14; Indian Opinion, 6 October 1906. 87 Indian Opinion, 6 October 1906. 88 CWMG, vol. 5, p. 467. 89 CWMG, vol. 5, pp. 468-9. 90 CWMG, vol. 6, 14, 27, 56, pp. 59-60. 91 CWMG, vol. 6, p. 56. 85 86

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Unfortunately, no details either of Gandhi’s first draft or of the Chinese petition are available,92 and so the points of disagreement remain obscure. The role that Gandhi played in this brief episode neatly fits the assessment given by Swan in her conclusion: ‘His legal training, [and] fluency in English . . . rendered him particularly suitable for the task.’93 Aside from this brief encounter between Gandhi and the Chinese, regarding the letter and petition to the Chinese Ambassador, the two deputations continued to operate separately, and it is therefore not entirely appropriate to refer to an ‘alliance [being] struck’ on this occasion, as Swan and others do.94 Both delegations made separate representations to the British government and wrote letters to the press to promote their respective causes. The appeals were generally similar, protesting against the same unjust treatment, humiliations and indignities suffered in the Transvaal; denouncing the Draft Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance; and demanding that the British government recognize its obligation to rectify the situation.95 The Indian claim of ‘British subject’ and Chinese ‘most-favoured-nation’ status were also underscored in their respective representations.96 On only one occasion was reference made by the Indians to the Chinese. During the proceedings of an Indian deputation to Lord Elgin, it was stated that they hoped the grievances of the Chinese deputation had received the ‘utmost sympathy at the hands of the government’. It was, however, added that ‘in so far as this [the Indian] deputation [was] concerned, the Chinese and other alien nations [did] not count’; they asked ‘not for the Chinese, but for [their] own fellow subjects. . . ’.97 92 CWMG, vol. 6, p. 27 and on p. 247 in correspondence just prior to his departure back to South Africa, Gandhi wrote to a certain Mr C.H. Wang in London, about his synopsis of the Chinese Grievances, and points out that ‘it [was] open to serious objections in one or two cases…’ 93 Swan, Gandhi, p. 270. 94 Ibid. p. 137. 95 The Times, 1, 3, 4 December 1906; Indian Opinion, 17 November, 1 December 1906. 96 The Times, 1 December 1906; Indian Opinion, 17 November, 15 December 1906; CWMG, vol. 6, p. 114. 97 CWMG, vol. 6, pp. 115-16.


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There was therefore no question of an ‘alliance’98 even though their efforts did have the combined effect of temporarily stalling the implementation of the Asiatic Ordinance. In November 1906, Lord Elgin informed the Transvaal governor, Lord Selborne, that he rejected the legislation, and it was therefore disallowed. 99 STRANGE BED-FELLOWS This legislative victory was however to prove to be short-lived. No sooner had responsible government been granted to the Transvaal in January 1907 than the ‘Black Act’ was re-introduced virtually unchanged. The Asiatic Law Amendment Act or Act no. 2 of 1907 was passed on 22 March to amend Law 3 of 1885 and it took effect on 1 July 1907.100 This inaugurated a new phase in the resistance movement, one in which the relationship between Gandhi, the Chinese and passive resistance was forged. Even before the Act had passed its final reading, both the Chinese and Indian communities made their objections known. At the beginning of March 1907, a deputation of Chinese merchants, shopkeepers and laundry workers approached the government on the question of the ‘registration of men of their class as Asiatics’.101 An Indian lobby objected to finger impressions on the grounds that ‘for all practical purposes a thumb impression, such as is now placed upon the identification papers held by each Indian would suffice.102 Other deputations and letters to the press followed, and a mass meeting of Indians was called for 29 March 1907 at the Gaiety Theatre in Johannesburg.103 At this meeting it was resolved to offer the government a compromise, that was, to submit to voluntary, rather than compulsory, re-registration as prescribed in the Asiatic Law Amendment Act. This would virtually fulfil the requirements of the bill, but deny the Act its ultimately offensive character.104 It Hunt, Gandhi and the Black People, p. 11. Indian Opinion, 8 December 1906. 100 Statutes of the Transvaal, Act no. 2 of 1907. 101 Indian Opinion, 3 March 1907. 102 Ibid. 16 March 1907. 103 Ibid. 23, 30 March 1907. 104 Ibid. 6 April 1907; CWMG, vol. 6, p. 387. 98 99

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was even contended by the Transvaal press that this voluntary re-registration went ‘further than the Ordinance’ in ‘satisfying the fears of the European population’.105 If, however, the offer was not accepted, and legislation was implemented, the response would be peaceful resistance. Although Gandhi did not propose the various resolutions at the meeting, it is likely that he drafted them, since the call for peaceful resistance was virtually identical to his appeal in September 1906. Within a fortnight of these decisions, the Chinese community in the Transvaal held its own mass meeting on 14 April 1907, and decided unanimously to support the resolutions taken by the British Indian meeting. The chairman of the Transvaal CA dispatched a telegram to the Transvaal government declaring that the Chinese community endorsed the proposal of the Indians. He added that the Act was ‘unnecessary and wounded the feelings of the community’.106 The Rand Daily Mail interpreted the Chinese decision as uniting practically the whole of the free Asian community in being as ‘unanimously against the Act, as, perhaps the white community [were] in favour of it’. The ‘united front’ was described as a ‘Gordian knot’ presented to the government.107 How real or strong this ‘alliance’ really was is difficult to assess, but what is evident from the record, is Gandhi’s increased involvement with the CA as the protagonist of the resistance movement, an engagement which contradicts the claim by Hunt and others that Gandhi confined his efforts to the Indian community.108 In April 1907 the Chinese leaders met Gandhi at his office to discuss their support of satyagraha and, in May, Gandhi was invited to the first of many large Chinese meetings held at the hall of the CA to ‘set forth the position’ and consider the next step to be taken with regard to the new ‘Anti-Asiatic Law’.109 The Chinese audience agreed to Gandhi’s proposals and took an oath in accordance with their religion (Buddhist or Confucian) to submit themselves to the ‘extreme penalty of the law, namely Rand Daily Mail as quoted in Indian Opinion, 20 April 1907. Indian Opinion, 20 April 1907; CWMG, vol. 6, 420, 428. 107 Rand Daily Mail as quoted in Indian Opinion, 20 April 1907. 108 Hunt, Gandhi and the Black People, p. 8. 109 Indian Opinion, 1 June 1907; CWMG, vol. 6, p. 427. 105 106


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liability to imprisonment, and also to boycott the permit office’. This decision was ratified by about nine hundred Chinese who signed a document to this effect.110 In addition, Gandhi received an endorsement of his resistance strategy by the Chinese ConsulGeneral in the Transvaal.111 The decision by the Chinese to support the Indian movement was firm and at times showed even more resolve than that of the Indians.112 Their determination then and later was often praised in the columns of Indian Opinion,113 written mainly by Gandhi. In fact, on numerous occasions, Gandhi openly admired various attributes of the Chinese, even though this was usually designed to commend their exemplary role to British Indians. In an article published in 1905, Gandhi compared the two communities living in the Transvaal, remarking particularly on their respective standards of living. He pointed out that the Chinese were not generally economically better off than the Indians, because many of them were artisans, but suggested that the Indian way of life was not qualitatively as good. He admitted that the charge of uncleanliness made against the Indians was not ‘totally unfounded’ and added that the ‘rules of cleanliness could also be better, observed by them’, while at the same time pointing out that the Chinese lived in ‘great cleanliness and [did] not stint themselves in the matter of living space’.114 In the same article, Gandhi also commented favourably on the CA. He referred specifically to their hall which he described as a ‘strong structure . . . kept clean and tidy’, and to the manner in which they organized their finances. He described the Cantonese Club as a ‘pucca one-storeyed building’ which looked like a ‘good European club’, and remarked that Indians would do well to imitate this achievement.115 He stated that ‘on seeing their way of life and comparing it with our own, [he] felt very sad’.116 This admiration of the Chinese by Gandhi was also apparent 110 TAD: WLD 5/129/51/1909; Indian Opinion, 1 June, 31 August 1907; CWMG, vol. 7, pp. 12, 46. 111 CWMG, vol. 6, p. 427. 112 Indian Opinion, 18 May, 30 November 1907. 113 Ibid., 27 April, 18 May 1907. 114 Ibid., 16 September 1905. 115 Ibid. 116 Ibid.

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in an international context. Writing about the immigrant Indian and Chinese communities in Singapore in 1905 he expressed how impressed he was with how ‘well off ’ the Chinese were, claiming that the Indians could not ‘hold their own against the Chinese’, and concluded that it was a ‘shame that [the Indians] cannot keep abreast of the Chinese’.117 While in London he also indicated how impressed he was by the Committee of the Chinese League which had been established by the Overseas Chinese to safeguard and promote their interests, and he urged the Indians to follow its example.118 He also spoke highly of the Chinese capacity to successfully boycott powers such as the United States and Japan when they introduced unfavourable legislation, commending this as an aspect of satyagraha.119 The reference to the successful boycotting of American merchandise refers to the 1905 Chinese reaction to disagreeable aspects of United States immigration regulations.120 This was the first modern boycott against American discriminatory treatment of the Chinese. According to sinologist, John Fairbank, it involved the old tradition of cessation of business by merchant guilds which spread to all treaty ports in China. It also involved students in mass meetings and media agitation. The result was that American trade was damaged for several months.121 Associating the Chinese with ‘satyagraha’ was therefore closer to reality than Gandhi realized. At home he also praised the Chinese for their political unity, an attribute he encouraged among his Transvaal Indian followers. Throughout the initial phases of his passive resistance campaign, he always approved of Chinese solidarity and would continue to do so. These relatively favourable opinions probably go some way towards explaining why Gandhi became involved in the Chinese passive resistance movement. During December 1907 especially, CWMG, vol. 5, p. 5. CWMG, vol. 6, p. 86. 119 Indian Opinion 1 July, 19 August, 30 September 1905; Indian Opinion, 26 May 1906; Indian Opinion 15 June, 31 August, 30 November 1907; CWMG, vol. 5, p. 329; vol. 8, p. 212. 120 Indian Opinion, 1 July 1905. 121 J. Fairbank, China: A New History, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992, p. 245; See also PRO: CO 291/121, 23767, ‘Chinese Coolies Repatriation’, 5 July 1907. 117 118


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he appeared to be grappling with this issue, probably aware of its importance in strengthening opposition to government. In a speech at a meeting of the CA, he admitted that he had always tried ‘to draw a line between British subjects and non-British subjects’, but that this had been rejected by the British government which persisted in classifying Indians and other Asians together.122 He said that inspite of this, British Indians still clung to their status as British subjects. This was, he believed, where the Chinese and Indian ambitions differed, but admitted that as far as the ‘incidence of this wretched fight was concerned, the Chinese fight was identical’.123 Rather than concede any form of alliance, he concluded that it was ‘adversity [that] had made the [Chinese and Indians] strange bed-fellows in the struggle’.124 The Chinese also had a particular opinion, regarding this matter. In a 1907 petition to the Chinese representative in London, a clause relating to the rights of China as an ancient civilisation and independent sovereign nation, contained the following objection: The Transvaal legislation placed Chinese subjects on the same level as British subjects coming from India . . . [and] while it may be proper for the British government to treat its Indian subjects as it pleases, [the] Petitioner respectfully submits that subjects of the Chinese Empire should not be treated in a manner derogatory to the dignity of the Empire to which [the] . . . Petitioner [had] the honour to belong. . . .125

The contradiction between these two fundamental claims explains why a straightforward ‘alliance’ between the South African Indian and Chinese communities could not be taken for granted and was never realized. As was to be expected, the new Transvaal representative government, under Louis Botha, did not accept the voluntary registration compromise proposed by the Indians and supported by the Chinese, nor did the British government intervene on their behalf. In addition, the Immigration Restriction Bill was tabled (and received Royal sanction) in an attempt further to exclude foreigners, in particular, Asians, from the Transvaal. By CWMG, vol. 7, pp. 396-7. Ibid., p. 397. 124 Ibid., pp. 105, 397. 125 Ibid., pp. 105, 397. 122 123

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this legislation, non-registered Asians in effect became ‘prohibited immigrants’.126 The resolution to resist the Act was thus set in motion and meetings to reaffirm commitments followed. Despite the government’s extension of the deadline for registration until the end of November 1907, only 8 per cent of the Asian population complied.127 While the two communities continued to defy the Transvaal legislation separately, they also encouraged concerted action. Gandhi and other BIA representatives often addressed Chinese meetings and, in turn, Chinese representatives were also found attending and addressing Indian meetings.128 Indians and Chinese were jointly involved in picketing the registration points to persuade their Asian compatriots not to submit to the legislation. Moreover, the role of the Chinese in passive resistance featured more prominently in the columns of Indian Opinion, and in one issue a special supplement on the Chinese leader, Leung Quinn, was also published.129 The readership of Indian Opinion was kept informed of the CA’s activities, which reflected a determined but independent commitment to the passive resistance movement. The regulations of the Registration Act were translated and printed in pamphlet form, and a Chinese newspaper, circulated free of charge, gave weekly reports in order to inform the community of the latest developments.130 The CA also canvassed for subscriptions to a fund for the purpose of promoting Chinese passive resistance.131 In May 1908 these funds amounted to £936.132 Appeals were made to Chinese government representatives in London and Peking, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Boycott Association and the Chinese Students Association in Europe, all of which considered the law completely unacceptable and therefore offered their support.133 Indian Opinion, 13 July 1907; Swan, Gandhi, pp. 142-3. Ibid., 13 July, 9 November 1907. 128 Ibid., 24 August, 5, 12 October, 7 December 1907. 129 Ibid., 31 August 1907. 130 Ibid., 13 July, 17 August 1907. 131 TAD WLD 5/129/51/1909 re the Chinese Association. 132 Ibid., Opposed applications Leung Quinn and Foo Kimson. 133 Indian Opinion, 31 August, 9 October 1907; Yap and Man, Colour, Confusion and Concessions, p. 141. 126 127


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Despite the intersection of interests between the two communities, differences nevertheless persisted. For example, in his capacity as chairman of the Transvaal CA, Quinn sent a petition to the Envoy-Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in London in October 1907. Although the petition reiterated many of the former grievances made by both communities, it also included other issues, which illustrate the continued divergence between the two communities. The longest resolution objected to the fingerprint requirements of the legislation, on the grounds that in China these were only taken from ‘illiterates and criminals’.134 The Chinese preoccupation with this aspect represented a deviation from the more pliable attitude of the Indians who, despite initial objection, had gradually come to regard this as unimportant. Gandhi repeatedly emphasized that the question of ‘finger prints per se [was] not a serious matter’, but rather ‘the compulsion and flavour of criminals behind it’.135 Later on in the campaign, Gandhi chided the Chinese on this matter, writing that the more the Chinese persisted ‘in such childish obstinacy, the more they would lose their good name’.136 One of the many reasons given by the Chinese for this objection was, however, not unlike a sentiment Gandhi himself upheld: that of an implied racial superiority. In this petition, the Chinese declared that this humiliating legal stipulation reduced them to ‘a level lower than that of the natives of South Africa and other coloured people’.137 Another important point, which reflects a different stance from that of the Indians, was the request by the Chinese that if the Transvaal government continued to refuse to accept the voluntary offer of re-registration, and if no substantial relief was granted, then ‘strong representations should be made to the British government that every Chinaman should be sent back to China, subject to full compensation being paid to him for deprivation of vested interests to trade, residence etc’.138 Indian Opinion, 26 October 1907. Ibid., 14 September 1907. 136 CWMG, vol. 8, p. 107. 137 Indian Opinion, 19, 26 October 1907. 138 PRO: CO 291/121, 43156, ‘Asiatic Law Amendment Act’, 18 November 1907; Indian Opinion, 26 October 1907. 134 135

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At no time did Gandhi’s or the Indian community’s demands converge with those of the Chinese on these issues. Moreover, responding to an inaccurate statement in The Star, Quinn categorically stated, ‘My Association has cordially agreed all through with the attitude adopted by the Transvaal British Indian Association, but it has acted from the commencement quite independently, and will continue to do so’.139 Yet despite differences, the Chinese steadfastness in opposing the law and Gandhi’s admiration of their tactics never wavered. The extreme nature of their commitment to united political action was evident in the way traitors were treated and how they responded. Chinese who registered – and there were no more than a few dozen – were boycotted by the community and were in consequence often forced to recant. In one such case, the ‘offender’ publicly declared that the only penance he should endure for having taken out the ‘badge of slavery’, was to leave the country voluntarily, while in another more tragic instance, the ‘offender’ took his own life. This suicide victim, Quei Waei (Chow Kwai For), claimed he had been ordered by his employer to re-register, and only afterwards had he been made aware of his mistake by a compatriot.140 Apart from the widespread sympathy and attention which this suicide incident evoked, political expediency dictated that it should be exploited to maximum effect. Quinn accused the Transvaal government of the ‘murder of an innocent man’, while Gandhi declared that an Act which had exacted this heavy price would never be submitted to [and that they should] keep before their eyes the spirit of the dead man and remember in this struggle that virtue was its own reward.141 Meetings and memorial services followed, and at Quei Waei’s funeral, Gandhi made an ‘eloquent appeal to all to nerve themselves for the coming struggle fittingly, declaring that the tragedy had produced a feeling of revulsion everywhere, which strengthened and consolidated the case of the Asiatics’.142 Once again, he commented on the Chinese community’s ‘unity, neatness and courage Indian Opinion, 12 October 1907. Ibid., 16 November 1907. 141 CWMG, vol. 7, p. 397; Indian Opinion, 16 November 1907. 142 Ibid., p. 370; Indian Opinion, 7 December 1907. 139 140


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. . . things [which] deserve to be emulated by [the Indians]’.143 During November and December 1907, and again in January 1908, increasing numbers of Asians were arrested and imprisoned under the stringent clauses of the Registration Act and the Immigration Act. Among two thousand Asians charged and convicted were prominent leaders including Gandhi, Quinn and two other Chinese, John Fortoen and Martin Easton.144 Like the Indians, the Chinese appealed for the struggle to continue, pending their imprisonment or deportation, stressing the importance of continued resistance in spite of the absence of political leaders. The Chinese also thanked Gandhi on numerous occasions for the ‘advice given and services rendered to them in the crisis through which the Asiatic communities were passing’.145 After disobeying orders to leave the Transvaal, many of the leaders, including Gandhi and Quinn, were imprisoned. This ushered in another period of closer co-operation between Gandhi and the Chinese and revealed the importance of the former’s role. Within a fortnight of their confinement, mediation with the government was again proposed in order to attempt to reach a compromise. With the help of the white community, and in particular that of the editor of the newspaper, Transvaal Leader, Albert Cartwright, Jan Smuts was persuaded to consider some kind of rapprochement.146 The substance of this compromise was the voluntary registration of Indians and Chinese under certain conditions, which would effectively make Act No. 2 of 1907 redundant. The document was drafted by Cartwright and Smuts, amended by Gandhi and then signed by Gandhi, Thambi Naidoo, a prominent Indian supporter, and Quinn in the Johannesburg gaol.147 According to the Collected Works, the initial draft of the proposed agreement, known as the ‘Cartwright draft’, referred only to the Indian community in the introduction, and Gandhi was responsible for adding the Chinese community CWMG, vol. 7, pp. 395-6. Indian Opinion, 4 January 1908. 145 Ibid. 146 CWMG, vol. 7, p. 409, vol. 8, pp. 40, 65-6, 142. 147 Ibid., pp. 40-2, 161; Swan, Gandhi, p. 143. 143 144

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to the document, thereby acknowledging the role that they had played. Gandhi indicated that Quinn had ‘done excellent work’ for the campaign.148 Gandhi was released to negotiate a provisional settlement with Smuts, and the other prisoners were released, soon after.149 In the following weeks, various banquets and meetings were held by the Chinese and Indian communities to celebrate those who had assisted their cause. In his column, ‘Johannesburg Letter’ in Indian Opinion, Gandhi wrote: ‘The Chinese have done something remarkable. They have surpassed us in unity, cleanliness, culture and generosity’.150 This sentiment was reiterated by the chairman of the BIA, Essop Mia, who stated at a Chinese banquet that the ‘Chinese have outdone the Indians. In many respects they have excelled them. It was a good thing that the Indians and Chinese presented a united front during the campaign’.151 The initial stages of the voluntary registration proceeded smoothly, except that some members of the Chinese community objected to finger impressions on registration certificates on religious grounds. Despite Gandhi’s irritability on this issue, he nevertheless intervened on their behalf so that they were only required to give their thumb impressions.152 The Chinese then registered enthusiastically, and by early March 1908 over a thousand were reported to have made application, and the whole of the trading community had apparently received licences. Despite their reservations about the finger impressions, Chinese solidarity was once again held up to the Indian community as worthy of emulation.153 FOUL PLAY However, just as the defeat of the 1906 Draft Asiatic Amendment Ordinance had been short-lived, so too did the success of the 1908 CWMG, vol. 8, p. 66. Indian Opinion, 1 February 1908. 150 CWMG, vol. 7, pp. 162-4. 151 CWMG, vol. 8, p. 164. 152 CWMG, vol. 8, pp. 107, 115, 184; Indian Opinion, 22 February 1908. 153 Indian Opinion, 29 February, 7, 21 March 1908. 148 149


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compromise prove transitory. The real problem arose when it became apparent that Smuts had no intention of repealing Act 2 of 1907. The compromise had been little more than a temporary expedient, and it placed Gandhi in an invidious position since he not only had to continue the battle with the government, but also had to convince Indians of Smuts’s breach of faith, and campaign for continued resistance. In his revelations about the ‘foul play’, Gandhi explained that Smuts had promised to repeal the Act on the successful completion of voluntary registration. He also referred to the Chinese leaders’ signing of the proposal in the belief that the Act would be scrapped.154 The enforcement of the Transvaal Registration Act was seen as a breach of their compromise and Smuts was said to ‘have no notion of ordinary honesty’ .155 Both communities resumed their former tactics of letter writing, petitions and deputations. Gandhi wrote to the Registrar of Asiatics requesting the return of his registration application and drafted a similar letter for Quinn and the other co-signatory of the proposal to forward to the Prime Minister.156 Smuts refused to accept Gandhi’s demands, and so negotiations failed and a renewed phase of passive resistance ensued.157 Meetings were held to oppose the Asiatic Voluntary Registration Validation Bill which the Transvaal government was processing. On 16 August 1908 the infamous mass meeting was held at the Hamidia Mosque, Fordsburg, which was attended by over 3,000 people including the Chinese leaders and their supporters. Here over 1,000 registration certificates and over 500 trading licences were thrown into a large three-legged pot which was set alight and the contents publicly burned.158 The government responded by withdrawing the Validation Bill, and instead passed Act 36 of 1908, the ‘Asiatics Registration Amendment Act’.159 Although the Act endorsed the voluntary Indian Opinion, 4 July 1908. ‘Transvaal Leader’, 11 August 1908; Indian Opinion, 30 May 1908. 156 CWMG, vol. 8, p. 264. 157 Indian Opinion, 4, 11 July 1908. 158 ‘Transvaal Leader’, 17 August 1908; Yap and Man, Colour, Confusion and Concessions, p. 154; CWMG, vol. 9, p. 295 claims 2,500 certificates were burned. 159 ‘Statutes of the Transvaal’, Act 36 of 1908, Asiatics Registration Amendment Act. 154 155

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registration of Asiatics who had failed to comply with Act 2 of 1907, it made further provisions pertaining, amongst others, to immigration, which were rejected by both the Indian and Chinese communities.160 As a result, the government commenced with a stringent application of the law.161 During the ensuing months, arrests, trials, imprisonments and deportations became the order of the day, as the communities continued to defy the law.162 However, as was the case among the Indians, the Chinese community was not united in this renewed phase of opposition. Some felt that the government had offered them a fair compromise and they wished to return to their businesses. This led to internal disagreements.163 The first public exposure of Chinese dissension was when Quinn and the passive resisters of the CA went to court to obtain an interdict against the ‘non-passive resisters’, known as the ‘party of compliance’. They accused them of using funds specifically contributed to passive resistance for other purposes.164 Throughout the various stages of the campaign, the CA had used these funds to make contributions to both Chinese and Indian court cases and deputations.165 Quinn and the passive resistance section of the Chinese community broke away and formed the Chinese Reform Union (CRU) to continue the campaign, but intermittent fights continued between the two factions, including a gun battle in the street outside the Chinese quarters in Ferreirastown, Johannesburg.166 On 20 February 1909, Quinn was arrested and sentenced to three months with hard labour for failing to produce a registration certificate.167 In his absence, Chion Fan James Frank took over CWMG, vol. 9, pp. 294-9 sets out these various issues. Indian Opinion, 26 December 1908. 162 Indian Opinion, 13 February, 25 September 1909; Rand Daily Mail, 10 December 1909. 163 PRO: CO 291/128, 35076, Asiatic Registration Amendment Act, 7 September 1908. Yap and Man, Colour, Confusion and Concessions, p. 163. 164 Indian Opinion, 30 January, 24 April, 24 July 1909. 165 CWMG, vol. 9, p. 68. 166 Indian Opinion, 17, 24 April, 22 May, 25 September, 16 October 1909; TAD: WLD 5/129 51/1909, Opposed application. Leung Quinn. Yap and Man give one of the only detailed accounts of this incident, pp. 154-7. 167 Indian Opinion, 27 February, 13 March 1909. 160 161


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the leadership of the Chinese passive resisters.168 On 21 February, Quinn was joined in jail by Gandhi who was similarly arrested and convicted. In May and June 1909 respectively, Gandhi and Quinn were released and were given heroes’ welcomes.169 During this time Gandhi again commented positively on the Chinese: ‘I am very happy that these two groups – the Chinese and the Indians –­who took part in this struggle, have been brought together’,170 saying of his Chinese counterpart: ‘Truly, Mr. Quinn is a pillar of Satyagraha . . . I feel proud when I come across a man of his type during my experience of our struggle’.171 In the latter half of 1909, the resistance campaign acquired a new urgency, with a growing awareness that the four South African colonies were preparing for Union. The Indian and Chinese leaders feared that the Transvaal regulations might be entrenched throughout the country in a new constitution.172 In order to avert this, Gandhi led a deputation to England to request the British government to intervene on their behalf.173 While in London, passive resistance, particularly among the Chinese, escalated, and Gandhi received cablegrams from both the CA and BIA indicating that the Transvaal government arrests had increased with some 80 Chinese being arrested at one time.174 Gandhi was astounded by these developments and claimed that ‘the measures adopted by the Government, instead of weakening Asiatics have nerved them’.175 While the British government indicated that it could not intervene on behalf of the Asians, the Transvaal government stepped up its vigilance against the passive resisters. At a meeting held at the Cantonese Club in September 1909, which was attended by Chinese and Indians, resolutions were made to reaffirm their commitment to the movement. It was pointed out that since the arrests, over 100 more Chinese (probably from the ‘party of compliance’) had joined Ibid., 13 March, 1 May 1909. Ibid., 29 May, 5 June 1909. 170 CWMG, vol. 9, p. 236. 171 Ibid., p. 236. 172 Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora, 237; Indian Opinion, 25 September 1909. 173 Indian Opinion, 26 June 1909. 174 PRO: CO 291/142, 31220, ‘Treatment of Asiatics’, 18 September 1909; Indian Opinion, 18, 25 September 1909. 175 Indian Opinion, 18 September 1909. 168 169

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the ranks of the passive resisters. Besides pledging support to those nobly suffering imprisonment, they also vouchsafed to preserve their self-respect and the honour of that ‘great Empire’ to which they belonged. In addition, an appeal was made to ‘the members of the Chinese Students Association in Europe to espouse [their] cause, and to do their utmost to help their brethren in South Africa in this hour of need’.176 Arrests continued unabated, with Quinn, Frank and other Chinese being convicted to three months’ hard labour.177 On Gandhi’s return from England in December 1909, the liaison between him and the Chinese community strengthened. He addressed their meetings, joined their welcome parties for discharged prisoners and attended receptions to honour supporters of the movement.178 In March 1910, Gandhi reported that the Chinese friends are ‘going strong’ and he understood that nearly 150 found themselves in that ‘haven of liberty at Diepkloof ’, commenting that the enthusiasm their Chinese friends were showing was ‘simply wonderful’.179 This increased resilience of the passive resisters led to the Transvaal government’s decision to remove offenders from the Colony. In April 1910, Quinn was arrested for the fourth time, and was jailed, pending deportation.180 He was reduced from being one of the wealthiest Chinese merchants in the Transvaal to the state of a pauper. He claimed that he had sold all his belongings since he felt that he ‘could not very well retain his possessions and his selfrespect in a country like this’.181 In May 1910, Quinn addressed a petition to the Chinese Ambassador in London complaining that the Transvaal legislation was ‘degrading, insulting and derogatory to the Chinese national honour’. He requested the Ambassador to obtain a repeal of the Act so that Chinese could enter the Colony on the same terms as Europeans, and prevent what he regarded as illegal deportation.182 In addition, in a supreme court hearing, Quinn contested the right of the government to detain him pending Ibid., 25 September 1909. Ibid., 15, 22 January 1910. 178 Ibid., 4, 11 December 1909, 29 January, 19 February 1910. 179 Ibid., 5 March 1910. 180 Ibid., 9, 16 April 1910. 181 Ibid., 23 April, 7 May 1910. 182 Ibid., 7 May 1910. 176 177


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deportation.183 The deportations continued and Quinn was included among them, leaving on the ‘S.S. Umfuli’ for Colombo, Ceylon, on 18 May 1910.184 Some three hours prior to Quinn’s departure, the Indian Opinion reported that he had had a personal interview with Smuts at the General’s request.185 Unfortunately there are no other records regarding the meeting to give substance to its discussions. Given the persistence of passive resistance, and the dire action that government was engaged in, Smuts was probably trying to strike a deal or offer a compromise to avert the political furore that the movement was causing, both locally and in the British parliament. Before his departure, Quinn had made an appeal to the Supreme Court, contesting the right of the Transvaal government to detain him for over a month pending deportation.186 The case was dismissed.187 but the significance of this appeal against illegal custody lies in the difference between the approaches of Indian and Chinese passive resisters. While standing firm, the Chinese persisted in defending their legal rights; the Indians, on the other hand, believed that ‘as passive resisters, they could not complain. Their duty [was] simply to go where they [were] forced to go, and at the earliest possible moment, to retrace their steps as soon as they became free again, and once more challenge the might of the Transvaal government’.188 Once in Ceylon, Quinn went to Rangoon to collect funds from the overseas Chinese communities. After that he attended the Kurnool Provincial Conference with Henry Polak, Secretary of the British Indian Association. Here the continued ill-treatment of Indians in South Africa was deplored and an appeal was made for further subscriptions to support their cause.189 In a letter to the Hindu press in Madras, Quinn thanked the Indian Presidency Ibid., 14 May 1910. Ibid., 28 May 1910. 185 Ibid., 14 January 1911. 186 TAD: ZTPD (Supreme Court of the SAR and the Supreme Court of the Transvaal Colony) 8/914, 345/1910, Leung Quinn versus Attorney General; Indian Opinion, 14 May 1910. 187 Indian Opinion, 14 May 1910. 188 Ibid., 7 May 1910. 189 Ibid., 23 July, 13 August 1910. 183 184

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for its support and vowed to ‘return to the Transvaal’ in order that they may take part in the struggle again, claiming they would ‘fight so long as there [was] breath in [their] bodies if the need arose’.190 On 30 August 1910, Quinn arrived back in South Africa, in the company of Polak.191 They were immediately detained in Durban and although Gandhi interceded on their behalf, and Polak was allowed entry, the three Chinese deportees were denied re-entry on the grounds of being ‘prohibited immigrants’ and were returned to India.192 In Quinn’s absence, Chinese passive resistance continued as both Chinese and Indians courted arrest. A reception was held at the Chinese Club to welcome and thank Polak for his support, and calls were made to continue the struggle on principle.193 This dedication was reflected in the fact that, according to Gandhi, there were apparently more Chinese in prison than Indians during 1910 and early 1911.194 Although this assessment is probably accurate, it is important to note that between 1904 and 1909 there were always more Chinese in jail than Indians, because of the indentured Chinese labourers. In January 1911, Quinn returned from Colombo and landed in Durban, where after passing the education test he was permitted entry. He was given a warm welcome by Transvaal Chinese and Indians alike. On this occasion he was featured on the front page of Indian Opinion, with a photograph entitled ‘Chinese courage’.195 When he crossed the border into the Transvaal, however, he was again arrested and later sentenced to three months’ hard labour.196 Prior to his court appearance, he visited Tolstoy Farm outside Johannesburg, and praised the leading men in India for the hospitality he received. For this, he humorously remarked, he owed thanks to Smuts for deporting him. In typical Gandhian style, when addressing the Tolstoy Farm workers, he also contended, on a more serious note, that: ‘after the struggle is closed, [he would] not be Ibid., 13 August 1910. Ibid., 3 September 1910. 192 Ibid., 15 October, 10 December 1910. 193 Ibid., 12 November 1910. 194 Ibid., 27 May 1911; CWMG, vol. 11, p. 49. 195 Ibid., 7, 14, 21 January 1911. 196 Ibid., 21 January 1911. 190 191


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able to return to the complex life of commerce and that of ease and luxury of which he had more than his share’.197 Not long after his release from detention, Quinn resigned as Chairman of the CA. The long imprisonments had ultimately destroyed his health. He remained a close friend of Gandhi and often visited Tolstoy Farm.198 The Transvaal Chinese community also supported the nature and work on Tolstoy Farm by making substantial donations of food and other essential materials.199 These reciprocal relations indicate that throughout the campaign there was mutual respect between the two communities in their separate but similar struggle for justice. In 1910, the South African colonies became a Union. Not unlike the federation process in Australia, the newly-formed Union government was anxious to draft an Immigration Bill to accommodate the various inherited legislations.200 This appeared to be an earnest attempt on the part of the government and, in particular, Smuts, to settle the ‘Asiatic question’.201 After protracted negotiations between Smuts, Gandhi and other stakeholders, the Immigrants’ Restriction Bill of 1911 was drawn up. While it tried to concede some of the demands of the Asians, it also had to accommodate the salient features of the legislation of the four former colonies.202 As a result, the Bill that was finally gazetted fell short of satisfying the Asian community. The Indians immediately petitioned the government with certain amendments. Martin Easton, who had succeeded Quinn as Acting Chairman of the CA, sent a telegram endorsing the Indians’ requests. In the spirit of conciliation after Union, Smuts released a large number of Indian passive resisters from prison. Claiming that there were more Chinese in jail than Indians, Gandhi intervened on their behalf, declaring he was ‘quite sure that General Smuts [would not] expect Indian passive resisters to desert their Chinese fellow sufferers. They naturally ask Ibid., 21 January 1911. Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora, p. 239. 199 Indian Opinion, 4 February 1911. 200 Karen Harris and Jan Ryan, ed. Elizabeth Sinn, ‘Chinese Immigration to Australia in The Last Half Century of the Chinese Overseas’ Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1998, pp. 374-5. 201 Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora, p. 238. 202 Swan, Gandhi, 206-7; Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora, pp. 238-9. 197 198

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for the same protection for the Chinese passive resisters as for themselves’.203 In 1911, a provisional settlement was reached between the Union government and the Asians on various outstanding issues. For example, some of the objections to Act 36 of 1908 were acceded to: Peace Preservation Ordinance permits were recognized, educated persons were exempted and signatures were accepted instead of finger prints.204 The Immigration Bill continued to pass through various phases of amendment before being enacted in 1913.205 As a result of these developments, the divided Chinese community set about reconstructing its businesses and resuming a low political profile.206 While there were various individual arrests in the following few years,207 1912 marked the end of the passive resistance movement for the Chinese. This was also the year in which the CA ‘ceased to exist’ and Quinn was said to have absconded, ‘without handing over charges of the books and moneys of the Chinese Association in his possession.’208 In Gandhi’s recollection of this a decade later in Satyagraha in South Africa, he commented on this foul play, writing ‘that it is always difficult for followers to sustain a conflict in the absence of their leader, and the shock is all the greater when the leader has disgraced himself ’.209 In a letter to the Governor General, 354 Chinese residents of the Transvaal referred to ‘the welcome settlement of the Asiatic question which [they were] now able to look forward to with feelings of deep and unmixed thankfulness. . . .’ 210 Thus when Gandhi called for a return to passive resistance in Indian Opinion, 27 May 1911. Indian Opinion, 18 March, 27 May 1911; Swan, Gandhi, pp. 229-30. 205 ‘Statutes of the Union of South Africa 1913’, Act 22 of 1913, Immigrants Regulation. 206 SAD: Governor-General (GG) 1594, 51/926: Sentences. Petition for remission from members of Chinese Community in Johannesburg, 1911. 207 SAD: CIA Commissioner of Immigration and Asiatic Affairs 34, M74, Chinese traders. Registrar of Asiatics, 6 September 1913; Indian Opinion, 1, 22 April 1911. 208 TAD: WLD5/259, 580/1914, Illiquid case, 1914; CWMG, vol. 29, p. 120. 209 CWMG, vol. 29, pp. 120-1. 210 SAD: Governor-General (GG) 1594, 51/926: Sentences. Petition for remission from members of Chinese Community in Johannesburg, 1911. 203 204


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1913, the Chinese did not respond because the issues objected to only concerned the Indian community. These included Union laws which did not recognize non-Christian marriages and the amended Immigrants’ Restriction Bill of 1913.211 Throughout the second, third and final stages of Satyagraha in South Africa, the relationship between Gandhi, passive resistance and the Chinese community was confirmed. Even though a split arose in the ranks of the Chinese towards the end of 1908, over the acceptance of yet another government compromise, the commitment of those who constituted the passive resistance party, continued undaunted until May 1911. The Chinese participation in the first phases of passive resistance was, however, meaningful in terms of Gandhian historiography. In this context, it provided a different perspective on his relations with non-Indian communities and therefore repudiated the purportedly revisionist view of Gandhi as ‘politically exclusive’. Gandhi was not the leader of the Chinese passive resistance movement, but he did set its tone through his own philosophy of Satyagraha and in many ways he did encourage and approve of their participation in the widespread political campaign against racist legislation. His constant approval of Chinese initiatives and tactics and his occasional legal assistance were also important. Although the Indians never concluded a firm alliance with their fellow Asians, the Chinese, this was not because it was inexpedient, but rather because of their cultural ethnocentrism. Cultural exclusivity seemed to cut across class lines in the organization of passive resistance. The Indians and Chinese fought a similar battle, against similar laws and similar governments,212 yet their respective cultural chauvinisms kept them apart. Looked at from the perspective of Chinese passive resistance in the early 1900s, therefore, Gandhi’s alleged complicity in ‘segregationist policies’, ‘racialism’ and ‘proto-apartheid’ are unduly harsh.213 Rather the very nature of the legislation which singled out the Asiatics led to a united front, as they resisted a shared racist assault. Swan, Gandhi, pp. 236-8; Ly-Tio-Fane Pineo, Chinese Diaspora, pp. 237-8. Hunt uses a similar analogy with reference to the ‘Indians, Coloureds and Africans’, p. 20. 213 Stone II, ‘Debate: M.K. Gandhi’, pp. 726-35; Swan, Gandhi, pp. 112-14; Power, Gandhi in South Africa, pp. 445-6. 211



Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines KALPANA HIRALAL

INTRODUCTION By the turn of the century Indians in Natal and elsewhere in the Union of South Africa had become a permanent part of the demographic landscape of the country. The vast majority of Indians arrived as indentured labourers, followed by ‘passenger’ or free Indians in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. However, the free Indians, in particular, the ‘passenger’ and ex-indentured Indians, successfully competed in trade with local colonists. The latter were keen to engage the services of Indians as labourers but not as competitors. Consequently, a series of discriminatory legislations were passed which restricted the economic and political freedom of the Indian community. Indians protested and embarked on Satyagraha campaigns at various intervals: between 1907 and 1911 and in 1913. The 1913 Satyagraha movement was the first mass movement by Indians in South Africa. Well over 20,000 men, women and children participated in the movement. The main grievances were the non-recognition of Indian marriages, the £3 tax (introduced in 1895), restrictions on inter-provincial movements and the ‘racial bar’ imposed on Indians regarding immigration. The movement gained momentum via various modes of defiance, e.g. flouting of immigration, inter-provincial and municipal by-laws.1 One of the key areas of protest was the coal mines in the Natal Midlands. Both indentured and free labourers, men and women, K. Hiralal, ‘Our Plucky Sisters who have Dared to Fight - Indian Women and the Satyagraha Movement in South Africa’, The Oriental Anthropologist 9, no. 1, 2009, pp. 1-22. 1


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engaged in strike action in defiance of the discriminatory laws, in particular the £3 tax, as it was this particular legislation which would seriously impact on Indian workers once their indentured contract expired. In most instances the striking miners aimed at cooperation rather than confrontation with the government and employers. Sergeant W. Mann of the South African Military Rifles (SAMR) reported to the Attorney General on 25 October 1913 that they ‘are merely taking up an attitude of “Passive Resistance” and they have not, so far created any disturbance, and are remaining quietly at the various compounds where they have struck work’.2 In academic literature labour historians have sought to explain strike activity in South Africa from varied socio-economic and political contexts. Labour unrest during the first two decades of the twentieth century highlights the symbiotic relationship between state and capital.3 The 1940s strikes are analysed in the context of state bureaucracy and the politics of its inner functions, and its implications for labour regulation and strike activity,4 whilst others have argued that worker mobilization grew out of ‘a powerful sense of collective moral outrage’; hence it was ‘plebian . . . rather than proletarian’.5 Recent labour unrests in South Africa, with particular reference to the Marikana strike, have raised questions about the ineffectiveness of the state and labour movements to handle worker grievances and the emergence of a ‘new powerful independent union movement . . . that will realign politics in the country’.6 2 ‘Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository’ (PAR), Attorney-General’s Office (AGO), 756/1913, vol. I/8/146, Sgt W. Mann (SAMR) to Attorney General, 25 October 1913. 3David Yudelman, ‘Lord Rothschild, Afrikaner Scabs and the 1907 Strike: A State-Capital Daguerrotype’ African Affairs 81, no. 323, 1982, pp. 257-69. 4 D. Duncan, ‘State Bureaucracy and African Labour in South Africa: The Milling Workers’ Strike of 1944’, Canadian Journal of African Studies 25, no. 3, 1991, pp. 361-77. 5 T.D. Moodie, ‘The Moral Economy of the Black Miners’ Strike of 1946’, Journal of Southern African Studies 13, no. 1, 1986, pp. 1-35. 6 C. Twala, ‘The Marikana Massacre: A Historical Overview of the Labour Unrest in the Mining Sector in South Africa’, Southern African Peace and Security Studies I, no. 2, 2012, p. 62; C. Twala and B. Kompi, ‘The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the ‘Tripartite Alliance: A Marriage of (in) Convenience?, Journal for Contemporary History 37, no. 1, pp. 176-9.

Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines


This essay charts the miners’ resistance and the mine owners’ response to the Satyagraha movement on the coal mines in the Natal Midlands, a field which has been neglected in South African historiography. Studies on the Satyagraha movement of 1913 have focused on Gandhi as the protagonist in the struggle or have located their analysis within a broader socio-economic framework.7 Recent works have sought to document the role of the masses so that the ‘less silent and less ignored in South African history’ are rightfully acknowledged.8 In their pioneering historical literary study, Bhana and Shukla–Bhatt illuminate the Satyagraha struggle via poems written in Gujarati, English and Hindi. These poems are valuable in that they highlight the enduring spirit of resistance of the Indians involved in the struggle, thereby providing a deeper understanding of this historical juncture.9 Gendered analysis of the movement can be clearly discerned in the works of Mongia and Hiralal, who explicate agency, identity and resistance. Their analysis is particularly significant in that it highlights lost gendered narratives and consequently debunks the myth of docile Indian women in the diaspora.10 Whilst the focus on existing literature related to the Satyagraha movement of 1913 is not inappropriate, a further analytic shift is required to interrogate the complex relationship between state capital and workers for the period under consideration. Indian workers on the coal mines in 1913 were not striking Surendra Bhana and Uma S. Mesthrie, ‘Passive Resistance Among Indian South Africans: A Historiographical Survey’ , South African Historical Journal 16, no.1, 1984, pp. 118-131; J. Beall and D. North-Coombes, ‘The 1913 Natal Indian Strike: The Social and Economic Background to Passive Resistance’, Journal of Natal and Zulu History VI, 1983, pp. 48-81; M. Swan, ‘The 1913 Natal Indian Strike’, Journal of Southern African Studies 10, 1984, pp. 239-58. 8 Bhana and Mesthrie, ‘Passive Resistance’. 9 S. Bhana and N. Shukla-Bhatt, A Fire That Blazed in the Ocean – Gandhi and the Poems of Satyagraha in South Africa, 1909-1911, New Delhi: Promilla & Co., 2011. 10 R. Mongia, ‘Gender and the Historiography of Gandhian Satyagraha in South Africa’, Gender and History 18, 2006, pp. 130-49; K. Hiralal, ‘Rethinking Gender and Agency in the Satyagraha Movement of 1913’, Journal of Social Sciences 25, 2010 (1-2-3), pp. 71-80, Hiralal, ‘Our Plucky sisters who have dared to fight’, pp. 1-22. 7


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to address traditional grievances: higher wages, better working conditions or housing. Their grievance was political, mainly against the £3 tax, and heeded Gandhi’s call to cease work. In most instances, the striking miners aimed at co-operation rather than confrontation with the government and employers. The strike could have provided an opportunity to the mine employers to declare their opposition to the £3 tax, one of the main grievances of the Indian workers. But, instead, the employers offered no compromise, reiterated their support for the tax and called upon government assistance to quell the strike. They did little to negotiate with the Government or capitalists (who had vested interests in the coal mines) to secure the abolition of the £3 tax. Their response to the striking Indian workers is indicative of the symbiotic relationship between state and capital: the state sought to maintain the political status quo of the Indian community and secure mining revenue and the capitalists were assured of their labour supply. This mutually dependent relationship emerged in the first two decades of the twentieth century, continued to characterize the South African economy in the forthcoming decades, and had serious implications for worker grievances and labour legislation. HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF LABOUR UNREST IN SOUTH AFRICA Labour unrest in twentieth century in South Africa must be viewed against the changing political economic landscape of the country. The discovery of diamonds in Kimberley in 1867 and gold in 1886 on the Witwatersrand laid the foundation for the industrialisation of the South African economy. Strikes and work stoppages characterized much of the South African economy during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Race formed the cornerstone of strike action during this period. Mining magnates sought to lower production costs by recruiting unskilled and semi-skilled African labour. This not only laid the foundation to the proletarianization of South Africa’s black labour force but also threatened white skilled labour on the mines. The latter protested in a series of strikes in 1907, 1913 and 1914. The government’s

Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines


response was to quell workers’ resistance via militant action.11 In the 1940s the Second World War laid the pre-conditions for strike activity. Poor family housing, demands for higher wages, and a decline in the quality of rations due to post-war food shortages led to the 1946 mine workers’ strike. In the 1960s industrial activity was suppressed as organizations such as the ANC and PAC were declared illegal and many of its leaders were either detained or exiled.12 In the 1970s labour unrest was motivated by both political and socio-economic issues. There were widespread strikes over low wages, increasing unemployment and poverty. These strikes took place in the brick, textile, chemical, rubber, iron, steel and electrical services industries.13 The emergence of trade unionism amongst workers was to play a pivotal role in the political transformation of South Africa.14 This was clearly evident in the 1980s when they supported the calls for sanctions, boycotts and stay-aways. In post-apartheid South Africa, labour unrest has been widespread. The late 1990s saw a wave of labour unrest, particularly in both the public and private sectors, such as the health, transport and municipal services.15 Over the past few years, poor economic growth and escalating food prices, unemployment and poverty have all trapped South Africa into chronic industrial action. This gave S. Bendix, Industrial Relations in South Africa, Lansdowne: Juta & Co, Ltd, 2001, p. 58; M. Finnemore, & R. Van Rensburg, Contemporary Labour Relations, Durban: LexisNexis, Butterworths, 2002; M. Grossett & R. Venter, Labour Relations in South Africa, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 37; R.H. Davies, Capital, State and White Labour in South Africa, 1900-60, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1979, pp. 80-1; D. Yudelman, The Emergence of Modern South Africa: State, Capital and the Incorporation of Organized Labor on the South African Gold Fields, 1902-1939, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1983, pp. 93-112. 12 Grossett and Venter, Labour Relations in South Africa, p. 37. 13 Grossett and Venter, Labour Relations in South Africa, p. 37; D. Macshane, et al., Power! Black Workers, Their Unions and the Struggle for Freedom in South Africa, Nottingham: Spokesman, 1984, pp. 16-17; K. Luckhardt and B. Wall, Organise or Starve! The History of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1980, pp. 447-453. 14 Macshane, Power, pp. 55-6; Bendix, ‘Industrial Relations in South Africa’, pp. 74-6. 15 Finnemore and van Rensburg, ‘Contemporary Labour Relations’, p. 374; Bendix, Industrial Relations in South Africa, p. 83. 11


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rise to a series of popular protests since 2008. Moreover, labour unions have become highly politicized, with major unions losing credibility amongst workers, and giving rise to union rivalry. This was most noticeable in the Marikana platinum mine strike and massacre which led to the death of 34 miners in 2012.16 The labour unrest on the coal mines in the Natal Midlands in 1913 by striking Indian workers must be viewed within a broader socio-economic political context. At the turn of the century political re-configuration gave rise to the Union of South Africa in 1910 (the unification of four previously separate colonies: Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Orange Free State). The discoveries of mineral wealth gradually transformed South Africa to a highly industrialized economy. Politically, the Union was governed by racist ideologies seeking to curb the economic and political freedom of the nonwhite races. The legislation that was introduced at the time, in many ways, laid the foundation of separate development. For example, the 1913 Land Act reserved 90 per cent of the country’s land for white ownership. The ANC which was formed in 1912, protested against the Act by sending a delegation to London. In the same year the Orange Free State introduced pass laws for African women which required them to carry documentation that had to be shown to police officers on demand. African women protested and many were jailed.17 The Indian community also suffered discriminatory measures, most notably the non-recognition of Indian marriages, immigration restrictions and the £3 tax. It was the £3 tax that became a significant political grievance on the coal mines for the Indian workers. THE STRIKE ON THE MINES The Satyagraha campaign of 1913 began to gain momentum by mid-September of that year. When the negotiations between the Government and the Indian community failed regarding the removal of discriminatory measures, the latter decided to ‘take up the well-tried weapon of passive resistance’.18 Gandhi’s plan was to Twala, ‘The Marikana Massacre’, pp. 61-7. Indian Opinion, 2 August 1913. 18 Indian Opinion, 3 May 1913. 16 17

Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines


get key members of the Indian community to cross the Transvaal border and then proceed to Newcastle and the coal mining areas, to mobilize support from the miners, particularly on the £3 tax. The Coal Mines in the Natal Midlands were one of the largest employers of both free and indentured Indian labour, along with African labour. By 31 December 1912, 11 Collieries employed a total of 3,635 Indian men, 3,020 indentured and 615 Free Indians.19 By the end of 1913, a total of 3,705 were employed on 12 Collieries, comprising 2,854 indentured and 851 Free Indians.20 The strike on the Natal Midlands commenced in mid-October 1913. Among the key Satyagrahis mobilizing support were Thambi Naidoo, Bhawani Dayal and Ramnarain Singh, accompanied by women resisters, Veeramal Naidoo (wife of Thambi Naidoo), Mrs. T. Pillay, Mrs. Moorgen, and Mrs. P.K. Naidoo. They advised workers to suspend work for the removal of the £3 tax. By the end of October, hundreds of Indian workers downed tools. By 23 October, approximately 1,700 workers were on strike at ten mines: Newcastle, Fairleigh, Ballangeich, Cambrian; Durban Navigation, Glencoe [500], Natal Navigation [850], Hattingspruit [100], St George’s Colliery [300] and New Shaft [300].21 The Dundee and District Courier reported on 23 October: The Collieries at Newcastle, Dannhauser, Ingagane and Hattingspruit as well as the railways to that point are affected and nearly the whole of the Indians employed are out. There is no disorder and arrangements will doubtless be made to continue the work at all the mines. The situation is an awkward one and calls for some very definite treatment on the part of the authorities.22

At the Natal Navigation Collieries the only Indians at work were the sanitary and pump hands. By the end of October other mines struck work. Approximately 500 Indians at the Dundee Coal Company Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre (GLDC), Report of the Protector of Indian Immigrants for the year ended 31 December 1912. 20 Report of the Protector of Indian Immigrants for the year ended 31 December 1913. 21 Indian Opinion, 29 October 1913; ‘Dundee and District Courier’, 30 October 1913. 22 Dundee and District Courier, 23 October 1913. 19


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and Burnside mines struck work and they were followed by about 300 employed at the South African Collieries.23 The strike also spread to the few mines which were not affected earlier. For example, approximately 1000 Indians, their wives and children deserted from Elandalaagte Collieries and marched to Ladysmith on 18 November. A riot ensued and many were injured. Striking Indians later assembled at the ‘rioters’ camp’ in Forbes Street and were addressed by David Harris, General Manager of Elandalaagte Collieries. The strikers later agreed to return to the mine.24 STATE, CAPITAL AND WORKERS The strike on the mines by Indian workers was not based on traditional grievances: loss of jobs, poor wages and better working conditions. It was a political issue with workers responding to the call for the abolition of the £3 tax, amongst other grievances. The majority of the Indians employed on the coal mines was indentured and were not liable for the payment of the £3 tax. However, their reason for striking, according to the monthly Report of the Deputy Commissioner of Mines, was because they were ‘in sympathy with the free Indian who is liable for the tax’25 and as they themselves would be liable to tax in the future.26 The tax became a serious political issue for the Indian community. The tax was imposed to satisfy European demands for sustained labour and to quell Indian competition with Europeans in trade. The tax introduced in 1895 was oppressive as indentured labourers earned only six pounds a year. They were required to pay £3, in addition to the £1 poll tax, Indian Opinion, 29 October 1913; Natal Mercury, 27 October 1913. Talana Museum (TM), Dundee, Klip River Annals 1913; Indian Opinion, 26 November 1913; Natal Witness, 19 November 1913. 25 TM, Dundee, Monthly Report of the Deputy Commissioner of Mines, Province of Natal, October 1913. 26 TM, Dundee, Monthly Report of the Deputy Commissioner of Mines, Province of Natal, October 1913. The workers had many serious complaints about their employers and working conditions, but the strike was only on the issue of the tax. 23 24

Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines


that all males had to pay.27 The newly-formed Union government’s policy towards the Indian population reflected anti-Indianism and racism. They paid little attention to the hardship endured as a result of the tax. Moreover, they also failed to honour the promise given to Hon. Gopal Krishna Gokhale (a member of the Indian National Congress) during his visit in 1912 to abolish this ‘blood tax’.28 The £3 tax was then added to the demands of the satyagrahis and Indian workers were invited to suspend work until the Government gave an assurance that the tax would be repealed. At the turn of the century the development of coal mining in the Natal Midlands began to attract many Durban-based merchants, ship-owners and sugar barons who were financially and politically well-connected. The mines were owned and controlled by the Natal Coal Owners’ Society which was a conglomerate of the following mines: Dundee Coal Company; South African, Natal Navigation, Glencoe, Wallsend, Vryheid, Elandslaagte, Ramsay and Natal Steam Collieries. S. Butcher and Sons of Durban, a wealthy Durban merchant, and sugar magnates such as C.G. Smith, and C.P. Reynolds had vested interests and were part of ‘an influential Directorate’ in the Natal Cambrian Collieries Ltd.29 The board of directors at the Dundee (Natal) Coal Company consisted of George Payne, J.W. Leuchars, the Hon. A. Mitchell Campbell, Benjamin Greenacre – all prosperous Durban entrepreneurs and civic leaders. Others, like Charles Hitchins and Otto Siedle, were involved in the shipping industry. The South African Collieries Ltd was ‘financially sustained by the De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd’, and the Natal Navigation Collieries and Hattingspruit Collieries were ‘floated with Witwatersrand capital or taken over and managed by Johannesburg-based companies’.30 Given this scenario, the Union government at the time was keen to support the vested interests of the sugar and coal barons, and Natal legislators, who did not want the tax to be repealed, as it would have serious implications for labour shortage. At the turn of Indian Opinion, 11 November 1911; CWMG, vol. XII, pp. 89-91. Indian Opinion, 24 September 1913. 29 B. Guest, ‘Commercial Coal-mining in Natal: A Centennial Appraisal’ Natalia 18, 1988, p. 43. 30 Guest, ‘Commercial Coal-mining in Natal’, p. 43. 27 28


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the century, prior to 1910, General Smuts, who dominated politics in the Transvaal government was initially less conciliatory towards mining capital. This changed during the 1907 white miners’ strike on the Witwatersrand, when Smuts became ‘increasingly aware of the state’s dependence on the mining industry for revenue. He came to understand the essential connection between a viable, profitable mining industry and a reliable source of state revenue. . . .’31 This attitude and the State’s ‘born-again . . . priorities’32 between state and capitalists clearly manifested itself in the Government’s response to the 1913 Indian strike on the coal mines. The State initially adopted a laissez faire attitude towards the striking Indian workers, dismissing their actions as trivial. As one official statement reveals: ‘For the present therefore the best policy seems to be to meet them with their own tactics and let them proceed where they like. . . . Lack of food should soon compel them to return to work.’33 However, as the unrest intensified by early November 1913, supplemented by frantic calls by coal owners to curb the strike, the state then stepped in with military assistance. EMPLOYERS’ RESPONSE TO LABOUR UNREST ON THE COAL MINES During the first decade of the twentieth century the coal mining industry in the Natal Midlands was facing a number of challenges: fluctuations in the economy and demand for coal, the closer dependence by some shipping vessels on diesel oil, and the difficulty of competing internationally.34 The outbreak of labour unrest simply added to the already depressed situation. The Natal Coal Owners’ Society viewed the strike by Indians as ‘illegal’35 and held several emergency meetings to consider the ‘best course of 31 Yudelman, ‘Lord Rothschild, Afrikaner Scabs and the 1907 Strike’, p. 262. 32 Ibid. 33 TM, Natal Mine Manager’s Association Reports, 31 October 1913. 34 Guest, ‘Commercial Coal-mining in Natal’, pp. 45-6. 35 TM, Natal Miner Managers’ Association (NMMA), ‘Minutes of the Emergency Meetings of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society’, 10 November 1913, p. 200.

Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines


procedure to be adopted under the circumstances’.36 They were fully aware of the dangers of a sustained mass strike in terms of its impact on mine revenue and the economy. They sought a practical strategy which would allow them to achieve their primary objective of persuading employees to remain at work and not to participate in industrial action. This involved bilateral co-operation with the Government and convincing striking miners to return to work. When the latter failed they resorted to the use of force. The Society took upon a leadership role by establishing itself as a strike-handling committee. On 20 October they sent an urgent telegram to the Minister of Interior, General Smuts, which read as follows: Indians, both free and indentured, have stopped work at following Collieries, Newcastle and Fairleigh, Ballengeich, Natal Cambrian and Durban Navigation, under influence of Passive Resisters movement worked by Gandhi. . . . Fear other Collieries will be affected total employed at Coal Mines is 4,000 (four thousand) out of 11,000 men . . . If agitation thus extends output of Mines will be seriously reduced not only by withdrawal of Indians but for disturbing effect on Natives and disorganisation of work. . . . Fear . . . conflict will arise between Indians willing and those unwilling to work, this has happened to-day at one Mine stop. Mines as you know have not adequate protection for abnormal position and earnestly request you give matter serious attention and advise us best course to adopt as agitation is not against Coal Owners but against Government and we wish to coo-perate with you stop. Agitation may extend to Indians on Railway, Sugar Estates and other Industries therefore prompt action imperative stop. Suggest you authorize mines appoint special constables in case of need from own European employees stop. Understand principal grievances of Indians are continuance three pound annual tax free Indians non recognition Mahomedan marriages and refusal re-entry Indians previously domiciled South Africa after being away over twelve months. 37 36 For the response of the mine owners and mine managers to the strike and their correspondence with the Government, see: TM (a) ‘Minutes of the Emergency Meetings of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society’, 22 October to 18 November 1913; and (b) Minutes of Meetings of Natal Mine Managers’ Association, 20 October to 21 November 1913. These documents are available at Talana Museum in Dundee. 37 TM, Natal Mine Manager’s Association Reports, Minutes of Special Meeting of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society, 20 October 1913.


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To devise uniform and common approach to dealing with the strike, the Society enlisted the assistance of the Mine Managers’ Association. It was tasked with gathering accurate and relevant information on developments on the mines as they unfolded. This was important for policy decision-making in bringing an end to the strike. The Society sent a telegram to the Association advising them to keep the Society informed on the progress of the strike on the mines and advised the Mine Managers not to ‘prosecute nor deal harshly with any of the Indian employees allowing them to remain on property’.38 The Natal Mine Managers’ Association39 was concerned about the spread of the strike to other mines and the need for additional security on mine premises. At a meeting on 22 October they informed the Coal Owners’ Society to approach the Government immediately to have a ‘full and efficient force of regular police or troops to protect life and property’.40 They were concerned with the possibility of ‘Indians also endeavouring to influence Natives to strike’.41 They also wanted the Government to prohibit the sale of alcohol to Indians on the mines and in neighbouring towns.42 The Society took up the concerns of the Association and immediately wired the Government to take prompt action as the unrest was spreading rapidly.43 By the end of October 1913 representatives of the Indian community, headed by representatives of the Natal Indian Association, comprising Henry Polak (a European sympathetic to the Satyagraha movement), Dawad Mahomed and A.M. Paruk, called upon Otto Siedle (of Dundee Coal Company and Chairman of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society) to hold talks with Gandhi. The Indian deputation distinctly stated to Siedle that ‘the £3 tax would Ibid., 22 October 1913. Its members consisted of T. Dewar (Chairman), E. Hutt, J. Scobbie, A.R. Bekenn, B. Sokehill, J. Coulter, R. Sneddon, W.T. Hesslop, R. Campbell. 40 TM, Natal Mine Manager’s Association Reports, Minutes of special meeting of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society, 22 October 1913. 41 Ibid. 42 TM, ‘Natal Mine Manager’s Association, Minutes of Meeting’, 22 October 1913. 43 TM, ‘Minutes of Emergency Meeting of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society, 22 October 1913. 38 39

Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines


be the only grievance which would be introduced at the meeting with the employers’. Moreover, Polak also indicated to Siedle, that Gandhi wanted to address the Indians as the stoppage of rations was causing unrest at Ballengeich mine. Gandhi had issued a Manifesto on 22 October which highlighted the importance of abolishing the tax as a pre-condition for workers to return to work.44 The Society invited Gandhi to a meeting on the 25 October. Gandhi made it quite clear to the employers that the present strike on the coal mines was due to the failure of the Union Government to honour the promise given by them repeatedly that the annual £3 tax would be repealed. He added that the strike would end when they could secure the abolition of the three pound tax.45 The Society sought clarification on the promise given to Gokhale regarding the £3 tax and subsequently wired General Smuts, who replied: . . . Government never gave such promise as Gandhi alleges either to Gokhale or anybody elsewhere. Gokhale at interview with some members of Government made strong point of repeal of £3 tax in Natal, Government replied that tax was unimportant from revenue point of view, but was imposed as matter of policy in Natal. Government promised to consult Natal Members of Parliament, and if they had no objection on grounds of policy Government would take question of repeal into favourable consideration. Government carried out their promise by consulting Natal Members, majority of whom objected to repeal of tax otherwise than affecting women and children. Government feels that promise of repeal under present state of affairs would be public disaster with consequences which none can foresee and are not disposed to consider it. With Gandhi repeal of tax is an afterthought, and is intended to influence Natal Indians to whom the real grounds on which he has started his Passive Resistance movement, and which never included this tax, do not appeal.46

In reply to an enquiry from the Natal Indian Association about the statement by Smuts, Gokhale wired: ‘Definite assurance repeal tax. Asked for authority to make an announcement. The Ministers said it was necessary to mention the matter at first to the Natal Ibid., 24 October 1913. Indian Opinion, 29 October 1913; Natal Mercury, 27 October 1913. 46 TM, Minutes of Emergency Meeting of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society, 28 October 1913. 44 45


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members, and suggested, I should merely state that Ministers had promised most favourable consideration’.47 Indian Opinion, as well as other local newspapers, published the statement by Gokhale and further evidence contradicting the statement of General Smuts and showing that the consultation with Natal legislators was a farce.48 The response by Smuts did little to alleviate the concerns of the mine employers. They were aware that the strikers were protesting against the Government’s failure to repeal the £3 tax in terms of the promise given to Gokhale and not against the mine owners. Hence, they called upon the Government to instruct Magistrates in strike areas to visit collieries and announce that the ‘Government never made such promise as Gandhi alleges to either Gokhale or anybody elsewhere. . . .’49 This request was acceded to by the Government and the Magistrate from Dundee proceeded to convey this information to the Indians on the mines. When the manager of the Burnside mine endeavoured to assemble Indian workers they declined to ‘recognise the magistrate as a person of authority’.50 The Magistrate was determined to carry out his instructions and proceeded to the compound and ‘endeavoured to harangue the Indians, but all to no purpose, for the door was slammed on his face’.51 The situation on the mines by the end of October was volatile. On 28 October 1913 the following telegrams was received by the Coal Owners’ Society from the various mines indicating the status of the strike: From Burnside Colliery 28 October Have assembled Indians and giving them contents of your message they reply Gandhi told them not to return to work and that if the Coal Companies do not ration them they would get rations at Newcastle and they want their pay to-morrow so that they can go away and get their rations from Gandhi. Their demeanour was most insolent many refusing to listen stating they would listen to Gandhi. Ibid., 28 October 1913. Indian Opinion, 5 and 12 November 1913. 49 TM, Minutes of Emergency Meeting of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society, 29 October 1913. 50 Natal Witness, 28 October 1913. 51 Ibid. 47 48

Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines


From Hattingspruit Collieries Wire received contents read and fully explained to Indians they simply ignore the law and absolutely refuse to resume work unless instructed by Gandhi.52

These reports alarmed the Coal Owners’ Society. They immediately telegraphed the Minister of Interior not only informing the Government about the volatile situation on the mines but they also wanted ‘to know what steps Government proposes to take’.53 However, the Government response to the concerns of the Society lacked both leadership and foresight. They viewed the strike as a momentary event which would fizzle out once the strikers lacked food and accommodation. On 30 October they sent a ‘Confidential’ telegram to the Coal Owners’ Society: Yours yesterday it is evident the Indians are courting arrest because in that way they would be fed The Government would have to look after them and . . . there would be serious difficulties caused in respect of gaol accommodation. For the present therefore the best policy seems to be to meet them with their own tactics and let them proceed where they like. A sufficient force of Police will be at the various points to preserve the law order. Lack of food should soon compel them to return to work. This of course does not apply to ringleaders who will be dealt with so far as laws allow but for cases of this kind Natal Laws are very deficient.54

The Government’s response initially did little to alleviate the fears of the Society. The unrest on the mines required tougher measures in terms of policy and action, which the Government failed to provide.55 The Society was concerned that the Government’s ‘inaction and failure to enforce the Law’ would reflect poorly on state and mine management authority; that striking Indian labourers who were allowed to ‘leave their work and march about the country, both in Natal and Transvaal’,56 would be viewed by both Africans and Indians as a ‘sign of great weakness on the part 52 TM, ‘Minutes of Emergency Meeting of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society’, 28 October 1913, 29 October 1913. 53 Ibid., 29 October 1913. 54 Ibid., 31 October 1913. 55 Ibid., 8 November 1913. 56 Ibid., 8 November 1913.


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of the Government’,57 and this would seriously affect the ‘prestige of the Magistrates, Police, Managers of Mines, and the white population generally’.58 Moreover, the Society was also concerned that a prolonged strike and poor law enforcement would influence African labourers to view this as an ‘opportune time’ to negotiate a wage increase of £4, a month. To this effect, a delegation of African labourers at Ballengeich mines had requested an interview with the mine manager. The Society resolved to address this issue by sending a circular letter to all mine managers that should African labourers seek a wage increase their requests would not be ‘entertained’.59 METHODS USED BY EMPLOYERS TO DEAL WITH THE STRIKE Mines Converted to Prison Compounds The strike offered an opportunity to the employers to declare their opposition to the inhumane tax and persuade the Government to abolish it. But, instead, they supported its continuance. At a meeting on 18 November of the Coal Owners’ Society, a resolution was passed as follows: ‘That in the opinion of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society, it is not desirable to repeal the £3 tax and that Government be so advised’.60 Moreover, the Society sought Government support to repress the workers. They were keen to contain the strike and thus proposed to Government that striking Indian labourers who were sentenced to prison with hard labour be returned to their respective mines to serve their terms. A similar treatment was meted out to Africans during the ‘Native Rebellion’.61 They Ibid., 8 November 1913. Ibid., 8 November 1913. 59 Ibid., 3 November 1913. 60 Ibid., 24 October 1913; Natal Mine Manager’s Association, Minutes of Meeting, 21 November 1913. 61 ‘Native Rebellion’ also known as Bambatha Rebellion. The Bambatha Uprising was a Zulu revolt against British rule and taxation in Natal in 1906. The revolt was led by Bambatha kaMancinza leader of the amaZondi clan of the Zulu people, who lived in the Mpanza Valley, a district near Greytown, KwaZulu-Natal; TM, ‘Minutes of Emergency Meeting of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society’, 10 November 1913. 57 58

Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines


also requested that sections of mines be converted into prison compounds. The Government responded to this call and the Prisons and Reformatories Act 13 of 1911 approved the Indian Barracks of the South African Boating Company in Point Road, Durban, to be established as an out-station to the Durban gaol with effect from 20 November 1913. Similarly, coal mines in Dundee and Newcastle were turned into outstations to striking labourers. The following collieries were affected:62 As Out-stations to the Dundee Gaol: Burnside Collieries, no. 1 shaft; Burnside Collieries, no. 2 shaft; South African Collieries; Wallsend Malangeni Collieries; Natal Navigation Collieries, no. 1 shaft; Natal Navigation Collieries no. 2 shaft; Natal Navigation Collieries, no. 3 shaft; Glencoe Collieries; St George’s Collieries; Hattinghspruit Collieries. As Out-Station to the Newcastle Gaol Western Side of Compound, Ballengeich Collieries. DEALING WITH ‘AGITATORS’ Mine management also sought to curb the strike by prosecuting ringleaders and ‘agitators’. Ringleaders were dealt in several ways. An intelligence network was put into operation, and this system identified and prosecuted ringleaders. In fact, Gandhi was viewed as an ‘agitator’. H.R. Bousfield of Ballengeich Colliery was: ‘endeavouring . . . to obtain evidence so as to enable him to deal with Mr Gandhi and his chief supporters, that special arrangements were in progress with a view to sending up men to obtain the necessary sworn information against Gandhi or any of the other ringleaders’.63 Some colliery owners were of the belief that ‘if Mr Gandhi could be effectually dealt with by the Government the whole movement would be checked’.64 Mine employers were tasked with 62 British Library (BL), London, ‘Despatches on Indians in South Africa’, BP2/2(20), Enclosure, 3 & 4. 63 TM, ‘Minutes of Emergency Meeting of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society’, 3 November 1913. 64 Ibid., 31 October 1913.


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arresting all ringleaders on affected mines. The Mine owners also sought Government’s assistance to prosecute ‘agitators’ off mine property. On 3 November they sent the following telegram to the Attorney-General: We understand the Agitators at Newcastle are on the increase and that numbers of Indians would return to work if they were not intimidated. . . . We cannot exercise any supervision over Agitators not on property belonging to various Collieries . . . We urge that you should take prompt steps for their prosecution. . . .65

Government responded by imposing harsh sentences on striking workers. Indians who trespassed on mine property for the purpose of receiving rations were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment, and Indians harbouring striking indentured labourers were also arrested.66 On the 5 November, 26 Indians employed at St. George’s Collieries and Hattingspruit were charged before the Resident Magistrate in Dundee for refusing to work. Others were charged with absenteeism, recorded for the period from 25 October to 5 November. Mine employers, at times, used brutal methods to force labourers to return to work. There were many reports of strikers being whipped, flogged and being forced to work underground. The Natal Indian Association received telegrams from Newcastle stating that men on the mines had been brutally whipped because of their refusal to work.67 Indian Opinion reported on 19 November: The Indian Association received telegrams from Newcastle stating that the men on the Ballengeich mine had been brutally whipped in consequence of their refusal to work. Some were unconscious. The Ballengeich men were charged before the Court and 50 were sentenced to three months’ hard labour and 136 to six months. Eight ringleaders were sent to Maritzburg gaol and the rest were locked in the mine compound which had been proclaimed as a gaol and surrounded by a fence of wire netting.

From Dundee a telegram stated that there were allegations of Ibid., 3 November 1913. Dossen Lazarus was brought before the Court at Newcastle on 29 November and was charged with harbouring indentured immigrants. He was later discharged. 67 Indian Opinion, 19 November 1913. 65 66

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serious assaults upon passive resisters at Burnside by ‘native’ police, instigated by and in the presence of the compound manager of the S.A. Colliery who, with the police, actively assaulted the men. One woman was in the hospital and others were seriously injured. A further message states that Mr. J.W. Cross [Dundee], and Mr. D.G. Giles [Newcastle], both magistrates, warned Indians refusing to work that they would be starved and thereafter mercilessly flogged under gaol regulations into submission and forcibly driven underground.68 Ringleaders were handled firmly as employers held them responsible for intimidation and violence. At St. George’s Colliery, ‘one of the ringleaders who had ridden up to the Mine to persuade those who remained at work to leave, was promptly arrested’.69 The Mine Manager for the South African Collieries reported that ‘several ringleaders are rather bellicose’; they stopped rations and several coal miners were anxious to return to work but are afraid of ringleaders.70 REQUEST FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES The employers were not satisfied with the unrest on the mines as they were losing money. They continued to send telegrams asking the Government to deploy police or armed forces to quell the strike. Their demands increased after the strike began to spread to the sugar plantations in early November. They were of the opinion that a ‘strong display of force should be made at once to enable the immediate arrest of leaders’ and to adopt ‘the best methods of ending the strike and preventing further outbreaks of similar disorder’. To this end, they were prepared to assist the Government ‘in any prompt and immediate measures they may find necessary to adopt, to quell this illegal strike of Indians’.71 Smuts responded to the telegram stating that a large concentration of SAMR under General Lukin was being deployed in the ‘perturbed area’. The Ibid. TM, ‘Minutes of Emergency Meeting of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society’, 31 October 1913. 70 Ibid., 31 October 1913. 71 Ibid., 10 November 1913. 68 69


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Government also indicated that the police arrangements were in the hands of the SAMR at Dundee and if this was not adequate, police reinforcements could easily be sent from the neighbouring Transvaal Police without delay. At Hattingspruit a force of 16 White and 20 Coloured Constables was stationed. Smuts further added that many leading members of the Indian Association were opposed to the strike and he encouraged the employers to ‘get in touch with them and get their active assistance’.72 PAYMENT OF RATIONS AND WAGES TO STRIKING LABOURERS One of the dilemmas facing employers was the legal eviction of striking labourers off mine property and the cessation of rations and wages. There was a lengthy discussion amongst employers on these issues. At a meeting on 22 October, Mine Managers were divided on the payment of rations to striking Indians. Most members present at the meeting were of the opinion that it was ‘inadvisable at this juncture to stop the supplies’, that the Collieries should offer rations on a day-to day basis. Some wanted all rations stopped whilst others wanted only mealie meal to be given.73 H.R. Bousfield stated that he had instructed the Manager of the Ballengeich Collieries to stop the issue of rations to Indians on strike.74 By the end of October, the unwillingness of Indian labourers to return to work, forced employers to issue a notice to all mines to cease all rations and to arrest ringleaders, seeking to intimidate Indians who were still working on the mines.75 To lure striking miners to return to work the employers initially made an offer to pay full wages for the time they had been off work if they returned within a specified time.76 The offer failed to motivate Indian labourers to return to work. At a meeting on Ibid., 15 November 1913; Natal Mine Manager’s Association, ‘Minutes of Meeting’, 21 November 1913. 73 TM, Natal Mine Manager’s Association, ‘Minutes of Meeting’, 22 October 1913. 74 Ibid., 22 October 1913. 75 Ibid., 22 October 1913; Natal Witness, 28 October 1913. 76 TM, ‘Natal Mine Manager’s Association Reports’, 29 October 1913. 72

Satyagraha on Natal’s Coal Mines


15 November the Coal Owners’ Society discussed the need for a uniform policy across the mines regarding the payment of wages to striking Indians. There appeared to be differential treatment of striking labourers regarding the payment of wages. For example, at the Natal Cambrian mine, workers were informed that if they ‘worked well this month [November] they would be paid in full’.77 At Natal Navigation, South African, Durban Navigation and Glencoe Collieries, managers were all ‘paying net wages for days worked without deductions’.78 At Natal Navigation, Indians were paid the sum of five shillings to purchase ‘some necessaries’.79 Table 1 showing the position at several mines on the payment of wages to striking Indian labourers.80 TABLE 1: PAYMENT OF INDENTURED INDIANS WHO WENT ON STRIKE – THE POSITION AT SEVERAL MINES AS AT 2 NOVEMBER 1913

St Georges’

Advanced 5/- Indians not paid yet


Men off more than a week have not yet been paid, men off less than a week paid for days worked


Not paid yet, and no present intention of paying them

South African Collieries

Have been paid for days worked, considering the advisability of dedicating fines in November and following month


Paid with a deduction of 3/- per day on boys over 30/- and 1/6 per day under 30/- for the days they were absent.


Will impose full legal penalty on two boys absent, remainder working


No strike

TM, Meeting of the Natal Coal Owners’ Society, 18 November 1913. Ibid., 18 November 1913. 79 Ibid., 18 November 1913. 80 Quoted verbatim from Natal Mine Manager’s Association, ‘Minutes of Meeting’, 21 November 1913. 77 78


Kalpana Hiralal


Advanced 5/-. Wages not paid yet. Purpose paying at end of November for the months of October and November, and subject to good conduct will impose no fines.


Have paid for time worked without deduction. This applies to all boys who returned to work on Friday 14th inst, and on the understanding that the amount of fine that could have been deducted still remained against them as an advance. Boys that did not return on Friday, 14th inst, have not been paid, and it is intended to make the deduction allowed by Law in their cases.


5/- advanced. Have not yet been paid.

Note: Burnside and Ramsay Collieries are stated to be the only two mines of those represented that have in the past deducted fines in addition to the forfeiture of wages for the time that was not worked. None of the mines represented paid for any time that was not worked.

CONCLUSION The employers’ response to the strike on the coal mines indicates that they were not prepared to heed the call for the repeal of the £3 tax. Whilst they made attempts to appease non-striking workers, they were not prepared to negotiate on the tax. The state and employers were guided by both political and economic motives: a strong desire to maintain the political status quo of the Indian community and to secure profits. They sought to break the spirit of the striking labourers and did not hesitate to use brute force to achieve their ends. The striking Indian workers remained unfazed and suffered imprisonment. In most instances they engaged in non-violent methods of protests and epitomized Gandhi’s notion of ‘Satyagraha’. In 1914 the Smuts-Gandhi negotiations culminated in the passing of the Indians’ Relief Bill which repealed the £3 tax.


The 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign in Natal, South Africa: Origins and Results* ASHWIN DESAI

The beginnings of a passive resistance campaign in 1946, led by the Natal and Transvaal Indian Congresses, had echoes in the huge 1913 strike in Natal led by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Mahatma). The 1913 resistance took in all sections of the Indian community and had at its centre marriage laws that, if put into practice, would invalidate Hindu and Muslim marriages and the £3 tax imposed on indentured labourers once they had completed their indentures. While the 1913 strike involved violent confrontations with the authorities, its overall tenor was dominated by Gandhi’s notion of Satyagraha – satya meaning ‘truth’ and agraha meaning ‘firmness’ or ‘force’. In this idea, ‘physical force is forbidden even in the most favourable circumstances’.1 What Gandhi sought was to try to convince whites that Indians should be treated as equals, through passive resistance, a move that involved declaring opposition to unjust laws, breaking the law *Aspects of this paper were discussed in Ashwin Desai, Goolam Vahed in Monty Naicker, Between Reason and Treason (Pietermaritzburg: Shuter and Shooter, 2010).The author would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. 1 Mahatma Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa. Translated from the Gujarati by Valji Govindji Desai, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Trust, 1928, pp. 96-7.Authorized First American Edition, 1954. From: http://archive.org/ stream/satyagrahainsout00gand/satyagrahainsout00gand_djvu.txt. Accessed on 15 March 2013.


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and suffering the physical consequences. Through the actions and non-violence of the oppressed, the perpetrators would realize the truth and change their ways.2 He considered everyday resistance that was underhand and secret by nature to be a form of bad faith, and incapable of mounting a serious challenge to authority. Instead, Gandhi sought to build on what James Scott later described as ‘moral economy’ resistance, but to inform it with a principled commitment to non-violence.3 Gandhi was involved in non-violent resistance in the Transvaal from 1907-11 and in Natal during 1913. The two campaigns were not part of the same movement, especially in terms of the support base. While most of the volunteers in the Transvaal were from the middle class or earning an independent income, the mass support in Natal came from coal miners in the Northern Natal region and agricultural workers on coastal sugar plantations, whose main grievance appeared to be the payment of a tax which resulted in their having to constantly re-indenture. The details of Gandhi’s South African years have been covered in depth and will not be repeated here.4 What can be said, however, is that Gandhi’s strategy had limited success, as many of the Indian grievances remained unsettled by the time he departed from South Africa in July 1914. This included the concessions made on restrictions to Indian immigration and land rights as well as inter-provincial movement. Crucially, throughout his years in South Africa, Gandhi had insisted on the principle of Imperial citizenship as a basis of equality with Whites. But in the aftermath of the 1913 strike, he accepted that Indians would never enjoy political rights in South Africa. On 30 December 1913, shortly after release from prison 2 Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-violent Conflict, New York: Palgrave, 2000, p. 37. 3 David Hardiman, ‘On Writing a Global History of Non-violent Resistance’, Seminar given at Coventry University, November 2011, Available at:http:// wwwm.coventry.ac.uk/researchnet/ CPRS/nvrg/Documents/Global%20 History%20of%20NVR%20%20Coventry%20Nov%20%202011.pdf. 4 See Maureen Swan, Gandhi. The South African Experience, Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1985; Surendra Bhana and Goolam Vahed, The Making of a Political Reformer. Gandhi in South Africa, 1893-1914, New Delhi: Manohar, 2005; and Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, Inside Indian Indenture – The South African Experience, 1860-1911, Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2010.

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in Natal, Gandhi wrote a letter in the Natal Mercury in which he pointed out that although the Indian National Congress meeting in Karachi in December 1913 ‘was fully justified in asking for full citizen rights through the British Dominions for all the King’s subjects’, Indians in South Africa ‘have declared – and I venture to re-declare through your columns – that my co-workers and I shall not be party to any agitation which has for its object the free and unrestricted immigration of British Indians into the Union or the attainment of political franchise in the near future’.5A reporter from the Transvaal Leader raised the issue again with Gandhi on 14 July 1914, a few days before his departure from South Africa. The conversation went as follows: REPORTER: Is the struggle really at an end—will Indians here not fight, constitutionally, no doubt, for political equality? GANDHI: We have never asked for political equality. We do not hope to get that. REPORTER: You want the vote? GANDHI: No; my view on that would be to leave the question of the political vote severely alone, and my firm conviction is that passive resistance is infinitely superior to the vote. I have never asked for the vote. What I always have insisted on was the removal of racial distinctions, not for equality.6

Gandhi was convinced that the lot of Indians would improve as a result of the Indian Relief Bill. He was to be proved wrong, as Lelyveld points out: White public opinion continued to harden, and Gandhi’s rosy forecasts proved off the mark. The situation of Indians in South Africa got worse, not better, after he turned his attention to India. They were no better than second-class citizens and often less than that. . . . Equal political rights came eventually – a full century after Gandhi had first sought them.7

As the racial noose tightened around Indians in the 1920s, Indians in South Africa still held out hope that compromise and Indian Opinion, 7 January 1914. Mahatma Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Trust; pp. 14, 236. From http://www.gandhiserve.org/e/cwmg/ cwmg.htm.Accessed 3 August 2013. 7 Joseph Lelyveld, Great Soul : Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, London: Vintage, 2011, p. 130. 5 6


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conciliation in the Gandhian spirit would ameliorate their lot. But there was to be no respite, and in the 1930s, the state moved to further reinforce existing land and trading rights in Natal and the Transvaal. By now, the nature of the Indian community had changed. Indenture had ended and many had made their way into the factories springing up in the greater Durban area, while others made a living through market gardening. Alongside the merchants, a professional class of teachers, doctors and lawyers formed a solid layer of the middle class. They yearned for greater opportunities and strained at the racial ceilings to their ambitions. It was a time too of a growing anti-colonial struggle in India and the allure of Stalin’s Soviet Union. A whole coterie of Indian radicals looked to these developments as inspiration, even though the Indian and Soviet models were often very different. It is not a coincidence that eminent leaders of the Indian Congresses in the 1940s were medical doctors trained in Edinburgh. Here, they were open to radical Indian nationalists as well as to communists. In the Transvaal, there was Dr Yusuf Dadoo. Dadoo was to become one of the country’s leading communists, while maintaining a steady respect for Gandhi and also following the Indian nationalist struggle. By the late 1930s, Dadoo emerged as a key figure in the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC). Dadoo, in seeking to inspire resistance, drew on the lessons of 1913 and called for a similar movement in 1939. Gandhi, who left South Africa in 1914, continued to have an influence on activists in South Africa. He advised Dadoo that the campaign should be put on hold as the Indian and British Governments were in contact with the Union Government over the issue. Gandhi wrote, ‘It is the code of the passive resisters to seize every opportunity of avoiding resistance if it can be done honourably’. Dadoo agreed, explaining that ‘Mahatma Gandhi has been our guide and mentor in all that the passive resistance council has been doing in this matter, and we shall whole-heartedly await his advice’.8 Despite the now evident failure of the 1914 Agreement Essop Pahad, ‘The Development of Indian Political Movements in South Africa, 1924-1946’, Ph.D diss., University of Sussex, 1972, from http://www. sahistory.org.za/article/development-indian-political-movements-south-africa, 1924-1946. 8

The 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign


to ameliorate conditions, Gandhi stayed true to his idea of seeking to steadily improve Indian life in South Africa by negotiation and compromise. In this, he had more in common with the moderate factions of the Indian Congresses, who sought ways to placate white fears as well as extract economic and residential concessions.9 Dadoo, aware of Gandhi’s huge status in India and the need for his support, postponed the campaign, despite the advanced nature of the preparations. Meanwhile, the struggle against those who sought the road of piecemeal concessions, labelled the ‘moderates’, started to gain momentum. An emerging group of radical Indian activists, mainly professionals and trade union members, constituted themselves into the Anti-Segregation Council (ASC) in Natal in April 1944 under the leadership of Monty Naicker, Edinburgh-educated like Dadoo. With support from workers, professionals, sports clubs, cultural groups, and youth organizations, the ASC faction took control of the NIC at the annual election on 21 October 1945. Monty Naicker was elected president of the NIC, and the parting of the ways with the moderates was complete. In his acceptance speech, Naicker said: The Kajee-Pather leadership had left the Indian people to drift to disaster. . . . We offer you our earnest desire to serve the community. We have no ambition for power. We decided to fight because we felt that your voice was not being heard . . . We are sons of South Africa; and all we want is to live as free citizens in a free world. . . . We will not dilly-dally with our demands. We will be bold, sensible and decisive. We will never compromise on our principles and . . . we will not go down on bended knees for crumbs. We want to live as men.10

Shortly after the new leadership assumed control of the NIC, the government passed the ‘Ghetto Act’ on 2 June 1946 which restricted Indian property ownership in Natal. This Act was intended to curb Indian property ownership in White areas in Natal. In what were termed ‘controlled areas’, Indians would no longer be allowed to purchase land. The ‘Ghetto Act’ made provision for ‘political representation’ for Indians in the hope of softening Indian See Desai and Vahed, Monty Naicker, pp. 122-52. Kreesan Naicker Collection. The documents were viewed in the archives of Kreesan Naicker, son of Dr Monty Naicker. 9



Ashwin Desai

anger at the restrictions. Indians were to be represented by three white members in the Assembly and two in the Senate, as well as two provincial councillors.11 The NIC rejected the Act, including political representation and deliberately called the new law, the ‘Ghetto Act’, because of the imagery in its historical context, as well as the emotions that the word ‘ghetto’ aroused. This reflected the persecution of European Jews historically and in Nazi Germany in particular, and the ‘new’ NIC was seeking to exploit the post-World War II sympathies aroused for Jews. The stage was set for confrontation as the new leadership challenged the Ghetto Act through a campaign of passive resistance. This paper presents an anatomy of the campaign as a precursor to understanding the similarities and differences with 1913. It also aims to show how the 1946-8 moment both influenced future mobilizations as well as going beyond them. THE GHETTO ACT AND PASSIVE RESISTANCE The new leadership of the NIC was immediately faced with the spectre of the Ghetto Act, which was an audacious threat to Indian property ownership and livelihood. Ironically, given their criticisms of the moderates, the NIC sought a meeting with the Smuts government. However, the meeting on 9 November 1945 saw the Smuts government adopt a hardline stance, signaling their determination to push ahead with segregation. In appealing to Smuts, Monty Naicker had emphasized that ‘while this (land) question remains unresolved, the direct and keen interest of India in the welfare of her children abroad cannot but be granted as right and dutiful’. The Administrator of Natal was categorical that racial segregation would be implemented with ‘resolute determination’. Unless Smuts intervened to turn back this policy which aimed to ‘destroy the vitality of our people’, Monty Naicker warned that the NIC would resist ‘with all the strength and determination at our disposal. The policy of displacement of settled groups and segregation is deeply repugnant to Indians’.12 T.R.H. Davenport, South Africa: A Modern History, 4th edn., London: Macmillan Press, 1991, p. 231. 12 Indian Views, 14 November 1945. 11

The 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign


M.D. Naidoo, one of Monty Naicker’s able lieutenants, who was present at the meeting, reflected on the impact of the meeting with Smuts: I began to understand it a bit better, and I understood the nature, the colonial nature of the regime – that colonial nature was founded upon the fact that they had acquired power by conquest and they regarded it therefore as their country, and the people they had conquered not as people to be treated on an equal plane. They were there to be ruled, to be subjugated, to be exploited. At this earlier stage, all this was not very clear to me, but the attitude was perfectly clear. I think that is the one thing I can say, was the influence that that meeting with Smuts had.13

The NIC’s first response to the Act was to call on Gandhi’s satyagraha principles and rally people to a massive passive resistance campaign. The February 1946 conference of the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) resolved to launch a passive resistance campaign, boycott the ‘representative’ provisions of the Act, and call on India to withdraw its High Commissioner, impose trade sanctions and raise the issue of South African Indians at the United Nations.14 The Ghetto Bill was introduced in the House of Assembly on 15 March 1946. Gandhi sent a telegram to Smuts on 18 March to withdraw the Bill, and issued a press statement describing it as a challenge to Asia and Africa. The debate on the Second Reading of the Bill began on 25 March. The Indian government gave formal notice that it was terminating a 1938 trade agreement. The NIC responded with a Special Provincial Conference on 30 March 1946 which adopted a ‘Manifesto of Resistance’: Workers, businessmen, professionals and farmers; only your united action can save us. Either we perish as a whole or we resist as a whole. . . . Any Indian, man or woman, who serves on an Advisory Board, accepts communal franchise, or obstructs the struggle in any way whatsoever, will be guilty of an act of despicable treachery against his family, the community and principles of democracy. Fellow Indians, forward to united Action! DOWN WITH THE GHETTO BILL!15 M.D. Naidoo, interviewed by Julie Frederickse, 1986. William Cullen Library, Wits University. 14 Ahmed Kathrada, Memoirs, Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2004, p. 42. 15 The Leader, 6 April 1946. 13

Ashwin Desai


The Ghetto Act received the assent of the Governor-General and became law on 2 June 1946. Gandhi publicly supported the withdrawal of the High Commissioner, Ramrao Madhavrao Deshmukh, on 27 May 1946. On 11 June 1946, the Indian High Commissioner was withdrawn and shortly thereafter, trade sanctions were imposed on South Africa. In Natal, a 25-member Passive Resistance Council (PRC) was formed at the NIC conference on 31 March 1946. In a move reminiscent of Gandhi’s earlier passive resistance movement, PRC’s were separate entities from the Congresses. They kept meticulous accounts, women were encouraged to participate, and mileage was gained from overseas support. The TIC also established a PRC under Dadoo’s leadership at a mass meeting of 7,000 people on 21 April 1946. Offices were set up in Johannesburg, at Dadoo’s house in Doornfontein. As Kathrada recalls in his memoirs, the campaign was the start of his political awakening. At the tender age of seventeen, ‘Dr Dadoo, I.C. Meer and J.N. Singh came to fetch me from my classroom to perform some or other menial task. I never went back’.16 PRCs were also established in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London. The campaign began on the morning of 13 June, ‘Hartal Day’, when six women arrived in Durban from Transvaal by train, resisting the laws which stated that Indians could not cross provincial boundaries. A mass meeting was held at Red Square on 13 June 1946, followed by a procession to the corner of Gale Street and Umbilo Road. The centre of Durban was deserted, as local shopkeepers showed their allegiance with the protestors and shut their doors. Led by Dr Monty Naicker and M.D. Naidoo, the first eighteen passive resisters included six women: Zainab Asvat, Zohra Bhayat, Amina Pahad, Zubeida Patel, Lakshmi Govender and Veeramah Pather. The resisters pitched 5 tents on a vacant piece of land at the junction of Gale Street and Umbilo Road; a banner read, ‘We shall Resist’. Mobilization included people providing food for the resisters, caring for the families of those courting arrest, and educating the public. A newspaper was established by the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council, called The Passive Resister, keeping people abreast of the campaign and other issues. Others, such as Gandhi’s Kathrada, Memoirs, p. 43.


The 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign


son Manilal Gandhi, who was editor of Indian Opinion, was instrumental in the campaign, covering it widely in Indian Opinion and attending all rallies. Manilal was also to court arrest, saying: ‘A passive resister may have no ill-feeling, no rancour against anyone, not even against his enemy. A passive resister may, therefore, not utter an untruth nor act untruthfully. . . . A passive resister is never vengeful. He is always gentle and helpful even to his enemy when the latter is in trouble. The law of passive resistance is the law of love’.17

Unlike all Gandhi’s campaigns in South Africa, there were attempts to draw in Africans. At the Red Square meeting, the poet, playwright and journalist for Ilanga Lase Natal, H.I.E. Dhlomo, told the crowd, ‘Justice is not Indian, and neither is freedom, Indian. We want all people to be free’.18 There was a deep commitment not to retaliate, whatever the form of intimidation and violence perpetrated by the authorities and white thugs. On 19 June, as Dadoo recalls: Organised squads of European hooligans began attacking the camp of resisters. Tents were pulled down and burned. Resisters, both men and women, were brutally assaulted. Taunts, sneers and insults were hurled at them. The European hooligans did not show a trace of ‘civilisation’ – they behaved like wild beasts pouncing on their prey. The resisters’ patience and endurance were taxed to the utmost but they proved their quality as brave fighters for freedom – nonviolent and persevering, unafraid and manly. From night to night, the attacks grew more violent, the resisters becoming more determined.19

The Reverend Michael Scott wrote that during this attack, white youths. . . . Quoted in Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie, Gandhi’s Prisoner: The Life of Gandhi’s Son Manilal, Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2004, p. 311. 18 Cited in Enuga Reddy and Fatima Meer, Passive Resistance 1946 – A Selection of Documents, Durban: Madiba Publishers/Institute for Black Research, 1996, p. 46. 19 Yusuf Dadoo, ‘We are Marching On’. Foreword to a pamphlet, Five Months of Struggle: A Brief Account of the Passive Resistance Struggle from 13th of June to 13th of November 1946, published by the South African Passive Resistance Council in Durban and New York, November 1946, 1. Available at: http:// www.sacp.org.za/docs/history/dadoo02a.html. Accessed 15 November 2012. 17


Ashwin Desai

dressed in sports kit . . . gathered in two’s and three’s. . . . Suddenly a whistle blew, and with shouts and catcalls the whole formation charged and bore down upon the little group of resisters who were standing back-to-back so as to face in all directions. . . . With their fists they struck the Indians in the face and about the body. No one retaliated but some tried to duck or ward off blows before falling down. On the ground they were kicked.20

Scott’s commitment to justice meant that he could not remain an observer. Volunteering for imprisonment was, he would write, the ‘only possible course’. He described his first direct experience of Satyagraha: In the same way as before the attacks began with a charge and sort of high-pitched hunting cry. The men volunteers were very soon knocked down and lying huddled on the grounds. . . . Two girls came up and started shouting, ‘Coolie guts’ and ‘Curry guts’. . . . It was during this episode that one of the Indian girls, a Muslim, said to me, ‘It’s not their fault, they don’t know what they are doing.’ . . . I felt so sick, and helpless, and ashamed, and yet her remarks seemed strangely to reassure me in the knowledge that by standing still there on that particular piece of ground one was enabling something to be done.21

The police finally arrested the resisters on 21 June and charged them for trespassing. They were cautioned, and having been discharged, went back to Gale Street. Again, they were arrested and this time, the magistrate was not so lenient, charging them with seven days’ hard labour. Among the people to be arrested were Yusuf Dadoo, Monty Naicker, Revd. Scott, Molvi Saloojee, Sorabjee Rustomjee, Zainab Asvat, Suryakala Patel, Dr Goonam, Cissy Gool and Gadija Christopher.22 In accordance with the Riotous Assemblies Act, on 24 June 1946, the District Commander of Police read out a statement, prohibiting any gathering within 500 yards of the intersection of Gale Street and Umbilo Road. Naicker and Dadoo were sentenced to six and three months’ hard labour respectively. This did not deter the passive resisters however and a system for courting arrest was soon in full operation; volunteers would 20 Freda Troup, In Face of Fear: Michael Scott’s Challenge to South Africa, London: Faber and Faber, 1950, pp. 128-9. 21 Anne Yates and Lewis Chester, The Troublemaker: Michael Scott and his Lonely Struggle Against Injustice, London: Aurum Press, 2006, pp. 51-2. 22 Kathrada, Memoirs, p. 112.

The 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign


forward their names and offer themselves up for arrest. Farewell receptions were held at Red Square or Resistance Hall, and leaders spoke about the history of the struggle, the harsh conditions that many Indian families would have dealt with as indentured labourers, and on how to deal with prison life. On their release from prison, thousands would be there to greet the resisters. Like the other resisters who were jailed, Manilal Gandhi suffered much abuse at the hands of the warders, and lost nine kilograms while imprisoned.23 Others were subject to appalling conditions in the cells, overcrowding, sleeping on cement floors and given the barest of rations to eat. A young Kay Moonsamy, who would later be a stalwart in the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party, quit his job and joined the campaign. He was arrested on 5 July 1946 and sentenced to four months’ imprisonment, which he served in Ixopo prison. He recalled: The first day, it was seven in the evening and first of all, you know they had to remove our hair, shave your head. They didn’t have what you call a barber’s machine but they used shears. Would you believe it? They used shears to remove our hair and there was sort of a trough filled with water. We had to dip ourselves in that water. Can you imagine, that was in winter? Not just our head but the whole body and they gave us some sort of a, I think, Vaseline, and we had to rub that, not to soothe it. No, no . . . just in case you had lice. So it was like cattle dipping. The Ixopo prison was a terrible place. It was a farm jail and I remember working on the farm and there, for the first time, one experienced convict labour. One morning I was in this group [and] after breakfast, when we had plain porridge, and so all the different gangs of people who used to go out, convicts . . . so one, big, burly . . . he was a white of course, he came up to the warders and then he had a little discussion with them and then suddenly they told us, and I was in a group of eight, that we must follow this person. So we went along with him to work in his garden, you know. He was developing a flower garden so we had to work there. Now you can imagine that farmer is paying the prison but it doesn’t come to the prisoner but it goes to them . . . so that was the first experience of what we call convict labour.24

Despite the numerous attacks, arrests and abuse, the resisters vowed to continue. In his public utterances, Monty Naicker reminded the Dhupelia-Mesthrie, Gandhi’s Prisoner, p. 123. Interview by Goolam Vahed, 3 March 2008.

23 24

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campaigners that they were not to retaliate, no matter the amount of force used against them. On 1 July, the authorities adopted a new tactic whereby fines were imposed without the option of imprisonment. If the fines were not paid, then properties would be attached and sold by the authorities. The resisters stood firm however, and did not pay the fines, leading to some properties being sold. This strategy was soon abandoned though, and hard labour as punishment was reintroduced.25 The passive resistance campaign lasted for two years, during which time, over 2,000 arrests were made. The list of those who resisted makes for interesting reading, as it shows that many of the volunteers were workers, who could ill afford to lose a day’s work. They also came from all areas of the province, as well as further afield. A report from 1947 shows that of 1,710 resisters, there were 492 factory workers, 235 housewives, 26 laundry workers, 53 municipal workers, 29 jewellers, 28 shopkeepers, 13 tailors and 117 waiters as well as bus conductors, students, ushers and welders. 28 resisters served periods of 5 months or more and 279 women were imprisoned during the period 1946-7.26 Women too were integral to the campaign. The first women to defy the ban on crossing provincial boundaries without a permit left the Transvaal by train, arriving in Durban for the start of the campaign. They were Mrs Meenatchie Sigamoney Nayager, treasurer of the Indian Women’s Service League, Miss Zohra Bayat of the Transvaal Indian Volunteer Corps; Miss Zainab Asvat, medical student at Wits; Mrs Amina Pahad, Miss Zubeida Patel and Mrs Chella Pillay, all members of the women’s branch of the Transvaal Indian Volunteer Corps. Women of all classes were to play a pivotal role in the passive resistance campaign of 1946, defying the ban on travel across provincial boundaries, and many were arrested in Durban. PUBLICITY Emotions were kept high through the campaign, with photographs of resisters being beaten and abused by whites or being led to Reddy and Meer, Passive Resistance, 1946, p. 73. Ibid., p. 80.

25 26

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prisons, put on display at Crown Studio in Grey Street. The newsletter of the PRC, Flash, was equally effective. Edited by M.P. Naicker, it was issued several times a day. Five hundred copies were made and distributed from the NIC office, Peters Lounge, and Resistance Hall. It contained emotive photographs and highly charged language, often put out in big print: ‘are you going to answer your people’s call? we need you now!’ ‘you must make a sacrifice;’ ‘are you a volunteer?’ ‘join now and lengthen the chain of resisters.’ ‘volunteers, where are you?’

In Johannesburg, I.C. Meer edited The Passive Resister. Pamphlets were periodically distributed and there were several detailed publications about the campaign. Among the most popular were The Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act by Revd. Wormington; Non-violence – Law makers. Law Breakers by Revd. Michael Scott; and The Asiatic Act by George Singh. Despite this propaganda, support for civil disobedience was waning by December 1947. There were 1,500 volunteers in the first six months of the campaign and around 500 in the next eighteen months. After a meeting of the Joint PRC, Monty Naicker and Dadoo issued a call on 11 December 1947 for renewed struggle in the face of hooliganism, wholesale arrests, harsh terms of imprisonment, and organized boycotts of Indian traders. But they recognized that the government was not yielding and that outside intervention was necessary: ‘The most practical method by which measures may be inaugurated that could lead to a solution of the conflict remains a Round Table Conference’.27 In August 1946, George Singh tried to open a second front in Wentworth on land that he owned, but it petered out because the authorities ignored them.28 The report of the PRC for the period June 1947 to May 1948 conceded that the campaign was not sustainable. Unlike the first year, there were no full-time volunteers to co-ordinate the campaign and Debi Singh, the only full-time organizer, was seriously ill. Passive Resister, 11 December 1947. Bhana, Gandhi’s Legacy, p. 74.

27 28

Ashwin Desai


Many members were in prison. One of the added problems started in October 1947, when Ashwin Choudree, a lawyer in Durban, led a batch of resisters and the authorities refused to arrest them. This meant that the point of civil disobedience was nullified as the state simply refused to recognize it as such. Recognizing that the Ghetto Bill could not sustain the campaign, the NIC conference of May/June 1947 resolved to challenge the 1913 law prohibiting inter-provincial migration. R.A. Pillay and R. Mahabeer, chairman of the Sydenham Branch of the NIC, led the first batch across the Natal-Transvaal border. They were arrested on 10 February 1948 and sentenced in Johannesburg to one month’s imprisonment, suspended on condition that the offence was not repeated. They were deported to Natal. On 12 February however, 15 of the 23 resisters again crossed the border. They were sentenced on 18 February to three months’ hard labour. In all, 72 resisters were arrested for crossing into the Transvaal and 20 for crossing in the opposite direction. On 25 January 1948, Monty Naicker led a group of 15 resisters from Natal, while Dadoo led volunteers from the Transvaal. They crossed the border illegally at Volksrust. Dadoo and Naicker were summoned and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for violating the law. On 11 April 1948, Manilal Gandhi and nine resisters crossed the border and, apart from Manilal Gandhi, the nine were arrested. At the Transvaal PRC a few days later, Manilal Gandhi addressed the crowd: The battle of freedom is not won easily. It requires a great deal of sacrifice . . . We shout the slogan ‘We Shall Resist’ but we are not eloquent in our. actions . . . Let us therefore wake up and be prepared to suffer the rigours of prison not in our fives and tens but in our hundreds. Let us not betray those in prison.29

Three times, Manilal Gandhi was to cross the border, only for him to be left alone while the resisters alongside him were arrested. The police were clearly under instructions not to arrest him. Despite these arrests, the campaign was flagging in support and it was suspended on 2 June 1948. In Dhupelia-Mesthrie, Gandhi’s Prisoner, p. 325.


The 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign


BETWEEN 1913 AND 1946 Supportive messages for the campaign came from both Gandhi and Nehru and strengthened the ‘resisters’ resolve. At a prayer meeting in Poona on 3 July 1946, Gandhi praised the satyagrahis in their conviction and stance, even in the face of attacks by white hooligans, and encouraged their steadfastness: Satyagrahi must always be ready to die with a smile on his face without retaliation and without rancour in his heart. Some people have come to have a wrong notion that Satyagraha means only jail-going, perhaps facing lathi blows and nothing more. Such Satyagraha cannot bring independence.30

Nehru also sent supportive messages to the resisters: ‘Cooperation can only succeed and be effective on the basis of peaceful methods. It would be folly to indulge in violence’.31 Monty Naicker pushed the boundaries of satyagraha beyond the confines of the local Indian population to seeking the support of black political organizations, and in this regard the passive resistance campaign ‘foreshadowed the larger and more dramatic Defiance Campaign, which was launched jointly by the ANC and SAIC in 1952’.32 A leading member of the ANC and the CP, Moses Kotane, at a meeting for passive resisters in the Cape who were about to depart for Durban, said, ‘You are fighting against the Ghetto Act, we against the pass laws. We will co-ordinate our efforts and if we are united we will defeat the reactionaries’.33 The campaign was to see the first indications of cooperation between the parties, the NIC and ANC, moves which were to provide a more powerful opposition to the government. In fact, the ANC in the Cape launched a fund-raising appeal for the campaign and A.B. Xuma, President of the ANC, saw common areas for cooperation Cited in Reddy and Meer, Passive Resistance 1946, p. 102. Ibid., p. 122. 32 Cheryl Walker, Women and Resistance in South Africa, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1991, p. 108. 33 Brian Bunting, Moses Kotane, South African Revolutionary, London: Inkulekelo Publications, 1975, p. 127. 30 31


Ashwin Desai

with the resisters.34 This led to the Dadoo-Xuma-Naicker pact of 9 March 1947, which encouraged the co-operation of all nonEuropean people in the fight against racial discrimination. Z.A.H. Khumalo, Secretary of the Zulu Society, said at the Maritzburg Indian Students’ Parliament, ‘I am convinced that the African, if he is to achieve success in his struggle for freedom, must link up with the Indian Passive Resistance Campaign’.35 ANC members such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and others were influenced by the passive resistance campaign and Gandhi’s policy of non-violence in India. Mandela was to write later that ‘the Indian campaign became a model for the type of protest that we in the Youth League were calling for. It instilled a spirit of defiance and radicalism among the people, broke the fear of prison and boosted the popularity of the NIC and TIC’.36 H.I.E. Dhlomo wrote at the time: The Africans are witnessing how a numerically inferior group of ‘foreigners’ is not only putting up a fierce struggle to gain full rights in the country of their birth, but is succeeding to embarrass the authorities and stir the public. ‘Why cannot Africans, who have a better case and greater numbers, also do it?’, they are asking themselves. . . . For better or for worse, it (the Passive Resistance movement) ends and begins a period, an attitude and a philosophy in matters of race relations in this country.37

At its 1946 conference in Bloemfontein, the ANC passed a resolution commending ‘the gallant men and women of the Indian community and their leaders’. But despite these lofty pronouncements, the 1946-8 campaign remained an Indian struggle, conducted by Indians with support from India. The slogans and language used reflected this Indianness. This was a throwback to Gandhi’s earlier campaigns. In that context, Gandhi believed that Indians would gain by going it alone, as they could emphasize their rights as British subjects and claim Imperial citizenship. While Imperial citizenship was to prove a Barry White, ‘Passive Resistance in Natal 1946-1948,’ Journal of Natal and Zulu History V, 1982, p. 20. 35 Reddy and Meer, Passive Resistance 1946, p. 124. 36 Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Randburg: Macdonald Purnell, 1994, p. 98. 37 Cited in Reddy and Meer, Passive Resistance 1946, p. ix. 34

The 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign


forlorn hope and Gandhi was to change tack in India calling for the British to quit the country and grant full independence, the strategy of a separate Indian cause from that of Africans continued into the 1946 campaign. There was a deep sense that the power of India as the British Raj crumbled would be a powerful weapon in the struggle for local rights. This would prove to be wrong. The South African government stood firm in its resolve not to bend the colour line. The coming to power of the National Party (NP) in 1948 on the back of the policy of apartheid only served to confirm this racial hardening. Indian South Africans would face a concerted assault on their rights, as the NP once more raised the spectre of repatriation that Gandhi had opened up in the 1914 Agreement. In January 1949, Africans turned on Indians in violent conflagration. It shook the Indian Congresses and there was a realization that while looking to newly-independent India for support was one thing, it was another to ignore the need for working with African people on the ground, as this went beyond pacts signed in smoke-filled rooms. The 1946-8 campaign revealed the poverty of what was already written in 1914; the hope of piece-meal gains for Indians was a fruitless strategy. The idea of an Indian-only struggle for Indian rights inside of a segregationist system was not going to work. Smuts had made this clear during the 1913 strike and he reiterated the point in the 1940s. The irony is that while the 1946-8 campaign is often written in heroic forms, it was in its failure that its importance lay. In the aftermath of the 1946-8 campaign, and beyond the Xuma-Dadoo-Naicker Pact, the Indian Congresses embarked on joint campaigns with the ANC. Central, here was the Communist Party (CPSA) which had a non-racial membership and this provided a place in which activists could meet and strategize beyond the racial confines of the Congresses. In this sense, the Gandhi era came to an end. In the form and nature of the campaigns, Gandhian principles still lingered. This was witnessed in the 1952 Defiance Campaign which stood firm over the idea of non-violence. But this too was to come to an end. From Defiance in 1952, the ANC moved a decade later to armed struggle. For some in the Congresses, this


Ashwin Desai

was a parting of the ways. People like Monty Naicker and Albert Luthuli remained steadfast to the notion of non-violent resistance, while others like Billy Nair who, as a young man joined the 1946 ‘procession’ and was integral to the 1952 Defiance Campaign, joined the armed struggle and spent a lengthy period on Robben Island. Kay Moonsamy, another veteran of 1946, went into exile, joined the armed struggle and stayed firm in his belief in Communism. THE PRESENT AND THE PAST Many of the leading adherents of the Gandhian notion of passive resistance had different understandings of the idea as both tactic and principle. As noted in the introduction, passive resistance ruled out the use of arms under any circumstances. This was a different understanding from those whose politics was initially formed by Gandhian notions of non-violent defiance in the 1950s. Attend to the words of Nelson Mandela: ‘Non-violent passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do. But if peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end. For me, non-violence was not a moral principle, but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon’.38 Gandhi and the 1913 strike inspired the 1946-8 campaign. Like 1913, the protest campaign under estimated the resolve of the White minority government to hold firm to the colour line. Like the 1913 strike, it did not seek allies with the African majority but rather sought to appeal for material and moral support in India. Like the African mineworkers strike in 1913, the 1946 African mineworkers strike, the biggest in South African history, with the exception of a few communists like Dadoo who were involved in that strike, was seen as a separate struggle. The irony is that the Gandhian strategy of piece-meal improvements, the acceptance of white minority rule, and the aversion to violent resistance lived in the camp of those Indians who sought to collaborate with the apartheid government, staying within the confines of apartheid strictures, participating in structures that Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, p. 147.


The 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign


cut them off from Africans. These were institutions like the new South African Indian Council and the House of Delegates which were established in the period from the 1960s to the 1980s. The main liberation movements, the ANC and Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), had different ways of organizing and struggling, opening their ranks to Indians and adopting the armed struggle. Those Indians who joined the liberation movements signaled their commitment to African leadership and African majority rule. This was a far cry from the way Gandhi had organized in South Africa. It was these commitments of the activists of the 1950s that took Indian South Africans onto Robben Island, exile, and the armed struggle; it was this turn that secured them their place in liberation history. The Communist Party, Gandhi’s arch foe, notwithstanding its Stalinist obsessions, was central to the armed struggle and an important crucible of non-racial organizing. The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) went further than the Congress Movement in seeking to elide the idea of Indians altogether and to popularize the identity of being Black. This would have been anathema to Gandhi. Today, Gandhi, dusted off the narrowness of his vision and the political failures of his South African journey, takes his place in the pantheon of South Africa’s liberation heroes. This is a dangerous route to take. Does it provide a renewed licence for those who read from Gandhi’s vision an Indian identity racially limited on the one hand, and on the other, opening an identity with the ‘Motherland’ in what has today been called ‘satellite nationalism’? The Gandhi road, it may be argued, with its racial separateness and belief in a special status as British subjects under Empire, its harking back to the motherland, led to 1949 (racial riots), not 1990 (freeing of Mandela and the unbanning of the liberation movements). Those who were part of the liberation movements that forced the apartheid regime to the negotiation table took a different road to Gandhi, placing the armed struggle and the ungovernability of the townships at the core of their programme. History is by its very nature backward looking. Remembering 1913 and 1946 uncritically will take us backwards into a time of racial division. Taking cognizance of the limitations of 1946 (and 1913) raises the questions of anti-racism and national belonging. This kind of remembering speaks to the present and the future.


‘Gagged and Trussed Rather Securely by the Law’: The 1952 Defiance Campaign in Natal GOOLAM VAHED

The laws introduced by the NP government to codify and entrench racial separation led to a wave of popular protest in the 1950s, spearheaded by the African National Congress (ANC). The Defiance Campaign of 1952 was the first instance of mass political mobilization against the apartheid state under non-racial leadership. Volunteers went to jail for ‘defying’ apartheid laws by disregarding the curfew on Africans and prohibitions on non-Africans entering African locations, refusing to carry passes in the case of Africans, and for entering ‘Whites Only’ public facilities. The annual conference of the Natal Indian Congress’ (NIC) in February 1953 noted ‘the enthusiasm of the masses at these meetings, and the great demonstrations held whenever a batch of volunteers went into action was most inspiring’.1 Notwithstanding the ‘enthusiasm’, the number of volunteers fell far short of expectations. Countrywide, according to Lodge, from the launching of the campaign on 26 June 1952 to its suspension in December 1952, there were just 8,326 arrests – 5,914 in the Eastern Cape, 490 in the Western Cape, 1,578 in the Transvaal, 125 in the Free State, and 192 in Natal. Caris and Karter give a national total of 8,057 and 246 for Natal.2 While the campaign has been covered in numerous studies of Copy of the report is in the author’s possession. Tom Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa Since 1945, Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1983, p. 46. 1 2


Goolam Vahed

twentieth-century resistance politics in South Africa,3 there is no detailed account of the Natal experience. Lodge, in Black Politics in South Africa since 1945, devotes two paragraphs to Natal.4 Leo Kuper’s classic, Passive Resistance in South Africa, only mentions a meeting that the author attended in Natal. Even Soske, in his superb doctoral dissertation, while providing a brilliant analysis of tensions within the ANC in Natal and African-Indian relations, does not discuss the Defiance Campaign in depth.5 In discussing the Defiance Campaign in Natal, this paper’s focus is on the organization of the campaign as well as the response of the state, as it seeks to answer two central questions: Why did Natal register so few volunteers? Why was the campaign restricted to Durban? The paper is divided into four parts. The factors that led the ANC and South African Indian Congress (SAIC) to embark on the campaign are outlined first; thereafter, the state of Indian and African political organization in Natal prior to the campaign is critically analysed; the paper then examines how the campaign unfolded in Natal with a focus on possible reasons for the low numbers of volunteers; finally, this paper reflects on the Gandhian political strategy of Satyagraha and its transmutation in the local context, as well as the impact of the Defiance Campaign on opposition politics in South Africa. THE ROAD TO THE DEFIANCE CAMPAIGN The Programme of Action adopted by the ANC at its national conference in December 1949 called for mass action to achieve ‘national freedom’, ‘political independence’, and ‘selfdetermination’. Mass action was to include non-violent strategies such as boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, and stay-at-homes. There was a departure in the orientation of the ANC as a younger 3 See, for example, Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa Since 1945; Gail Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa; The Evolution of an Ideology, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978; and M. MacDonald, Why Race Matters in South Africa, Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2006. 4 Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa, pp. 60-1. 5 Jon Soske, ‘Wash Me Black Again’: African Nationalism, the Indian Diaspora, and Kwa-Zulu Natal, 1944 -1960,’ Ph.D. diss., University of To r o n t o , 2 0 0 9 . Fr o m h t t p s : / / t s p a c e . l i b r a r y. u t o r o n t o . c a / bitstream/1807/19234/1/Soske_Jon_D_200911_PhD_thesis.pdf. Retrieved various times between December 2012 and March 2013.

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and ‘impatient’ leadership came to the fore, one that included Dr James Moroka (president) and youth leaguers, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu.6 On 17 June 1951 the ANC national executive resolved to invite other ‘national organizations of the non-Europeans peoples’ to participate in a programme of direct action against segregation laws. At his Treason Trial in 1960, Mandela explained that as this was the NP`s first term of office, the ANC hoped that the campaign would either force the government to change course or that voters, seeing that the policies were creating conflict within the country, would choose a ‘more sensible, more reasonable’ government that was prepared to ‘come to terms with these people’.7 The Joint Planning Council (JPC) constituted on 29 July 1951 to direct the campaign included Dr. Yusuf Dadoo and Yusuf Cachalia of the South African Indian Council (SAIC), and James Moroka, Walter Sisulu and J.P. Marks of the ANC. The ANC`s December 1951 conference accepted a JPC report to present an ultimatum to Malan that if certain laws were not repealed by 29 February 1952, a Defiance Campaign would be launched. The decision, however, was not unanimous. The ANC in Natal, for example, only signaled its intention to participate in February 1952.8 The SAIC`s annual conference in January 1952 accepted the campaign as a ‘powerful weapon’ for awakening political consciousness and lay the groundwork for future cross-racial united mass action.9 Dr. Moroka and Walter Sisulu sent an ultimatum to Prime Minister Malan to repeal six ‘unjust laws’ by 29 February 1952 or face rolling mass action. 10 The government ignored the Gerhart, Black Power, p. 83. In Gerhart, Black Power, p. 96. 8 Ilanga Lase Natal, 23 February 1952. 9 Agenda Book of the 20th Session of the SAIC Conference, 25-7 January 1952. 10 The six laws were the Group Areas Act; Suppression of Communism Act; the Coloured Voters Act of 1951; Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 (which replaced the Natives’ Representative Council with government-approved chiefs and advisers); pass laws; and ‘stock limitation’ (a policy that required African cattle to be culled to reduce overgrazing when the cause of the problem was the theft of African land). The laws were chosen to ensure that at least some aspect of the programme would appeal to South Africans across the race and class, urban and rural, divide. The JPC called for an open-ended programme of non-cooperation and non-violence that would eventually extend countrywide. 6 7


Goolam Vahed

ultimatum and the executives of the ANC and SAIC announced on 31 May 1952 that the Defiance Campaign would begin on 26 June. Mandela notes in A Long Walk to Freedom that the leadership debated adopting the Gandhian model of non-violent protest, Satyagraha, which Mandela interpreted as trying to win opponents over through self-suffering and the power of love. Gandhi himself described Satyagraha as ‘love-force or soul-force. . . . one`s opponent must be weaned from error by patience and compassion. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself.’11 Manilal Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s son, of the SAIC, argued for Satyagraha but Mandela and several others, while accepting non-violence as a ‘practical necessity’ because they were too weak to confront the state, did not view it as ‘an inviolable principle [and] this view prevailed’.12 Mandela’s assessment of Manilal Gandhi is corroborated by Dhupelia-Mesthrie who writes that as Manilal Gandhi became increasingly spiritual, and held firmly to Satyagraha. From early 1951, she notes, Indian Opinion’s ‘front pages and many articles were dedicated to Gandhian thoughts on

11 Mohandas K. Gandhi, An Autobiography – In The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1968, pp. 86-93. 12 Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, London: ABACUS, 1994, p. 147. In his later writings, some of the rules that Gandhi stipulated for satyagrahis included the following: harbour no anger, suffer the anger of the opponent; never retaliate to assaults or punishment; voluntarily submit to arrest or confiscation of your own property; do not curse or swear; do not insult the opponent; neither salute nor insult the flag of your opponent; if anyone attempts to insult or assault your opponent, defend your opponent (non-violently) with your life; as a prisoner, behave courteously and obey prison regulations (except any that are contrary to self-respect); as a prisoner, do not ask for special favourable treatment; as a prisoner, do not fast in an attempt to gain conveniences whose deprivation does not involve any injury to your self-respect; joyfully obey the orders of the leaders of the civil disobedience action; do not make your participation conditional on your comrades taking care of your dependents while you are engaging in the campaign or are in prison; do not expect them to provide such support; do not become a cause of communal quarrels [in Young India (Navajivan), 23 February 1930].

‘Gagged and Trussed Rather Securely by the Law’:


resistance. Satyagraha was upheld as the only way out’.13 At the December 1951 ANC conference, Manilal Gandhi argued that the movement was not ready for Satyagraha as many ANC followers were ‘impetuous’ and lacked the necessary discipline for such a struggle.14 He told a reporter for Drum magazine in May 1952 that ‘to make passive resistance effective, there must be spiritual discipline among those taking part in it. In order to serve, one must deny oneself: there should be no drinking or gambling. The soul should be perfect. Passive resistance should be truly spiritual’.15 From Manilal Gandhi’s (and Mahatma Gandhi’s) perspective, the suffering of satyagrahis would bring out the innate kindness of oppressors, while the JPC wanted to fill prisons and courts to make the application of apartheid laws unmanageable.16 As a result of these differences in the application of non-violent civil disobedience, Soske argues, ‘in all of their statements, ANC leaders carefully avoided any intimation that Gandhi or the Indian Congresses had inspired the campaign’.17 The fluid political situation in Natal impacted on the way in which the campaign unfolded and the next section examines ‘African’ and ‘Indian’ politics in the context of Afro-Indian relations. POLITICAL TENSIONS IN NATAL, c. 1950 In January 1949, within months of the NP coming to power and the two-year-long (Indian) Passive Resistance campaign ending, there were riots between Indians and Africans in Durban.18 Some Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie, Gandhi’s Prisoner? The Life of Gandhi’s son Manilal, Cape Town: Kwela Books, 2004, pp. 344-5. 14 Ilanga Lase, Natal, 6 January 1952. 15 ‘Gandhi Fasts – and Talks with DRUM’, Drum, May 1952; In Soske, ‘African Nationalism’, p. 218. 16 Tom Lodge, Mandela : A Critical Life, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 41. 17 Soske, African Nationalism, p. 219. 18 The three days of rioting left 142 people dead and 1,087 injured. While more Africans than Indians died, many Indian homes, businesses and vehicles were looted and destroyed. On 17 January 1949, 44,738 Indians were housed in refugee camps which had been set up in community halls, schools, temples and mosques all over Durban. 13


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NP ministers opined that the riots justified apartheid. Minister of Interior, T.E. Donges, for example, said that the riots showed ‘the dangers of residential juxtaposition for the peace and quiet of the country.’19 Many (particularly Indian) activists blamed the riots on a conspiracy by whites. A 1952 editorial in The Graphic on the Defiance Campaign, for example, alluded to the view that many believed that ‘the 1949 debacle’ was ‘engineered by outside interests’.20 In contrast to conspiracy theories, Edwards and Nuttall explain the conflict in terms of rising tensions between Indians and Africans as a result of competition between an established Indian and aspiring African petty-bourgeoisie class, accusations that Africans were treated badly on Indian-owned buses, allegations that Indian men were involved in sexual relations with African women, alleged bad treatment and exploitation of African customers in Indian-owned shops, and competition over housing.21 Herbert Dhlomo, a member of the ANC in Natal and journalist for Ilanga Lase, wrote the following, in the immediate aftermath of the riots: If what has taken place is tragic, sudden and regrettable, it is not surprising nor was it unexpected by unprejudiced, honest and well-informed observers of our racially-corrupted society. . . . The action was sudden and spontaneous. It was the result of naked facts and known factors, . . . of pent up emotion. The surprising thing is that it did not take place before this, and that, tragic as it was, it was not worse.22

The decision to collaborate with Indians politically was debated at the highest levels within the ANC. Mandela would later write that he feared that because Africans had few ‘literate and trained men’, and ‘lacked economic resources and influential contacts’, Indians would exert an ‘influence out of all proportion to their

The Leader, 2 July 1949. The Graphic, 10 October 1952. 21 Iain Edwards and Tim Nuttall, ‘Seizing the Moment: The January 1949 Riots, Proletarian Populism and the Structures of African Urban Life in Durban during the late 1940s’, unpublished paper, History Workshop, Wits University, February 1990. 22 H.L.E. Dhlomo, ‘How Long, oh Lord!’, Ilanga Lase, Natal, 22 January 1949. From http://pzacad.pitzer.edu/nam/newafrre/writers/zir.shtml. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 19 20

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numbers’.23 The decision to co-operate with Indians (formalized through the Dadoo-Xuma-Naicker Pact of 1947) reflected changing demographics which brought large numbers of Indians and Africans into cities like Johannesburg and Durban in the 1930s and 1940s where there was conflict, but also cooperation through membership of trades unions and the Communist Party of South Africa (CP). Political cooperation also reflected closer personal relationships between ANC members such as Mandela and Oliver Tambo, and I.C. Meer, Yusuf Dadoo, Ahmed Kathrada, and J.N. Singh of the NIC and Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC). Gerhart suggests that while the initial impetus to collaborate with the Indian Congress was due to a need to increase the ANC’s organizational capacity and finance, this eventually resulted in the ideology being shaped towards non-racialism.24 Change at national level did not filter down to the provinces. In Natal, A.W.G. Champion had been president of the ANC since 1945. Champion and many others in ANC circles in Natal opposed the ‘Doctors’ Pact’ and expressed their unhappiness through letters to Ilanga Lase. He even invited the ANC’s national working committee to visit Natal to witness African anger firsthand. Selby Msimang, secretary of the ANC in Natal and an ally of Champion, made public the ‘very strained relationship between Indians and Africans in this province’ and insisted that before agreement was reached, ‘vital issues involving political, economic and social differences would have to be examined and . . . guarantee the Africans a measure of protection’.25 Msimang criticized the JPC for ‘practically taking over the control and leadership of the ANC’26 and resigned from the ANC. In February 1952, a certain S.S. Bhengu of the Natal Native Medical Council circulated a virulently antiIndian pamphlet which described the ANC as a total failure and sell-out. . . . It is common knowledge throughout the whole country that Congress has proved to be betraying our nation and made a complete sell-out of our national integrity to the Indians at Lodge, Mandela, p. 46. Gerhart, Black Power, p. 101. 25 For a full discussion of this issue, see Soske, ‘African Nationalism’, chapter 2. 26 Ilanga, 12 January 1952. 23 24


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Bloemfontein in their December 1951 conference. . . . The Indians, being the cunning, wily people they are, are now circulating leaflets to spread the dangerous propaganda amongst the Natives that the Natives must fight against the recent Government laws that aim at segregation. . . . It is clear that Indians are striving to make the Natives their political cat’s paw, and as in the proverbial story, ‘to pull the monkey nuts out of the Government`s fire with the Native`s hand’. . . . The Indians must never forget the Durban riots in 1949, which were a spontaneous outburst of the Indian-exploited and oppressed Natives to break free from Indian enslavement and exploitation.

While I.B. Tabata of the Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM), who was on a tour of Natal, described the pamphlet as ‘a piece of dirty, filthy, vile form of racialism’,27 the sentiments in the pamphlet were clearly not those of a lone voice. Support of the Natal ANC for the Defiance Campaign was assured when Chief Albert Luthuli, who had served on Champion’s executive, was elected president of the ANC in Natal in May 1951, with support from Youth Leaguers in Natal. A faction led by Champion continued to oppose him.28 Within a month of becoming president, Luthuli attended the ANC`s June 1951 national conference where he was ‘shocked’ to learn that ANC branches nationally were preparing for resistance campaigns whereas the issue had not been discussed in Natal. He gave an undertaking that he would begin preparations immediately.29 Walter Sisulu remembers that Luthuli ‘suggested a postponement until a healthier relationship could be forged’ between Africans and Indians but that he convinced him to look at the campaign as an opportunity to start the healing process since ‘both groups were victims of white oppression’.30 When Moroka and Sisulu sent an ultimatum to Malan on 21 January 1952 to repeal segregation laws, an editorial in Ilanga Lase criticized the campaign while giving prominence to Malan’s warning that he would use all of the power at his disposal to See Leader, 22 February 1952. Scott Couper, Albert Luthuli: Bound by Faith, Scottsville: University of KwaZulu Natal Press, 2010, p. 55. 29 Couper, Luthuli, p. 55. 30 Elinor Sisulu, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, In Our Lifetime, Cape Town: David Phillips, 2003, p. 142. 27 28

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‘extinguish the fires resulting from irresponsible actions’. Malan was adamant that ‘Separate Development’ would protect all the racial groups and allow each to ‘develop in their own way’. Protest, the editorial warned, would increase ‘tensions between racial groups’.31 Masabalala B. Yengwa, Natal chairman of the ANC, responded to the Ilanga Lase criticism by stating that Black people had no choice but to protest. Whilst all people were ‘God`s creation on earth to live freely’, apartheid would result in a ‘state of slavery for black workers’. ‘Those who felt that the ANC was moving too swiftly and that the government should be ‘begged’ to repeal oppressive laws, he went on, believed that ‘our people are not ready for freedom yet. There is no other period which is as oppressive to our people as the current one’.32 Ilanga Lase published articles and letters for and against the campaign. Rolfes R. Dhlomo, the editor of Ilanga Lase, who wrote most of the Zulu articles, was a supporter of Champion and opposed cooperation with Indians and communists. On the other hand, Rolfes’ brother, Herbert, who wrote the English-language articles in Ilanga Lase, supported Luthuli33 and the campaign because, he wrote, it was led by ‘ordinary, moderate, law-abiding Africans who cannot be said to be hotheads, agitators, communists or under ‘foreign influence’ – businessmen, doctors, workers, journalists, lawyers, ministers of religion’.34 While acknowledging tensions between Indians and Africans, Herbert Dhlomo argued that there were strategic benefits in working with Indians and that this would undermine the government’s ‘divide and rule’ strategy. In a 1953 editorial Herbert Dhlomo rejected Africanism which, he thought, would ‘ultimately create a situation where freedom would be decided upon terms of Whites versus Blacks’.35 Ilanga, 9 February 1952. Ibid., 15 March 1952. 33 Fikile Patricia Khoza, ‘A Discussion of R.R.R. Dhlomo’s Historical Novels’, M.A. diss., University of Durban-Westville, 2001, p. 32. 34 H.L.E. Dhlomo, ‘Some Observations on the Resistance Campaign’, Ilanga, 9 August 1952. From http://pzacad.pitzer.edu/nam/newafrre/writers/ zir.shtml. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 35 H.L.E. Dhlomo, ‘Let us build while we fight’, Ilanga, 7 March 1953. From http://pzacad.pitzer.edu/nam/newafrre/writers/hdhlomo/ editorial/7_3_53.gif. Retrieved 27 April 1953. 31 32


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There were political divisions among Indians as well though there was consensus on the need to work closely with the majority population. A younger class of political activists, led by professionals and trade union leaders, took control of the NIC in 1945. From 1946 to 1948 they conducted a two-year passive resistance campaign against proposed residential segregation in Natal. According to Billy Nair, then an official of the NIC, the burden that the campaign placed on Indians resulted in NIC president, Monty Naicker, feeling ‘very strongly that the Indian response would not be that good because of this experience in passive resistance’. While Nair was reflecting on this campaign for almost six decades, a contemporary editorial in The Graphic (7 March 1952) made this very point: The demonstration of protest will not be effective as envisaged by these two organisations [ANC and SAIC]. Indian opinion is reluctant in carrying out any show of mass protest. The last demonstration of protest involved the NIC in having to maintain workers financially, who as a result of the Congress call to observe ‘hartal’ cost them their jobs. We do not think that workers having once learnt the lesson that employment was to be preferred to demonstrations would leave their work for the purpose of making another protest against the Government`s suppressive legislation against the non-Europeans of this country.

The main opposition to the NIC came from the NEUM which had a strong presence in Northern Natal. The NEUM claimed that the campaign would not result in the government changing its policy and voiced its opposition through the press and at public meetings. For example, at a ‘Mass Meeting of All Non-Europeans’ at the Millsite Theatre in Dundee on 23 November 1952, speakers like the NEUM`s president V.G. Naidoo, joint secretaries, Dr. A.I. Limbada and Ismail Patel, Dr. Wilfred Masuku of the All Africa Convention (AAC), Dr. Isaiah Luvunu of the Society of Young Africa, Dr Zulei Christopher, and Drs. Chota Motala and Omar Essack, who represented the Anti-Segregation Council (ASC), Pietermaritzburg, condemned the campaign. Around 250 Indians and 100 Africans attended the meeting. Motala and Essack both spent most of the 1940s in India where they were involved in the anti-colonial struggle. They rejected Gandhi’s strategy of passive resistance as unproductive. Essack felt that it would retard the

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interests of Black people in South Africa. In India, he pointed out, passive resistance had started in 1932 but by 1945 there were no peace movements left. ‘Peace and non-violence brings you nowhere’, he said. Chota Motala too opposed passive resistance which ‘has caused disastrous results. Passive Resistance did not shake off British Imperialism in India. Freedom will only be obtained on the basis of non-European unity’. Dr. Limbada slated the NIC for refusing the challenge of the Anti-Coloured Affairs Department (anti-CAD) movement to a debate on the Defiance Campaign which was ‘the same old dirt in a new garbage dust bin’.36 Motala and Essack would subsequently switch allegiance to the NIC and forged a strong relationship in Pietermaritzburg with the likes of Archie Gumede and became an important cog in the Congress Alliance. Despite opposition within the ANC and NIC, and tensions between Indians and Africans, the campaign went ahead. ‘NATIONAL DAY OF PLEDGE AND PRAYER’, 6 APRIL 1952 The 6 April 1952 protest was a precursor to the Defiance Campaign. While white South Africa was celebrating the tercentenary of Van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape in 1652, the ANC and SAIC observed a ‘National Day of Pledge and Prayer’ for ‘300 Years of Sorrow, Sin, and Shame’. A Zulu-language editorial in Ilanga Lase on 15 March 1952 criticized the forthcoming protest and stated that it had ‘never encouraged defiance of any laws at any time. Such methods will take black people a step backwards and create enemies and major problems for them’. An important legal issue that came up during this protest was to have repercussions for the Defiance Campaign. When DetectiveSergeant Coetzee saw notices advertising the meetings in Durban, he asked the Town Clerk to ban them. The Town Clerk replied on 31 March 1952 that there was no law against such gatherings. It was attorney, Rowley Arenstein, a member of the Communist Party, who secured a space in the law allowing such meetings to take place. In 1950, Arenstein was charged with holding a public ‘Special Report of the CID, Dundee’, 28 November 1952. Provided by Kader Hassim. 36


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meeting without permission and fined. He challenged the matter in the Supreme Court where he prevailed, the judges ruling that the existing by-law did not prohibit or regulate gatherings but conferred arbitrary power to the Mayor to do so, which exceeded (ultra vires) the powers conferred on Council by the Local Government Ordinance. The Council did not initially respond to this ruling. However, when the levels of protest began to increase, the by-laws were amended to specify the grounds on which the Mayor could prohibit meetings. This was passed as Provincial Notice No. 455 of 1952 after the 6 April protest but before commencement of the Defiance Campaign. Meetings could be prohibited if they were deemed a ‘nuisance’ to the public; caused discomfort to vehicular or pedestrian traffic; were construed as ‘offensive’ to public morals or decency; could result in ‘public disturbances or riots or damage to property’; or interfered in any way with the convenience of the public.37 The Council could, in effect, rein in all opposition. The NIC and ANC, reflecting racial divisions, held separate meetings in Durban on 6 April, the ANC at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre and the NIC at Red Square. An Ilanga Lase report expressed ‘surprise’ that while the ANC organized ‘its own gatherings, black people attended the big Indian gathering at Red Square where they listened to moving speeches about freedom. They forgot about all that divides them’.38 The protest received wide coverage in the local press. Ilanga Lase reported that at public gatherings ‘in open spaces and halls’ throughout the province, political leaders and church ministers ‘spoke in unison regarding the oppression of black people in the land of their forefathers’. There were ‘testimonies about the suffering of the people and their preparedness to fight for freedom in a lawful manner. Those who thought there would be chaos and people would be shot at were disappointed’. At the Bantu Social Centre, the Revd. Sikhakhana and Chief Luthuli reiterated the commitment of the ‘nation’ to fight for freedom. The audience took an oath of allegiance to the forthcoming campaign. When the meeting terminated, three busloads of people proceeded to Durban Archives Repository (TBD), Town Clerk’s Files (3/DBN), 4/1/4/281. ‘Town Clerk’s Memorandum for General Purposes Committee: Proposed New Bye-Laws for Regulating, Restricting and Prohibiting Processions, Displays, Performance or Gatherings in Public Streets and Places’. 38 Ilanga, 12 April 1952. 37

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Groutville where the Revd. Nomvete, Revd. Mkhize, M. Yengwa, Chief Luthuli, the (unnamed) wife of the Revd. J.L. Dube, and ordinary teachers and women made ‘passionate speeches’.39 At Red Square, NIC president, Monty Naicker called for united resistance against apartheid, which he equated with fascism, and called for unity between Africans and Indians: In our struggle we are going to use a weapon that only civilized people should use and that is the weapon of non-violence. Hitler used violence in his creed of Fascism. In South Africa we know that the tentacles of Fascism are rising. We must pledge ourselves to stop another Hitler raising his vicious head in this land. . . . If you allow them to divide us we will have to live the lives that Germans had to live. It is the bounden duty of everyone of us to say we are going to be united. As united people there can be no power against us.40

In a letter to the Leader (13 June 1952), S.C. Meer of Dundee, a member of the NEUM, questioned why there was no Joint Planning Council in Natal, and also why it was necessary for the ANC and NIC to hold ‘apartheid’ meetings in Durban. This confirmed for him that the JPC was ‘neither joint nor planning’. Reflecting on the fact that black and white South Africans observed this day for very different reasons, a (unnamed) member of the Natal ANC Youth League wondered whose side God was on: The struggle against laws promoting racial oppression in the Union began on 6 April 1952. Throughout South Africa, prayers were held to appeal to God who created Africans and placed them in this country and later allowed for their interaction and mixing with the whites, so that they could preach to us and teach us about Christianity, but they have elected, in the three hundred years of their presence, to institute laws that are racially oppressive. On the same day, 6 April, the whites were also praising their God for revealing to them a country so rich in mineral deposits and thousands of black people to work for them. There is not a single Prophet who can state for certain whom God heard on this day, the whites as they were glorifying him, or the cries of the blacks.41 Ilanga, 12 April 1952. National Archives Repository (SAB), S.2.2. vol. 2, pp. 2, 50, 444. This includes a seven page letter from the Ministry of Justice to Monty’s attorney J.N. Singh detailing extracts from Monty’s speeches at over twenty meetings between 1946 and 1954. 41 Ilanga, 26 July 1952. 39 40


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Following the protest on 6 April, the stage was set for the Defiance Campaign. THE CAMPAIGN STARTS IN DURBAN Public meetings played a pivotal role in generating publicity about the campaign. Around ten thousand people attended a Day of the Volunteers` meeting in Durban on 22 June 1952 where Luthuli and Monty Naicker publicly committed themselves to the campaign. Banners reading ‘Raise ban on Guardian’ [newspaper], ‘Down with Passes’, ‘ANC Youth League (Vukiyibambe)’, ‘Remove Interprovincial Barriers’, ‘Throw Malan Out of Power’, and ‘Volunteer Now – Defy Unjust laws’ were displayed prominently. Mandela came from Johannesburg to rally support as ‘Volunteer-in-Chief ’, a position that would ‘bring him a national following unmatched by any other African politician’.42 Mandela said that the time had come ‘for the final blow to be delivered against oppression and tyranny. We shall destroy the cause of our oppression, the tentacles of racism. It is only right to destroy those who keep vast portions of our people in bondage’. Chief Luthuli, who chaired the meeting, called on Indians and Africans to join their respective Congresses and give their full support to the campaign: ‘We must work to free our people. We are men and the white man must stop exploiting us.’43 Monty Naicker warned the crowd of the consequences of inaction: Our foremost leaders have been arrested and are in cold cells. They have a purpose and they are prepared to sacrifice for this purpose. We need 5,000 volunteers like [them] . . . Hitler had concentration camps for his slaves. We too are going to have a concentration camp. Under the Group Areas Act and the connivance of the English they are going to shift you to locations. We will have barbed wire fences around us and people to drive you to wherever they require labour. . . . Are we going to permit this or are we going to say that we are going to fight even at the cost of our lives, if need be?44 Lodge, Mandela, p. 47. Leader, 27 June 1952. 44 SAB, S.2.2. vol. 2, pp. 2, 50, 444. This includes a seven page letter from the Ministry of Justice to Monty’s attorney J.N. Singh detailing extracts from Monty’s speeches at over twenty meetings between 1946 and 1954. 42 43

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The Defiance Campaign began in Johannesburg on 26 June when Nana Sita, president of the TIC, and Walter Sisulu of the ANC, courted arrest by entering the African township of Boksburg. According to Monty Naicker the campaign was to take place in three phases: small groups of defiers volunteering for arrest; an increase in the number of volunteers; and extending the campaign countrywide.45 The campaign was delayed in Durban because of organizational problems faced by Luthuli`s ANC and through police harassment. On 6 August police raided the offices of the NIC and ANC and searched the premises of Luthuli, M.B. Yengwa, Dr. W.Z. Conco, Selby Msimang, A.S. Luthuli in Ixopo, H.S. Mtetwa in Clermont; S.S. Mtolo, and a number of NIC activists.46 There was an air of expectation and Ilanga Lase reported on 16 August 1952 that ‘the leaders say it [protest] will soon start. The volunteers are ready and others are signing up. The leaders are conducting meetings all over’. On 24 August the ANC and NIC organized a joint mass meeting at Red Square, which was addressed by Dr James Moroka. Luthuli announced that there would be another meeting at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre on 30 August 1952 and urged members not to miss out! If you still have not realised the need and the logic behind the struggle, come and hear for yourself. We appeal to the nations for donations to support the work of Congress in Natal, especially at this time of need where we are engaged in many activities. Africans, you need to show the whole world that you want freedom in your God-given land.47

There was a large crowd at the 30 August meeting. According to one report, ‘because of the limited capacity of the hall, the crowd overflowed into the streets, pavements and islands (despite) . . . uncalled-for provocation by the City Police on their motor cycles who kept clearing the streets of people who were peacefully listening in to the meeting and when no traffic was using the road, our meeting passed off without any incidents’.48 Luthuli said that the ANC had embarked on the struggle because of the immense Leader, 4 July 1952. Ilanga, 9 August 1952. 47 Ibid., 24 August 1952. 48 Ibid., 6 September 1952. 45 46


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sufferings of African people and their long and unsuccessful attempts to secure human rights and freedom. Luthuli emphasized that the ‘struggle is for the Black people, others have merely given support’, affirming strongly that the ANC was in control of the campaign. This was in response to criticism from some quarters about the prominence of Indians. Luthuli issued a statement, ‘WE GO TO ACTION’, which reaffirmed this message: As Africans we are glad that at the invitation of the ANC the Indians and Coloureds, through their national organisations, pledged to support our Congress in its just struggle. We invite all, irrespective of colour, race or creed, who prize democracy, to join our forces. I am happy to announce today at this meeting of our Provincial Conference held at the Bantu Social Centre in Durban on August 30, 1952, that the Africans in Natal with their allies, the Indians, under the joint direction of the ANC and the SAIC, are going into action against discriminatory and unjust laws tomorrow, August 31, 1952.49

The mass meeting on 31 August at Red Square was attended by four thousand people who were addressed by Monty Naicker, Luthuli, and P.H. Simelane, amongst others.50 Luthuli said that the ‘small stream’ of protest would soon swell and the government would find it impossible to accommodate eight million people in its prisons. ‘The struggle for resistance’, he said, ‘has been unleashed in Natal’.51 According to one report, the leaders ‘announced that the struggle has arrived. Excited, the people gave generous donations. Others signed up to become volunteers. We hear that brave souls and those who love the nation are joining in numbers and are also giving financial support to the campaign’.52 Another newspaper reported that when the resisters arrived, the Square was shaken by cries of ‘Afrika’. Resisters were seated on a platform and on either side of them flew ‘the national flag of freedom – black, green and yellow’. The name of each resister was called to ‘a thunderous ovation from the crowd, which was filled with a new awakening’.53 Luthuli was employed by the government as a chief and his Ilanga , 6 September 1952. Daily News, 2 September 1952. 51 Leader, 5 September 1952. 52 Ilanga, 6 September 1952. 53 Leader, 5 September 1952. 49 50

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encouraging people to transgress the laws did not sit well with his employers. He was summoned to Pretoria in mid-September where W.W.M. Eiselen, Minister of Native Affairs, warned him that his involvement in the campaign was contradictory to what was expected of a chief. Luthuli replied that the ANC was a legal organization and as the campaign was non-violent and called for the inclusion of Blacks within the government, rather than its overthrow, his actions were not subversive. In October, Luthuli was given another warning, this time in writing, but he ignored the ultimatum and was consequently removed from office on 14 November 1952.54 Luthuli enjoyed the support of the masses, however, and at the December 1952 conference of the ANC he was elected its president. ARRESTS AND IMPRISONMENT At the end of the 31 August 1952 meeting several thousand people followed the first batch of twenty-one resisters from Red Square along Pine Street, into West Street, to the Berea Road railway station. The marchers held aloft a large red banner proclaiming, ‘Defiance of Unjust Law’, which was flanked by the black, green, and yellow flags of the ANC. The volunteers, 21 in all (ten Indians and eleven Africans, and including four women), filed into the waiting room marked ‘Europeans Only’. They were led by Monty Naicker and P.H. Simelane.55 Volunteers were promptly ushered into waiting police vans as the large crowd sang freedom songs and gave the thumbs-up ‘Afrika’ sign. Billy Nair, who was part of this first group of volunteers, recalled: Congress called for volunteers to go to prison and made it quite clear what the implications were – you`re going to be taken to court, sentenced, then there`s going to be hardships, you probably going to have to work in a stone quarry somewhere, breaking stones, or doing hard labour. The Couper, Luthuli, p. 59. Ismail Meer, A Fortunate Man, Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2002, p. 146. Other volunteers included Ms Teresa Mafokeng, Ms Nomntu Nyikiza, Ms Janpathy Singh, Abel Nyende, Augustine Malinga, Elson Kanyile, Zacharia Gumede, Ernest Mate, A.C. Meer, Billy Nair, A.K.M. Docrat, Fanyana Majozi, A. Vadival, Fatima Seedat, R. Chengan, Michael Mangele, R. Chengan, D.V. Chetty, Manny Naidoo, and the Reverend J.M. Sibiya. 54 55


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food that you eat is not going to be the breyani you eat outside. People used to volunteer. When you had a sufficient number you then were taken to Red Square, introduced in public. . . . This is apartheid at the railway stations where seats were reserved for whites only. We were now going to sit on those seats and break the law. It is symbolic in the sense that you are not breaking apartheid. Dr. Naicker and Stalwart Simelane led the first batch and there were nineteen others of us. The crowd followed but not inside the station because it was too much of a crowd. Some of the key people went in just to see what`s going to happen to us. So they [whites] said, look we must get out of this, our seats. We said, no, we are defying. We`ve come here, we are not going to move because we want to occupy the seats. We say it should not be reserved for whites only, open to all. The police said, ‘Nonsense, we are charging you all for breaking the law’. All of us were handcuffed and marched to the police station.

Appearing in court on Monday, the volunteers refused to plead and were sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. Monty Naicker read out a lengthy statement in which he said that while the magistrate had a duty to enforce the law of the country, he and other oppressed people in the country have a duty to our conscience. . . . This defiance on our part is the only concrete way we have of showing our opposition to these laws for we are not allowed to voice our protests in the law-making bodies of the country. We have adopted a civilized weapon in our protest for we preach hatred towards none and we are bound by the noble ethics of non-violence. . . . The non-White people of this country have given a clear lead and pointed out that South Africa cannot have freedom for only a small section of this people and oppression for the rest. Freedom is indivisible. When unjust laws prevail in the country the place for all just men and women is in the prisons of the country in defiance of these unjust laws . . . It is for you to pronounce your sentence. In due course history will pronounce its sentence on South Africa.56

The cry of ‘Afrika’ angered magistrate C.E. Russell, who warned that he would charge those who shouted the slogan with contempt of court. When Defiers spoke of apartheid laws being unjust, Russell replied that his ‘sole duty was to administer laws and not to comment on them’.57 The cry of ‘Afrika’ became the campaign’s greeting. It involved Leader, 5 September 1952. Daily News, 10 September 1952.

56 57

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clenching the right fist, with the thumb held erect, and moving it towards the shoulder. Leo Kuper, who witnessed some of the meetings, wrote that this cry and gesture symbolized ‘the unity of the peoples, and the return of the country to them’.58 Monty Naicker spent a month in jail. It did not dampen his spirit. Shortly after his release, he told a meeting in Pietermaritzburg on 5 October 1952 that Black people ‘have shouted “Afrika” so long that Dr. Malan is shivering in his pants. Every person who shows this sign shows that Africa belongs to him. There is no such thing as different nationalities here, we are all South Africans. We want the equality of all races.’59 Kuper described one of the meetings that he attended. The crowd of around four thousand included Indians and Africans ‘of all ages, men and women, the Indian women in colourful saris, the African women in various European-styled clothing. On the outskirts stood a ‘rickshaw boy’ in gorgeous beadwork, his head adorned with plumes and painted horns’. The crowd sang ‘Mayibuyi I Afrika’ (Let Africa Return), ‘S‘yayifun’ inkululedo’ (We want freedom), and ‘Vula, Malan’ (Open, Malan). The meeting was addressed by Monty Naicker, with M.B. Yengwa interpreting into Zulu. Naicker emphasized the non-violent nature of the struggle and the need for racial co-operation. Indian and African speakers alternated, with speeches interspersed with ‘song, as sermon with hymn. And the slightest of jokes, a mere turn of phrase, would draw tumultuous laughter’. The meeting terminated with a rendition of Nkosi Sikelele I Afrika (Lord Bless Africa). Instead of ‘Amen’, the crowd shouted ‘Afrika’ at the end of each speech or song or attack on discrimination.60 Most of the first batch of volunteers were released on 24 September 1952, while Monty Naicker, Fanyana Majozi, and D.V. Chetty were released on 27 September. The first group was given Leo Kuper, Passive Resistance in South Africa, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960, p. 12. 59 Letter from the Commissioner of Police to the Secretary of Justice, 18 March 1953. There are 18 persons on this list. Monty is reference S. 2/2. Though the documents are now declassified, except for Monty all names have been blacked out. SAB C.6/2568 (B). 60 Kuper, Passive Resistance in South Africa, pp. 12-16. 58


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a ‘welcome back’ at Red Square on Wednesday evening.61 Billy Nair recalled his prison experience: We were all at Central Jail in Pine Street. [The other prisoners] welcomed us. We all slept on the floor. They tried to squeeze us. We protested and they did make certain changes. Food was, generally, as in all prisons, bad . . . mealie rice, samp for Indians, quarter piece of bread with a bit of margarine or lard, coffee in the evening, porridge in the morning. Porridge three times a day for Africans and sometimes mealies, boiled mealies, yellow mealies . . . lunch time and then they used to have beans and so on in the evening. What we used to do is to give them [African prisoners], as we did on Robben Island, our bread in exchange for mealies. In the prison yard, we broke stones during the day. Otherwise we worked in the stone yard, where you use a hammer to break stones. We got given goggles, you know, wire goggles and you put that on and break stones into smaller pieces, they want to give you hard labour. This was nothing compared to our working in the quarry on Robben Island where we did pick-and-shovel work, not using a small hammer. . . . We were very happy to be out. You went home, had your shower and then went back to the offices, to be entertained there and all the people crowded there, they took photographs and had a big do.

The experience of the second group which volunteered for arrest on 7 September 1952 was described in Ilanga Lase (13 September 1952): On Sunday another group led by Mr S.M. Mthimkhulu defied the pass laws and the curfew. This group left after eleven at night and walked around in the streets and were arrested. On Sunday afternoon, before this group was dispatched, there was a big gathering at Warwick Avenue which was attended by more than 4000 people. The volunteers were presented to the thousands of Africans and Indians at the meeting. The Secretary General of Congress in Natal, M.B. Yengwa, introduced the group and said they belonged to Chief A.J. Luthuli, the President of Congress. It was sad that the group was being dispatched in his absence, and without him being part of the group, as he was away in Pretoria on government-related matters. After the leaders had spoken, the gathering moved to Red Square where a mass meeting had been organised. The volunteers were leading from the front. Two young men in the front were waving Congress flags. The others following from behind were singing liberation songs and chanting AFRIKA!! At Red Square, another big meeting was held. In spite of the The Graphic, 26 September 1952.


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drizzling weather, the people stayed until the end of the meeting [when] volunteers were accompanied to Congress offices. Many more signed up as volunteers. With regard to defying the pass laws, it was decided only Africans should embark on this mission since the laws [vagrancy] affected them. It would be pointless to expect Indians to defy the pass laws, since they will not be arrested for that. Three women were amongst those arrested for defying apartheid laws.62

On 8 September, the court found all 21 volunteers guilty of violating pass laws and sentenced them to a fine of three pounds or one month in prison. They opted for prison. Before sentencing, Samuel S. Mthimkhulu told the court that they had intentionally defied the pass laws because they prevented black people from walking freely in the land of their birth. He wanted to know from the magistrate what crime he had committed by simply walking around at night since he had not broken into anyone`s house or killed anybody. He was testifying before God, he said, that he was a law-abiding citizen but that as a Christian it was his duty to fight for his freedom. Even if the magistrate charged him with a crime, in the eyes of God he had not committed one.63 NIC vice-president, Ashwin Choudree, led the third batch of twelve volunteers on 13 September. He told the court on 14 September that he hoped his ‘peaceful violation of the laws would force the people who made them to see the error of their ways’. Before being sentenced to thirty days’ imprisonment, Choudree dismissed those who said that the ‘traditional policy of this country is one of colour’. He told the magistrate that this ‘traditional policy’ means ‘the continuance of a state of semi slavery for the majority of the people of this land. . . . Whereas in every democracy people march forward towards the removal of restrictions, in South Africa the reverse policy has been followed’. Choudree also said that when he met Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of former US president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, at her home in 1946 she told him that South Africans must never give up the struggle for human rights and that her message continued to inspire him.64 Included in Choudree’s batch was Saro Naicker, wife of M.P. Ilanga, 13 September 1953. Ibid., 13 September 1952. 64 Leader, 19 September 1952. 62 63


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Naicker, a high ranking member of the NIC and SACP before it was banned. Saro Naicker, who had a five-year-old daughter and eleven-month-old son, recalls what happens when they sat at a railway station: ‘then they [police] come and warn you, you must get up. We said, “No, we want to, you know, defy”. I was not afraid. I didn’t show any excitement. I know we were fighting the unjust laws. M.P. had updated me.’ He said, ‘That day they’ll put you in and the next day the magistrate’s court, there you have to say . . . and so on’. Saro was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. She described the prison experience as terrible, degrading and the hardest work that they could find. You know, even in prison I found lot of apartheid system works there, where white women wore their own clothing, they wore socks and shoes and they were three in a cell and they had wash basins, whereas we were six in a cell, literally breathing into each other’s faces. [We did] all sorts of work, even washing toilets.

When they were released, Luthuli was at the prison to welcome them. Debi Sing led a group of volunteers on 2 November 1952. Dr W.J. Conco, chairman of the ANC Natal, led volunteers who broke the curfew regulations that did not allow Africans on the streets after 11:00 pm. They were ignored by police on the nights of 2 November and 3 November, but eventually arrested on Tuesday morning, 4 November, when they entered the Berea Road station in defiance of the segregation laws.65 J.N. Singh was at the head of the fourteenth group of resisters who went to prison on 9 November 1952. Volunteers led by I.C. Meer on 29 November 1952 were sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. Part of the Durban Bay near the Bluff and Salisbury Island was being reclaimed and prisoners were taken there daily to join the labour gang which worked from dawn to dusk. According to Meer, they ‘worked with wheelbarrows, and spades, digging, loading, depositing. . . . It left our hands blistered and our backs sunburnt. . . . We survived the test. We fared well and came out

Graphic, 7 November 1951.


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of prison, strengthened.’66 As the campaign wore on, magistrates opted for whippings for defendants under twenty-one. LOCAL STATE CLAMPDOWN ON RALLIES Organizers relied on various means to publicize the campaign. There was press coverage in newspapers like The Leader, The Graphic, and Ilanga Lase. Daily updates were provided in a cyclostyled newssheet, Flash (edited by NIC member M.P. Naicker, with input from ANC members). Seventy-one issues were published by December 1952. A more detailed newsletter (Afrika) was published fortnightly and dealt with organizational aspects of the campaign as well as policy. Seven issues were published by December. Nationally, the ANC and SAIC took over publication of Spark, which was formerly the mouthpiece of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress, and renamed it Spark for Congress News. The campaign was covered on All-India Radio, BBC Radio, Radio Budapest, and Air China. The most effective way of generating publicity, enthusiasm and volunteers was through public meetings. The NIC and ANC organized marches on Sunday afternoons as well as on weekdays from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm. Marches typically proceeded from Red Square along Pine Street, Grey Street, West Street, Brook Street, Cathedral Road, into Pine Street and back to Red Square. Such rallies helped to bolster support for the campaign, and the organizers were dealt a severe blow when the state began to refuse permission for public meetings. For example, the NIC applied for permission to hold meetings at Red Square on five Sundays: 2 November, 9 November, 16 November, 23 November, 30 November, and 13 December; on weekday evenings at Red Square (5, 12, 19, 26 November), at Cartwright Flats in Umgeni Road (4 and 18 November), and Market Square in Warwick Avenue (11 and 25 November).67 The State refused permission. The NIC appealed the decision, pointing out that no incident had arisen in any of the meetings it had held since June and that the ban was a Meer, Fortunate Man, p. 146. TBD, 3/DBN 4/1/4/282, 50/134.

66 67


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violation of the rights of individuals to give free expression to their views.68 The mayor refused to reverse his decision. When the NIC applied on 20 October 1952 to hold a public meeting at the market on 31 October, the police advised the Town Clerk on 26 October 1952 that the meeting would attract an ‘unduly large number of people whose actions, when subjected to speeches by irresponsible politicians, cannot always be forecast. . . . A meeting at the Market Square will naturally attract numbers of Natives who all have to pass in the vicinity of this spot.’ Permission was declined. A meeting scheduled for 2 November 1952, which NIC secretary, Debi Singh, explained was to welcome passive resisters who have been released from jail; bid farewell to those who are to court imprisonment; convey the decisions of the ANC (Natal); and hear addresses from Nelson Mandela (Transvaal) and Dr. Njongive (Cape), was met with strong police objections. Njongive, a resident of the New Brighton location, was to speak on ‘The Truth about the Port Elizabeth Disturbances’. Acting Chief Constable Graham wrote to the Town Clerk on 30 October that the marches were ‘harmful to the more ignorant type of non-European in the city who do not understand what the procession is about, but seeing other Natives in this procession, they join them, more out of curiosity than anything else, and in many instances are incited to accompany the resisters in their acts of defiance. This state of affairs will incite the law-abiding non-Europeans to violence against these processionists in the near future.’69 Town Clerk W.L. Howes, Mayor Percy Osborne, Major W.H. Van Vuuren, District Commander of the SAP, and Graham met on the morning of 1 November 1952, and advised the NIC that it could not hold the meeting.70 When trade unionist Billy Nair applied for permission to hold a meeting on 10 November on vacant land in Gale Street, the police advised against it: The applicant, who is a prominent non-European politician was recently prosecuted and convicted for holding a similar meeting at the same place without permission. . . . Meetings such as these, which are held during Daily News, 7 November 1952. TBD, 3/DBN 4/1/4/282. 70 Daily News, 1 November 1952. 68 69

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the normal lunch hour of factories, not only attract members of this Union, but numerous other natives employed in the vicinity. This tends to make these meetings an ideal opportunity for irresponsible elements to disseminate propaganda of a political nature.71

There were protests against the City Council from various NIC branches. For example, the Natal Indian Youth Congress (NIYC) informed the Mayor that the organization had passed a resolution on 2 November 1952 that ‘the action of the mayor [Percy Osborne] has not only proved his Nationalist tendencies, but also his attempt to stifle freedom of speech and assembly’. They called on the Mayor to lift the ban as ‘the [Red] Square was the only place where voiceless people of Durban can make their voices heard’. Around 500 residents of Mayville convened at the Arya Samaj Hall under the auspices of the NIC on 6 November and passed a resolution ‘lodging its [NIC] strongest protest against the Mayor [whose] decision was arbitrary and dictatorial and . . . that indirectly the Mayor and the Town Council has arrogated to itself the power of the highest authority in the country by denying the Non-European people the fundamental right of the freedom of speech and assembly’.72 An application by the NIYC on 19 November 1952 to hold a meeting at Red Square on 10 December, to commemorate ‘Human Rights Day’, was also turned down because Acting Chief Constable Graham advised the Town Clerk that he had ‘tested the feelings of numerous respected natives in this City upon meetings of this kind, and have been assured by them that the minds of the uneducated natives are being greatly disturbed by these very frequent meetings, at which speakers are definitely sowing the seeds of discontent and discord . . . and all fear a repetition of the rioting which took place some years ago’ [1949].73 The SB (Special Branch) Durban also advised that the application be declined. A member of the SB, who attended a meeting of the NIYC on 13 November 1952 to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, observed that ‘very little attention was paid to the World TBD, 2/DBN, 4/1/4/283. S.90/663. TBD, 3/DBN 4/1/4/282, 50/134. 73 TBD, 3/DBN 4/1/4/282, 50/134. 71 72


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Federation and all the speakers were concerned about was to attack white supremacy in South Africa and to enlist volunteers for the Defiance Campaign. Meetings sponsored by the NIYC are a mere subterfuge for the NIC and the ANC to achieve their aim to hold open-air public meetings’.74 The SB questioned why permission had been granted for that meeting since ‘the World Federation is a worldwide Communist controlled movement with headquarters in Prague, Czechoslovakia. In view of this, the holding of such meetings defeats the objects of the Act on the Suppression of Communism’.75 Applications by the NIC to hold meetings at Red Square on 1 February 1953 to protest the lack of accommodation in schools, and on 6 February 1953 at the market and on 8 February 1953 at Red Square to protest impending apartheid legislation were also declined. The SB Wentworth advised the Mayor on 27 January ‘that the meetings will follow the same pattern of all recent meetings and evolve into a venue . . . influencing the Non-European population to support the Defiance Campaign. There appears to be no doubt that the NIC and other sister organizations are responsible for the present racial tension’. The SB Durban advised the Town Clerk on 27 January that ‘it was proved and is abundantly apparent that during the recent period . . . when no meetings were held, there was peace and no feeling of unrest’.76 Activists found ways to defy the authorities. The public, for example, was unaware that permission had been declined to hold a meeting at Red Square on 9 November, where J.N. Singh was to lead a corps of volunteers, and large numbers arrived to find armed policemen on motorcycles. The NIC and ANC convened an urgent meeting at the NIC headquarters at Lakhani Chambers and arranged a new venue on a privately-owned vacant land at the corner of Albert and Carlisle streets. The message got around quickly and a few thousand people turned up. There were speeches from many leaders, including Monty Naicker, who chaired the meeting, M.B. Yengwa of the ANC, and J.N. Singh himself. Singh said that the protestors did not ‘preach hatred against any section TBD, 3/DBN 4/1/4/282, 50/134. Ibid. 76 TBD, 2/DBN, 4/1/4/282. N.169. 74 75

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of the population. . . . Our protest is only against bad unjust laws which have oppressed us in the country of our birth’. Naicker said that the authorities had banned the meeting not because they feared violence, since there would be none from their side, but because ‘they are afraid of the truth’. Singh led the fourteen volunteers to the Berea Road station where they were promptly arrested. Due to the ban on public marches, the large crowd could not march with the volunteers who were driven to the station in cars.77 At 8:50 am on 31 January 1953, City Valuator and Estates manager, A.E. Mallinson, received a call from the police that ‘numbers of Indians’ were occupying Corporation land at the corner of Brook Street and Victoria Street Bridge. Mallinson could not evict them as there was no notice that trespassers would be prosecuted. Inspector Graham told Mallinson that it was the ‘same organisation of Indians that had given recent trouble’ and instructed Mallinson to ask the men to vacate the site and get them arrested if they refused. Mallinson put up a temporary sign, ‘Trespassers will be Prosecuted’, and told Chetty, whom he described as ‘an Indian who gave me the impression that he was in charge’, that the Mayor wanted them to leave. Chetty asked for the instruction in writing. Mallinson warned Chetty that if he failed to comply with the order he would call the police. Chetty replied that Mallinson should move on as he [Chetty] would handle the police. Mallinson reported the matter to Graham who arrested the men. When Mallinson was walking past the Indian Library in Brook Street, he noticed a white man ‘busily engaged in putting up a notice board within the library grounds’. The notice reading, ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted, W.L. Howes, Town Clerk’, was actually meant for the vacant ground!78 Debi Singh noted that before the Council declined permission to hold meetings, Congress held three meetings per week at Red Square since 26 June which attracted between 3,000 and 10,000 people each. There was no indoor venue large enough to accommodate the crowd when it rained because applications to use the City Hall were turned down, even though the United Party, Torch Commando and Defenders of the Constitution held Kuper, Passive Resistance in South Africa, 13-14; also Leader, 14 November 1952. 78 TBD, 2/DBN, 4/1/4/282. J. 24/3. 77


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meetings there. He complained that the Council accommodated these meetings to the extent that certain streets were closed off, loudspeakers were installed, and rostra were erected for speakers ‘days before the scheduled meetings’. This demonstrated ‘a complete lack of appreciation of the wants of the non-European communities of Durban and treats lightly a serious matter. . . . No other forms of discussion and expression of their views . . . and the ventilation of their aspirations [exists]’.79 The closing down of spaces for public meetings seriously hurt organizers. A report in The Graphic in early December noted that ‘there has been a slowdown in Durban owing to the refusal of the Durban Municipality to grant permission to the organizers to hold meetings in public places’.80 Legislation passed by the government in the year preceding the campaign allowed it to ‘name’ people as communists, tap telephones, ban individuals from attending public meetings, and ban newspapers. Nationally, the government tried to cut off the leadership of the campaign by using the Suppression of Communism Act to ban 21 leaders, including Moses Kotane and Yusuf Dadoo, who were found guilty of ‘Statutory Communism’ in November 1952 and sentenced to nine months` imprisonment with hard labour, suspended for two years. Justice Rumpff said that he found them guilty in terms of Communism as defined by the South African Parliament in the Act and not in the works of any political theorists. An editorial in The Graphic warned, prophetically, that the ‘Non-European may quiver with impotent rage but the tragedy is that at some stage this impotent rage will break into violence, and even people who think in terms of moderation and passivity, will break out into violence.’81 Proclamation 252 on 28 November 1952 forbade meetings of ten or more persons in scheduled areas which included reserves, rural areas, and locations. Leaders of the campaign in Natal received advice from counsel that any call for volunteers to break apartheid laws could result in prosecution under the Suppression of Communism Act (and nine months imprisonment). This included publishing pamphlets TBD, 3/DBN 4/1/4/282, 50/134. Graphic, 12 December 1952. 81 Ibid., 5 December 1952. 79 80

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and articles encouraging defiance. As one reporter put it, the campaign in Durban had ‘been gagged and trussed rather securely by the judgement. . . . According to a member of the Executive Committee of the NIC the leaders of the NIC are not yet prepared to risk these heavy penalties so the position in Durban is that the Defiance Campaign is more or less dead.’82 Individual acts of defiance were subject to the normal term of imprisonment. For example, Sita Gandhi, daughter of Manilal Gandhi and grand-daughter of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who was in India during Gandhi’s assassination and returned in June 1948 to dedicate herself to her father’s work in Phoenix, defied Post Office regulations in her individual capacity on 29 December 1952 when she joined Rowley Arenstein at the ‘Whites-Only’ section of the Durban Post Office to send a telegram to Malan to allow a UN delegation to visit the country.83 ACCOUNTING FOR THE LACK OF SUPPORT IN NATAL Violence started to envelop the campaign, especially in the Eastern Cape, which drew the highest number of volunteers. According to Lodge, support for the campaign in the Eastern Cape was due to the inter-relationship between town and countryside. There was extreme poverty and deep resentment in rural areas of the Eastern Cape where the ANC made major inroads. Riots in Port Elizabeth (18 October 1952) sparked a violent reaction that led to the death of seven Africans and two whites. The government banned all demonstrations.84 In comparison to the Eastern Cape, several factors coalesced to produce low levels of participation in Natal and to confine the campaign to Durban. While there was much violence in other parts of the country, the District Commandant of Durban, Major W.H. de J.J. van Vuuren, said that Africans in Durban would never attack whites. In his view, Graphic, 16 January 1953. Dhupelia-Mesthrie, Gandhi’s Prisoner, p. 355. 84 Lodge, Black Politics, pp. 58-9. 82 83


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infinitely more Natives attend recreational functions during the weekends than ever attend passive resistance and other political meetings. To my mind they [Africans] are completely disinterested in listening to political speeches and are generally not politically minded. As evidence of that only three Native women and two Native men were persuaded to join the resistance movement at Berea last night. Ever since the establishment of the Native Depot in Durban I have had 150 Natives in training here and have been able to provide the danger spots of Durban with extra policemen. . . . Night patrols have also been increased, thereby ensuring better policing of the residential areas.85

Monty Naicker’s fear that the Passive Resistance campaign had taken a toll on potential Indian volunteers provides part of the explanation. Many who had suffered imprisonment during 1946-8 may not have been in a position to spend further time in prison. Differences between the NIC and NEUM, which dominated Indian public opinion in places like Pietermaritzburg and further north in Dundee and Newcastle, meant that there was little up-country support for the campaign. This changed later in the decade when key individuals in Pietermaritzburg switched allegiance to the NIC. Disunity within the ANC hampered its organisational ability in Natal. The conservative faction feared that the campaign would prove counter-productive. An editorial in Zulu in Ilanga (27 December 1952), for example, stated that the campaign will act to bolster the hand of the government as it now has the pretext of formulating even more harsh laws. And the majority of whites will support the government in this because they already feel that the struggle poses a danger to them. Even those who have been accusing government of using a heavy hand, they now support the government and believe that it is necessary to crush the struggle and the danger it poses.

The local and national state’s shutting down of all avenues of public mobilization crippled the campaign. Public meetings were an important forum to motivate volunteers and generate public support. Closing down these spaces through legislation made it difficult to attract new adherents to the cause. The national government was in no mood to negotiate. Leaders were imprisoned under the Suppression of Communism Act, while offices of organizations were raided, as were homes of members. Leader, 10 November 1952.


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The government rejected talks with leaders of the campaign as it was ‘not prepared to negotiate with communists’ and instead chose to ‘crush the campaign once and for all’.86 Speaking in Nylstroom, Prime Minister Malan accused Indian Prime Minister Nehru and India of orchestrating the campaign and raising money to fund the campaign. India, he warned, was a great threat to Africa as its aim was to send its surplus population to Eastern and Southern Africa.87 Responding to these allegations at a public meeting in Durban on 2 November 1952, Monty Naicker criticized the local white-owned press for perpetuating white lies, saying that India is giving two million pounds to our campaign. This is an attempt to make this movement appear to be directed from outside. This is done to divide us non-Europeans and destroy the unity and friendship which we are steadily building up. . . . We are civilised people, preaching no hatred. It is said that at first the Europeans had all the Bibles and the non-Europeans the land; but now the non-Europeans have all the Bibles, and the Europeans have all the land. Yet we will not take it by force.88

CONCLUSION While pioneering in many ways, the Defiance Campaign of 1952 can also be seen in the 1913 and 1946 campaigns which brought into the public domain the idea of open non-violent defiance. Gandhi, such a major influence then, had succumbed to an assassin’s bullet in 1948 in India, but his influence persisted in a country where he had first experimented with non-violent resistance. What his disciples did was to go beyond him by trespassing the boundaries of race. Some, like Nana Sita, Manilal Gandhi, and Monty Naicker, remained faithful to the Gandhian conception of Satyagraha; others adopted non-violence as a strategy of resistance rather than a principle. Manilal Gandhi eventually volunteered, but not in Durban. True to his conviction, in March 1952, he undertook a 21-day fast to purify himself and joined resisters in Ilanga, 20 September 1952. Graphic, 17 October 1952. 88 Kuper, Passive Resistance in South Africa, p. 16. 86 87


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entering Germiston on 8 December 1952, for which he spent fifty days in prison.89 As Fatima Meer argues, there was always a tension between the philosophy of Satyagraha espoused by Gandhi, and its practice in India and in South Africa. Gandhi conceived Satyagraha as ‘a specialized weapon which only the spiritually pure could utilize’, and suggested the ‘restriction of its use to highly trained personnel. . . . His concept, logically followed, precluded mass utilization of the technique’. Gandhi initially appealed to the middle classes for support though, ultimately, it was ‘the unsophisticated worker who gave passive resistance its strength and developed its potential as a force of mass coercion’.90 In South Africa in 1952, the ‘people’s’ needs were immediate and pressing in the face of the relentless imposition of apartheid laws. Remaining ‘pure’ to Satyagraha would have, in Meer’s estimation, ‘plac[ed] brakes upon the militancy of the people. There is little doubt that . . . [Gandhi’s] preoccupation with the impact of soul force reacted against the interest of the people’s immediate and material benefits, and tended to validate the accusation that the allegiance of Satyagraha ultimately and objectively served the interests of those in power’.91 Mandela himself would write that the lesson I took from the campaign was that, in the end, we had no alternative to armed and violent resistance. Over and over again, we had used all the non-violent weapons in our arsenal – speeches, deputations, threats, marches, strikes, stay-aways, voluntary imprisonment – all to no avail. For whatever we did was met by an iron hand. . . . At a certain point, one can only fight fire with fire.92

While the Defiance Campaign failed to draw high numbers of volunteers outside of the Eastern Cape it was a mass public demonstration of opposition to apartheid. For Walter Sisulu, looking back from the vantage point of the defeat of apartheid, the campaign marked a significant break with past opposition to the regime. The campaign, he points out, ‘had the effect of making Dhupelia-Mesthrie, Satyagraha in South Africa, p. 27. Fatima Meer, ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’, Africa South 3, no. 2, JanuaryMarch 1959, pp. 21-8. 91 Meer, ‘Satyagraha’, p. 24. 92 Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, p. 194. 89 90

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people confident and fearless, prepared to go to jail and meet any situation. That was the importance of it’.93 Against the backdrop of 1949, the campaign saw the first stirrings of African-Indian cooperation in the cauldron of resistance. As Bhana points out, this ‘set the stage for future collaborative ventures between the ANC and the Indian congresses. The congressional alliance came firmly into place’.94 Dr J.L.Z. Njongwe, president of the Natal ANC, told the annual conference of the ANC on 1 November 1952 at the Bantu Men’s Social Centre in Durban, the ‘greatest achievement of our Defiance Campaign has been the welding of a . . . singleness of purpose and the development of a common South African outlook between Indians and Africans’.95 This co-operation was significant even if it was only at the level of elites. The campaign also laid the basis for the ANC to evolve into a mass organization. The election of Chief Luthuli as ANC President was an important signal of this new direction. South Africans held collective demonstrations and courted arrest together, and new bonds of trust developed among both leaders and some rank-and-file members.

93 Quoted in Raymond Suttner, The ANC Underground in South Africa, Johannesburg: Jacana media, 2008, p. 22. 94 Surendra Bhana, Gandhi’s Legacy: The Natal Indian Congress, Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1997, p. 85. 95 Leader, 7 November 1952.


‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’: The Dilution of Satyagraha in South Africa SCOTT EVERETT COUPER

INTRODUCTION In April 1894, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) read reports in the Durban newspaper, The Mercury, about pending legislation to disenfranchize Indians in Natal. The revelation inspired Gandhi to cancel his scheduled return to India and to remain in southern Africa for the next twenty years to oppose racial discrimination. During June and July 1894, Gandhi drafted correspondences and newspaper articles arguing against the proposed legislation and submitted three petitions on behalf of his Indian constituency.1 Then, on 22 August 1894, Gandhi established the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) as an entity through which the rights of Indians would be protected. In 1906, the Asiatic Registration Amendment Act, or the ‘Black Act’, further stirred Mohandas Gandhi to oppose racial legislation.2 On 11 September 1906, Gandhi convinced all attending a large 1 Duncan Du Bois, ‘The Collie Curse: The Evolution of White Colonial Attitudes Towards the Indian Question, 1860-1890’, Historia 57, no. 2, November 2012, pp. 55-7. 2 Johan Wassermann, A Man for All Seasons: Mohandas Gandhi, Voortrekker Museum, Series no. 2, no date, pp. 12-13. The Act confirmed Ordinance 29 of the Transvaal (1906). See also: Elise Guyette, ‘Gandhi in South Africa: A Teacher’s Guide’, in inclusions : Laws Relating to the Immigration of Asians to South Africa and Controlling Their Movement in the Country, sponsored by Communications Department, Durban City Council.


Scott Everett Couper

meeting at the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg to vow to resist the Act non-violently.3 The Act required Transvaal Indians (and Chinese) to register their identities with the government, submitting themselves for fingerprinting as was often required of criminals. Other race-based laws prohibiting the immigration of Indians to the Transvaal (1907), delegitimizing Hindu, Muslim or Parsee marriages (1913), interfering with Asian trading and imposing a three pound head tax for ex-indentured Indians spurred continued resistance.4 Mohandas Gandhi’s defiance campaigns manifested themselves in non-violent public protests against racial laws. For example, on 18 August 1908, Gandhi led a campaign whereby protesters publicly burnt 2,000 registration passes. These campaigns courted mass arrest and sought two objectives: to attract attention (public support) and to saturate the legal system (cases in court), and infrastructure (prisons), thus rendering a change of heart and/ or a realization that the race-based legislation was unenforceable. This resistance to, or non-cooperation with, the Black Act and other racist laws catalyzed the birth of ‘Satyagraha’.5 Satyagraha not only sought to transform the will of the oppressor, it sought to transform the psychology of the oppressed, morally strengthening them by turning racial and cultural symbols of shame into ‘badges of honour’.6 Just as followers of Jesus of Nazareth converted the demoralizing cross into a symbol of hope for both Jews and Roman soldiers and just as Steve Biko re-conceptualized blackness for Blacks so as to engender a greater sense of reciprocity between the races, so Mohandas Gandhi intended with Satyagraha to transform 3 Gail Presbey, ‘Evaluating the Legacy of Non-violence in South Africa’, Peace & Change 31, no. 2, April 2006, pp. 149 and 171, fn. 29. Presbey cites: Mohandas K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa: Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, 5th rev. edn., Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishers, 2001, pp. 2, 48-9. 4 Transvaal Immigration Restriction Act, no. 15, 1907 and the Immigrants Regulation Act of the Union of South Africa, 1913. 5 A. J. Parel, ‘The Origins of Hind Swaraj’, in Gandhi and South Africa: Principles and Politics, ed. Judith Brown and Martin Prozesky, Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 1996, p. 41. 6 Judith Brown, ‘The Making of a Critical Outsider’ in Gandhi and South Africa: Principles and Politics, ed. Judith Brown and Martin Prozesky, Scottsville: University of Natal Press, 1966, p. 29.

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


both protagonist and antagonist for the better, improving the morals, characters and actions of all.7 Mohandas Gandhi explained that Satyagraha ‘is a method of securing rights by personal suffering[;] it is the reverse of resistance by arms’ (author’s emphasis).8 Satyagraha is often translated as ‘Soul’ or ‘Truth Force’, ‘grasping onto principles’, ‘passive resistance’ or ‘force that comes from truth, love and non-violence’. Satyagraha, Ahimsa (Abstention from Killing) and Sarvodaya (Welfare of All) form the ‘Gandhian Trinity’ and each defines the others. While the definition of Satyagraha may be broad, open to limited exegetical interpretation and encompass a variety of political and social action, the philosophy implemented, at a minimum, is restricted to actions that do not physically harm others. A sober interpretation of Satyagraha is that it includes pacifist ideals, that is, it ‘opposes military ideals, war or military preparedness and requires that disputes be settled by arbitration’ and thus in a non-violent manner.9 Mark Juergensmeyer began his book on Mohandas Gandhi’s method of conflict resolution by stating, ‘The basic idea of Gandhi’s approach to fighting is to redirect the focus of a fight from persons I capitalize proper nouns (‘a White’ or ‘Blacks’) and do not capitalize adjectives (‘white supremacy’ or ‘black students’). 8 Gandhi Development Trust, ‘2012 International Day of Non-Violence: Quote’, www.gdt.org.za/current/ , accessed 9 January 2013, p. 2. 9 ‘Satyagrahi’ is singular and ‘satyagrahis’ is plural for a practitioner of Satyagraha. A Satyagrahi is not necessarily a ‘pacifist’ in the absolutist sense (it is often incorrectly assumed that a ‘pacifist’ is one that objects to violence in all circumstances despite there being varying degrees of ‘pacifism’). One who subscribes to Satyagraha may permit the use of violent force to protect oneself from an individual criminal attack but prohibits force to resolve societal or governmental conflicts that require intentional and coordinated responses. For example, on more than one occasion Albert Luthuli declared emphatically that he was not a pacifist, though within the South African political context in the 1950s and 1960s he articulated a pacifist position. 7

For more on Luthuli not being a pacifist see: Gerald Pillay, ed., Voices of Liberation: Albert Luthuli, 2nd rev. edn., Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council Press, 2012, p. 144; Charles Hooper, Sechaba, ‘Letter to the S.A. Press’, October 1967, p. 7; Cape Argus, ‘Luthuli Proud – But with a New Burden’, 24 October 1961; The Star, ‘Added Burden upon People of Liberation Movement’, 24 October 1961.The theoretical difference between a satyagrahi who is not an ‘absolute pacifist’ and an ‘absolute pacifist’ may lie in immediacy


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to principles’.10 Gandhi used the word Himsa, Sanskrit for ‘desire to harm’, for the word ‘violence’. The definition of Ahimsa (nonviolence) therefore is deeper than action and articulates an emotive intention not to violate physically, mentally or emotionally, the integrity of another.11 Therefore, a more conservative Gandhian interpretation of Satyagraha does not even permit ‘coercion’ for coercion is the act of compelling one to do something against his or her will, thus forcing them to capitulate.12 This did not mean that Gandhi avoided conflict or was ‘passive’. Far from it. Gandhi chronically engaged in conflict. However, the method of conflict had to gain the antagonist’s attention, convince and engender a changed behaviour in accordance with a new will. Therefore, Gandhi advocated non-cooperative methods such as

of the situation and whether a rational response can be discerned. As the next paragraph will make clear, Satyagraha focuses on principles. Therefore, an act of violence that, to the protagonist, is spontaneous, immediate and irrational (such as a home intruder physically attacking the owner with a knife) can only be resolved by confronting the antagonist with force and not with abstract principles or thought-engaging actions of protest. There is an anomalous 1961 statement wherein Albert Luthuli seems to articulate an absolute pacifist position. Luthuli wrote: ‘I firmly believe in non-violence. It is the only correct form which our struggle can take in South Africa. Both from the moral and the practical point of view. . . . To refrain from violence is the sign of civilized man . . . we must see to it that we do not create situations where others, rightly or wrongly, for whatever reason, will declare it necessary to use violence against us . . . let us remember that to create situations where violence becomes inevitable makes one a sponsor– intentional or not – of violence’. Albert Luthuli, Golden City Post, ‘Why I Believe in Non-Violence’, 28 May 1961. 10 Mark Juergensmeyer, Gandhi’s Way: A Handbook of Conflict Resolution, Berkley: University of California Press, 1984, p. 3. In this article, Juergensmeyer’s book is frequently cited because his purpose matches closely the objectives of Gandhi Development Trust (GDT) referred to later in this article. That is, the text is a ‘handbook for conflict resolution’. Juergensmeyer thus serves as an indirect critique of GDT’s ‘dilution’ of Satyagraha by its selection of recipients of the ‘Satyagraha Award’. The text is especially useful in that it is like this paper, historical, philosophical and practical. 11 Juergensmeyer, Gandhi’s Way, pp. 27-8. Although, as stated earlier, another valid definition of Ahimsa is ‘Abstention from Killing’ which is different than ‘Abstention from Violence’. 12 Juergensmeyer, Gandhi’s Way, pp. 28-9.

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


strikes, boycotts and protests that ‘pressured’ for a changed will. One can understandably discern, though Gandhi certainly did not, that the prosecution of non-violent ‘strikes’ is synonymous with implementing non-violent acts of ‘sabotage’ as both are means intended to change the antagonist’s will. However, a Gandhian interpretation of Satyagraha would not countenance this liberal perspective that allows for the use of ‘sabotage’, or the physical harm of inanimate objects, because such action would constitute coercion and in practice would inevitably lead to loss of life.13 When one parses the myriad of definitions, one can easily fail to distinguish between a permitted ‘pressure’ or ‘force’ from an unpermitted ‘coercion’. Within much Gandhian literature, even non-violent words are defined using violent terms, making nuanced meanings of Satyagraha dizzying. For example, Phoenix 13 Prudently, MK forbid or discouraged the loss of life. From 1961 to 1964, sabotage efforts resulted in the loss of at least four lives. A MK saboteur, Petrus Molefe, died setting explosives on 16 December 1961. Another operative, Ed Dube, also accidently ‘blew himself up’ on 16 December 1961. Bernard Magubane, Philip Bonner, Jabulani Sithole, Peter Delius, Janet Cherry, Pat Gibbs and Thozama April (South African Democracy Education Trust, SADET), ‘The Turn to Armed Struggle’, in The Road to Democracy in South Africa, 1960-1970, Cape Town: Zebra Press, 2004, 1: p. 91. In one botched assassination attempt, MK accidently caused the death of a fourteen year old girl in East London on 11 December 1962. A suspected collaborator, Sipho Mange, was assassinated in Port Elizabeth on 12 January 1964. Janet Cherry, Umkhonto we Sizwe: Johannesburg: Jacana Media, 2011, p. 24. In at least one instance, MK saboteurs disobeyed the order to preserve life. Bobby Pillay acknowledged that his team acted against instructions not to cause loss of life. They decided to bomb a train and placed a bomb underneath an old black man. Pillay wrote relieved, ‘Thanks God it did not go off ’ (sic). Bobby Pillay, ‘How MK Grew’, Dawn: Journal of Umkhonto we Sizwe: Souvenir Issue, 25th Anniversary of MK, 1986, p. 20. Sabotage attracts a violent response and the reprisals on both sides cause a loss of control over the conflict. As Nelson Mandela stated, ‘We were embarking on a new and more dangerous path, a path of organised violence, the results of which we did not and could not know . . . Death in war is unfortunate, but unavoidable’. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, London: Abacus, 1995, pp. 324 and 338. ‘. . . and casualties – you can’t avoid casualties when you are starting a new method of political activity’. Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself, London: Macmillan, 2010, p. 79.


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Settlement identified Satyagraha as ‘a weapon of resistance’ (author’s emphasis).14 Euphemisms with violent connotations also abound when speaking about Albert Luthuli (c.1898-1967), the first African Nobel Peace Prize winner (1960), often described, even by himself, as ‘militant’. In a full-page special tribute to Luthuli, he is headlined as a ‘Foot Soldier’ despite the fact that Luthuli never was a ‘soldier’ (in the literal sense, let alone a ‘foot soldier’, or underling) and advocated for exclusive non-violent methods to subvert the Nationalist Party’s white supremacist rule (Apartheid).15 While not the subject of this article, language itself, especially the English language as a second or third language to most South Africans, can be considered a contributing factor to the dilution of allegiance to Satyagraha in South Africa when non-violent actions and or proponents are described using violent terms. The definition of ‘violence’ itself is very much open to interpretation. As theory, Mohandas Gandhi’s definition of Satyagraha is almost impossibly strict to fully comprehend, let alone implement; it is therefore an unattainable ideal for which to strive. According to Gandhi, violence can manifest itself as thought alone through an ‘emotive intention’. Likewise, ‘violence’ in the broadest sense of the word is a concept too vast around which to The ANC dispensed with the distinction between hard (military) and soft (civilian) targets at the June 1985 Kabwe Conference. It must also be noted that most of the retaliatory violence committed by the ANC during the liberation struggle was not directed against the government of South Africa, be it against its military or security forces. Rather, most acts of violence were perpetrated by MK or ‘people’s self-defense units’ against the ANC’s political rivals such as Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Azanians People’s Organisation (AZAPO), Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), various Black Consciousness organisations (BC), homeland officials and civil servants and civilians who for one reason or another did not adhere to boycotts and strikes and thus were seen as collaborators. Violence against policemen and their families, councilors, warlords and askaris (those who have been turned into Apartheid spies) were viewed as legitimate targets, often killed by being ‘necklaced’ (burnt alive with petrol-filled tires). 14 Trustees of Phoenix Settlement, ‘Phoenix Settlement’ brochure and event programme, April 2004, back cover. 15 The Mercury, ‘A Giant and a Foot Soldier: Chief Albert Luthuli’, special insert, n.d., pp. 1-12.

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


articulate a single thesis. Contemporary definitions of violence allow for its affliction through deprivations of emotion, nutrition and education. In addition, it must be acknowledged that Gandhi’s philosophies and the political strategies (including Satyagraha) were themselves not static; Gandhi’s thought was evolutionary. Due to the broad and evolutionary interpretations of Satyagraha and ‘violence’, this article’s thesis must be predicated on only the ‘lowest common denominator’ of each definition thus not subjecting it to endless and futile debate. This article’s thesis is not strictly predicated on the nuances of what Mohandas Gandhi understood to be Satyagraha or to what technically constitutes ‘violence’ according to modern psycho-social and theological philosophy. Therefore, for the intent and purpose of this article, the definition of Satyagraha (non-violent resistance) is restricted to ‘tactics of opposition that do not physically harm other human beings through physical force’ despite the fact that Gandhi’s understanding of Satyagraha was far more broad and therefore puritanical and many readers’ definition of ‘violence’ would understandably be far more inclusive. For Mohandas Gandhi and likeminded satyagrahis, perhaps what is most defining about Satyagraha was that its advocacy and practice was not based upon or determined by its immediate practical efficacy. In other words, that Satyagraha often, usually and/ or always failed in the short or medium term did not delegitimize its choice as a method of resistance. No amount of failures or setbacks justified recourse to violent political tactics, reasoned Gandhi, because ‘If we take care of the means, sooner or later we are bound to reach the ends’.16 In other words, as important as the end result is the method of attaining it. Gandhi said of his satyagrahis, ‘One single act of violence . . . would have lost their cause’.17 Ethically, Gandhi understood that the ‘means must justify the ends’. Juergensmeyer, Gandhi’s Way, pp. 38 and 161. Juergensmeyer cites: Yeravda Mandir, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1945, p. 9. 17 Juergensmeyer, Gandhi’s Way, pp. 27 and 161. Juergensmeyer cites: Young India, 16 August 1928. 16


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Your belief that there is no connection between the means and the end is a great mistake. Through that mistake even men who have been considered religious have committed grievous crimes. The means may be likened to a seed, then end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree. . . .’18

According to Gandhi, the weapon (the means) is the goal itself (the end) just as ‘the field of battle is in our own body’.19 Juergensmeyer argued, ‘Non-violence, according to Gandhi, is the litmus test of truth . . . [therefore] violence is very close to being the same thing as untruth’.20 Hence, as was quoted earlier, Satyagraha is the ‘reverse’ of resistance by arms. Also worth noting is that this article understands that one cannot have an allegiance to non-violence and implement both non-violent and violent methods, simultaneously. One can not, by definition, be a satyagrahi and a pursuer of an armed struggle. Many of those who justify the armed struggle indicate that non-violent methods were not abandoned. However, the implementation of non-violent methods while simultaneously perusing violent methods does not make one a satyagrahi. The two concepts are contradictions; as stated earlier, they are in Mohandas Gandhi’s thought ‘the reverse’. Hence, this article does not subscribe to a perspective whereby ‘because non-violent methods are utilized in conjunction with violent methods’ [the African National Congress’ (ANC) Four Pillars of the liberation struggle] therefore ‘non-violent

‘2005 Awards: Quote’, Gandhi Development Trust, p. 1. h t t p : / / w w w. g d t . o r g . z a / c u r r e n t / i n d e x . p h p ? o p t i o n = c o m _ content&view=article&id=59%..., accessed 27 January 2013. 19 Juergensmeyer, Gandhi’s Way, pp. 38, 16 and 160. Juergensmeyer cites: Young India, 5 November 1919. The genius of Joseph Lelyveld can be found in the subtitle of his biography on Gandhi: ‘Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India’. The title could have easily been ‘ . . . His Struggle against Imperialism’ or similar. However, Lelyveld understood that for Gandhi the struggle against an antagonist is actually the struggle of and within the protagonist, in ‘the body’ or in ‘the people’ or ‘in the country’, India itself. See Joseph Lelyveld, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, New York: Alfred Knoph, 2011. 20 Juergensmeyer, Gandhi’s Way, p. 27. 18

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


methods have not been abandoned’.21 Neither the desire for or preference of non-violent methods nor the utilisation of violent methods to obtain a non-violent ‘peace’ qualify one as a practitioner of Satyagraha.22 POST-GANDHIAN SATYAGRAHAIN SOUTH AFRICA Satyagraha did not ultimately prove to be effective against white supremacist rule during Mohandas Gandhi’s time in South Africa. Joseph Lelyveld chronicles the practical failure of Satyagraha in his book Great Soul: ‘Nearly five years after the start of Satyagraha, [Gandhi] had nothing to show of the resistance his leadership had inspired. . . . The world had fleetingly taken notice. . . . The situation of Indians in South Africa got worse, not better, after he The four pillars are commonly understood to be: armed struggle, mass mobilisation, viable political underground and international isolation of Apartheid. For the ANC, violence and negotiations were imbricated and utilised in tandem to mutually reinforce the other. In August 1990, the government and the ANC signed the Pretoria Minute (affirming much of the Groote Schuur Minute) which suspended armed attacks by MK. However, combatants remained prepared to resume conflict if needed well into the early 1990s (e.g. Operation Vula, for Vulindlela or ‘Open the Way’). Though suspended, MK operatives were active in newly formed self-defense units (SDUs) from late 1990. 22 An example of this confused manner of thinking can be found in Nelson Mandela’s Umkhonto we Sizwe Manifesto wherein he states initially that ‘The methods of Umkhonto we Sizwe mark a break with that past [non-violent policy]’ while later stating ‘We of Umkhonto we Sizwe have always sought – as the liberation movement has sought – to achieve liberation without bloodshed and civil clash. We do so still’. The above quotes demonstrate that the use of violence cannot constitute a ‘break’ from non-violence and be coterminous with it. MK’s very nature as an army in action contradicts Mandela’s claim that it seeks ‘to achieve liberation without bloodshed and civil clash’. It is true that members of MK sought, past tense, ‘to achieve liberation without bloodshed . . . ’. Barry Feinberg and André Odendaal, eds., Nelson Mandela: The Struggle Is My Life, His Speeches & Writings 1944-1990, rev. ed. Cape Town: David Philip, 1994, p. 123. By this coterminous logic, even National Socialism in Germany that sought the annexation of Czechoslovakia through peaceful means can be considered a practitioner of non-violent methods. Many who pursue violence will initially choose, if able, non-violent methods to obtain that which they desire. 21


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turned his attention to India. They were no better than second-class citizens and often less than that. Under Apartheid, Indians were more ghettoised and segregated than ever before. . . .’23 The South African Prime Minister, Jan Smuts, and the white parliament repeatedly ‘outmaneuvered’ Gandhi’s brinkmanship, negotiation and Satyagraha campaigns.24 Nonetheless, Gandhi believed he had composed its theory and practice sufficiently to wage a national campaign for home rule in India (Swaraj). In 1914, Gandhi departed South Africa, spent time in England, returned to India in 1915 and toured India in 1916. He began implementing Satyagraha with indigo farmers in 1917, with mill workers and farmers in 1918 and initiated the first national campaign against repressive legislation in 1919. This 1919 campaign was suspended due to outbreaks of violence. In South Africa, the embers of Satyagraha glowed dimly after Mohandas Gandhi’s departure. Though Indians and Blacks occasionally intersected in opposition to white supremacy, their cooperation was limited as the two groups understood their rights as distinct and even in competition. For example, despite the fact that the Reverend John Dube (1871-1946), an ordained Congregational minister and first President of the ANC from 1912 to 1917, and Gandhi were contemporaries living and working within kilometres of each other, their substantive cooperation, if any, is undocumented. In her book First President, Heather Hughes casts doubt on the mythology that Dube and Gandhi directly crossfertilized despite their parallel philosophies and communities’ close proximity to each other.25 Both Dube and Gandhi emphasized their own race in their advocacy efforts. Joseph Lelyveld sketches the reasons for the lack of cooperation between Indians and Blacks: Mohandas Gandhi’s latent racism, Blacks’ understanding that Indians along with Whites were also their oppressors and actual violence between the two races in January 1949 when many Indians were attacked by Zulus in Durban.26 Lelyveld, Great Soul, pp. 99, 130. Ibid., p. 99. 25 Heather Hughes, First President: A Life of John L. Dube, Founding President of the ANC, Auckland Park: Jacana, 2011, pp. 109-10. 26 Lelyveld, Great Soul, pp. 70-5. 23 24

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


Yet, an early lack of direct collaboration between Indians and Blacks did not mean that the black nationalist movement was not influenced by Gandhi’s Satyagraha campaigns. The ANC, formed in 1912, was modelled after Gandhi’s Indian Congress of Natal.27 There is evidence that non-violent demonstrations of Indians’ resistance impressed Dube. In late 1913, Dube witnessed an event in Phoenix that moved him. About five hundred Indians were sitting together in a group. They had come there after going on a strike in their factory. They were surrounded by white managers, their staff and white police. . . . Whiplashes began to descend on the backs of the Indians sitting there, in quick rapidity, without stop. The Whites beat them with lathis and said, ‘Get up, do your work. Will you do your duty or not?’ But nobody rose. They sat, quite motionless. . . . When the whips and lathis failed, gun butts came to be used.28

Gandhi was impressed with a speech Dube delivered in 1905, and stated that Dube was a leader ‘of whom one should know’.29 Though there may have been a lack of direct contact, most histories affirm that Gandhi influenced the early ANC, which Dube led as its first president, and until 1961 the ANC only utilized non-violent methods. The Gandhi Committee, described as ‘custodians of the legacy of Tolstoy Farm’, produced a children’s educational comic book that in one imagined narrative highlights the link between Mohandas Gandhi and the ANC.30 The narrative portrays John Dube in March 1919 declaring to some of his ANC colleagues, ‘Well, the From its founding in 1912 until 1923, the African National Congress was originally named the South African Native National Congress (SANNC). 28 Lelyveld, Great Soul, pp. 73 and 367. Lelyveld cites: Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, File 1262/203, 3984, HIST/1983/14. 29 Hughes, First President, pp. 113 and 281. Hughes cites: Enuga Reddy’s translation of an Indian Opinion article dated 2 September 1905. 30 Mahatma Gandhi Satabdi Samiti (MGSS) also sponsored the publication. MGSS was established in 1969 and is based in Johannesburg. MGSS organize yearly Eisteddfod to promote arts and culture. Competitions in speech, drama, dance and music are all done in honour of Mohandas Gandhi. See also: Sashini Pather, Sunday Times, ‘Gandhi, the Comic Hero: New Strategy to Teach Apathetic South African Youth about the Great People of Their History’, 17 October 2004, p. 3 (Extra News). 27


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ANC’s approach to resistance has certainly been influenced by [Gandhi’s] ideas’.31 The narration of Gandhi’s struggle in South Africa concludes with Dube’s colleague replying, ‘I’m impressed. Peaceful protest can bring about political and social change’. To which Dube replies, ‘Yes, and his methods seem to be working in India too’.32 As a disciple of the moderate Booker T. Washington and as a minister of religion, John Dube did not philosophically or theologically advocate violence. Due in part to pacifist Leo Tolstoy’s influence and Hindu sacred scripture (Bhagavad Gita), Mohandas Gandhi also did not countenance violence. It is true that both Gandhi and Dube advocated non-violent methods to achieve political rights, it is also true that violent options were not realistic. In the wake of the brutal crushing of the Bhambatha Uprising (1906), it is anachronistic to suggest that there was even a debate as to ‘whether’ violent strategies or non-violent strategies should be employed to procure political rights for Blacks or Indians; such a debate did not exist in South Africa before the 1950s.33 A realistic violent strategy could not be envisioned for either the Blacks (Dube) or Indians (Gandhi) against a heavily-armed white state.34 Because of a lack of viable violent alternatives, both Gandhi’s and Dube’s programmes of resistance included ‘non-violence’ by strategic default. The difference between the non-violence of the two may have been that Gandhi viewed non-violence as the only efficacious offensive strategy, whereas Dube viewed non-violence defensively, to avoid slaughter. In 1930, long after John Dube’s tenure as its President, the ANC re-enacted Gandhi’s 1908 non-violent protest of the Pass Gandhi Committee, ‘Gandhi in South Africa’, no date, p. 1. Gandhi Committee, ‘Gandhi in South Africa’, p. 19. The imagined dialogue took place in 1919 and India did not win its independence until 1947 (28 years later). The statement by John Dube justifies Gandhi’s persistent advocacy of non-violent tactics by highlighting the long term efficacy of Satyagraha despite its short and medium term failures. 33 Nelson Mandela disclosed ‘The debate on the use of violence had been going on among us since early 1960. I had first discussed the armed struggle as far back as 1952 with Walter Sisulu’. Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, p. 320. 34 Albert Luthuli often characterized the South Africa majority taking up arms against the minority as ‘suicide’. Pillay, Voices of Liberation, p. 141. 31


‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


Laws. The campaign failed due to inadequate participation and a violent response by the government.35 In 1939, Yusuf Dadoo and others within the Transvaal Indian Congress planned passive resistance campaigns against the Asiatic Land Tenure Act that were later aborted.36 Dadoo and others, such as Monty Naicker, again led passive resistance campaigns from 1946 to 1948 against discriminatory legislation. In 1952, Satyagraha possibly resurfaced when the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) and the ANC partnered in a campaign called the Defiance Campaign of Unjust Laws otherwise known as the Defiance Campaign.37 During the Defiance Campaign, non-violent strategies ceased to become a ‘defensive’ necessity for both Indians and Blacks. With the Defiance Campaign, non-violent strategies could be characterized as ‘offensive’. ALBERT LUTHULI Like John Dube, Albert Luthuli perceived wisdom in Mohandas Gandhi and his strategies. Luthuli is, arguably, South Africa’s most prominent black African satyagrahi. His pedigree as an advocate for non-violent resistance is long and consistent. Luthuli travelled to Tambaram, India in 1938 for the International Missionary Conference. If Luthuli had not previously been exposed to Gandhi’s philosophy, the conference on the eve of World War II no doubt exposed him to Gandhi’s biography and his tactical example. The trip engendered for him ‘wider sympathies and wider horizons’.38 In 1948, Luthuli travelled to the United States and spoke on behalf of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Society in Washington, D.C. In his address, Luthuli spoke of his admiration of Dube and Gandhi. He affirmed ‘the dignity of man and the efficacy Presbey, ‘Evaluating the Legacy of Nonviolence in South Africa’, p. 150. Wikipedia, ‘Yusuf Dadoo’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yusuf_Dadoo, accessed 14 May 2013, p. 2. 37 This campaign is also known as the ‘Campaign for the Repeal of Discriminatory Legislation’. There is debate as to whether even the Defiance Campaign can be considered Satyagraha in the Gandhian sense as it did not have the spiritual underpinnings that Mohandas Gandhi envisioned and required. 38 Albert Luthuli, Let My People Go: The Autobiography of Albert Luthuli Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Cape Town: Tafelberg Publishers, 2006, p. 70. 35 36


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of non-violence as an instrument of struggle in seeking freedom for our oppressed people’.39 Luthuli praised Gandhi’s teachings and pleaded that ‘those so inspired by [Gandhi’s] philosophy become his undaunted disciples’.40 Two of the most famous images of Luthuli capture him at his desk reading Gandhi’s Non-Violence in Peace and War and in repose on a sofa reading Gandhi’s Autobiography.41 Luthuli very much followed in the footsteps of the elder statesman Dube. They were both born and bred in the bosom of the American Board of Foreign Missions. Both had strong connections to Inanda Seminary and Adams College. Both led the ANC in Natal and nationally, and subscribed to its non-violent methods of appeals to the white supremacist government. Both operated as leaders within domestic and international multi-racial missiological orbits. Most of Luthuli’s ANC colleagues, particularly in Natal, were like Dube with strong amaKholwa (Christian) backgrounds and thus advocated non-violence. In June 1952, the ANC and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) launched the Defiance Campaign. The Campaign demonstrated opposition to South Africa’s 300-year anniversary celebration of Jan van Riebeek’s arrival at the Cape in 1652. The Campaign utilized ‘textbook’ Satyagraha tactics, undoubtedly influenced by the SAIC and its Gandhian adherents. The Campaign sought to overwhelm the South African judicial and criminal justice systems by swamping them with volunteers arrested for violating petty Apartheid laws. The objective was to create a public relations crisis for the National Party by forcing its realization that Apartheid’s segregating restrictions were unenforceable. For the public relations coup to occur, volunteers had to remain non-violent in the face of abuse and unrest. The willingness of volunteers to accept arrest would demonstrate that the satyagrahis were not ‘criminals’ and the laws were unjust. Should volunteers avoid 39 Scott Couper, Albert Luthuli: Bound by Faith, Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2010, pp. 50, 242. Couper cites: Luthuli Museum, [Mahatma Gandhi] Memorial on the Occasion of the Centenary Celebrations of [Howard University], original handwritten draft, 1948, pp. 3-4. 40 Couper, Albert Luthuli, pp. 50, 242. Couper cites: Luthuli Museum, [Mahatma Gandhi] Memorial, pp. 3-4. 41 Both images are part of the Bailey’s African Photo Archives (DRUM) collection located in Johannesburg.

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


arrest by passively dispersing, the courts and prisons would not be flooded and the Campaign would fail. Should volunteers respond with violence, they would then lose the moral high ground in the eyes of an already biased white press and populace. Although initially holding an Africanist perspective that precluded cooperation with Communists and other race groups such as Indians, Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) was persuaded by the then ANC leader, James Moroka, to support the Campaign and be its Volunteer-in-Chief. Albert Luthuli, who had recently been elected President of the Natal branch of the ANC, led the effort in that province. Mary Benson recorded Masabalala Yengwa’s recollection of how Luthuli met with his lieutenants, advising them that ‘they would be calling upon people to make very important demonstrations’. Unless they were ‘sure of the road ahead and prepared to travel along it [them]selves, they had no right to call on others to do the same’.42 They all stated they were prepared, and Luthuli prayed. More than 7,500 volunteers were arrested during the Campaign that lasted until January 1953.43 The Campaign was eventually called off due to the eruption of violence and the adoption of legislation such as the Criminal Law Amendment Act and the Public Safety Act that banned such civil disobedience and threatened the leaders that advocated and organized it. In the wake of the Defiance Campaign, the government dismissed Albert Luthuli from his chieftaincy in the village of Groutville. In response, Luthuli preached a sermon on 9 November 1952 at Adams College, entitled ‘Christian Life: A Constant Venture’, upon which his famous statement, ‘The Road to Freedom Is via the Cross’, is based.44 Using a biblical narrative, from Luke, Chapter 5, wherein the disciples fish all night without catching anything, he advocated that current efforts to establish justice must 42 Mary Benson, The Struggle for a Birthright, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1966, p. 144. 43 Michael Moris, Every Step of the Way: The Journey to Freedom in South Africa, Cape Town: Human Sciences Research Council Press, 2004, p. 167. 44 Albert Luthuli wrote the statement six days after he preached the sermon. See also: Scott Couper, ‘When Chief Albert Luthuli Launched “Into the Deep”: A Theological Reflection on a Homiletic Resource of Political Significance’, Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, no. 130, March 2008, pp. 76-89 and pp. 108-111.


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be continued despite the seeming futility of past efforts.45 In his sermon, Luthuli worried about those who are often ‘paralyzed or discouraged with [their] failures’. Luthuli preached that it is only in ‘complete obedience’ that one moves forward, notwithstanding the daunting future. The political sequel to the homiletic address was the announcement released by the ANC and the Natal Indian Congress that he was ‘launching into the deep’ by devoting himself entirely to the liberation struggle. Through the ANC, Luthuli believed he could best manifest his spiritual convictions. His political statement mirrored his sermon: He was not changing tactics; rather, he was immersing himself further. The statement and its title affirm that through trial and suffering, liberation would be wrought. Luthuli emphatically declared: I have embraced the Non-Violent Passive Resistance technique in fighting for freedom because I am convinced it is the only non-revolutionary, legitimate and humane way that could be used by people denied, as we are, effective constitutional means to further our aspirations (author’s emphasis).46

Luthuli is obstinate in his advocacy for non-violent methods despite the fact that earlier in his statement he asked:

In so far as gaining citizenship rights and opportunities for the unfettered development of the African people, who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately and modestly at a closed and barred door? What have been the fruits of my many years of moderation? Has there been any reciprocal tolerance or moderation from the government . . . No!47

Yet, Luthuli continued: It is with this background and with a full sense of responsibility that, under the auspices of the African National Congress (Natal), I have joined my people in the new spirit that moves them today, the spirit that revolts openly and boldly against injustice and expresses itself in a determined non-violent manner.48 Luke 5:1-11, text verse 4: ‘And when [Jesus] had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch’. And Simon answered, ‘Master, we have toiled all night and took nothing! But, at your word, I will let down the nets’ (Revised Standard Version). 46 Luthuli, Let My People Go, p. 235. 47 Ibid., p. 233. 48 Ibid. 45

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


Like Mohandas Gandhi, Luthuli advocated a non-violent policy that was not predicated on prior effectiveness. Luthuli’s Christocentric worldview wherein a non-violent struggle resulted in a sacrificial death and ultimate liberation fused easily with a Gandhian worldview wherein the purist goals could ‘never justify impure or violent action’.49 Soon after the Defiance Campaign and the release of his ‘The Road to Freedom’ statement, Albert Luthuli was catapulted to the leadership of the national ANC in December 1952. Luthuli’s election was due in large part to the contrast made between his statement and the behaviour of his predecessor, James Moroka, whose shameful avoidance of incarceration at the expense of his co-accused during his trial following the Defiance Campaign left many displeased. Luthuli led the ANC’s non-violent struggle throughout the rest of the 1950s. For example, in September 1954 Luthuli ‘called for the enrollment of fifty thousand ‘Freedom Volunteers’, in the spirit of the Defiance Campaign. The call for Freedom Volunteers harkened back to Gandhi’s call for satyagrahis. Luthuli enjoined his followers: ‘. . . to respect the policy of nonviolence wisely adopted by our Congresses. Non-violent resistance in any provocative situation is our best instrument. Our strongest weapon is to acquaint our people and the world with the facts of our situation.’50 Luthuli led the ANC during its co-sponsorship of the Congress of the People in June 1955 where the Freedom Charter was drafted. In December 1956, the State arrested Luthuli and 155 co-accused and tried them for high treason in what became known as the Treason Trial. What ultimately led to the 1961 acquittal of all the accused was the testimony and evidence that consistently held that the liberation movement intentionally applied non-violent tactics in its quest for equal rights. Luthuli testified: . . . as far as the Congress is concerned, in the circumstances that obtain definitely we are for non-violence. When it comes to a personal level, as 49 Juergensmeyer, Gandhi’s Way, pp. 39 and 161. Juergensmeyer cites: Young India, 18 December 1924. 50 Couper, Albert Luthuli, pp. 67, 244. Couper cites: Gerald Pillay, ed., Voices of Liberation: Albert Luthuli, Pretoria: Human Sciences Resources Council Press, 1993, p. 1: 80.


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to whether at any time one would, I would say that if conditions are as they are, I would never be a party to the use of violence because I think it would be almost national suicide . . . because of my Christian leanings I would hesitate to be a party to violence. . . . 51

In addition to being subjected to numerous bannings, Luthuli himself was physically assaulted by a group of white supremacists while giving an address in August 1958. After a severe beating, undeterred, Luthuli resumed his speech hoping that Blacks’ amity would not change to enmity. The 1960 Nobel Peace Prize represented Albert Luthuli’s penultimate achievement, an honour not even Mohandas Gandhi received. Luthuli’s Peace Prize was awarded specifically for his non-violent stance in resistance to Apartheid.52 On 10 December 1961 in Oslo, Norway, Luthuli accepted the award on behalf of the ANC and the wider liberation movement, and not for himself personally.53 This contradicts the nationalist mythology that Luthuli was aware of and supported the launch of Umkhonto we Sizwe (‘Spear of the Nation’ or MK).54 The Nobel Committee’s Chairperson, Gunnar Jahn, in his introduction of Luthuli confirmed to Luthuli that the Prize was awarded due to his past, present and future non-violent stance. 51 Couper, Albert Luthuli, pp. 93, 247. Couper cites: Pillay, Voices of Liberation, 1993, pp. 1: 152, 163. 52 In contrast, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts of reconciliation and negotiating a peaceful transition, not for non-violent resistance to Apartheid or opposing the liberation movement without resorting to military force, respectively. 53 The Nobel Committee only announced Albert Luthuli as the winner of the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize in October 1961. 54 Albert Luthuli was aware of the formation (not launch) of MK as the Joint Congresses agreed in mid-1961 to not discipline Nelson Mandela, should he form an armed movement. Mandela could organize so that in the event that a strategic cul de sac was reached, the liberation movement might at least be more prepared for armed conflict. It was also agreed that MK was not to be associated with the ANC; nonetheless MK would remain subservient to the ANC and thus to its political stratagems. By launching MK without Luthuli’s knowledge or the ANC’s permission, Mandela superseded his mandate to only form (or organize) MK and proved insubordinate by not adhering to the agreement establishing the ANC’s (and thus Luthuli as its President-General) suzerainty over MK.

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


Never has [Luthuli] succumbed to the temptation to use violent means in the struggle for his people. Nothing has shaken him from this firm resolve, so firmly rooted in his conviction that violence and terror must not be employed. . . . Well might we ask: will the non-whites of South Africa, by their suffering, their humiliation and their patience, show the other nations of the world that human rights can be won without violence, by following a road to which we Europeans have committed both intellectually and emotionally, but which we have all too often abandoned? If the non-white people of South Africa ever lift themselves from their humiliation without resorting to violence and terror, then it will be above all because of the work of Luthuli, their fearless and incorruptible leader who, thanks to his own high ethical standards, has rallied his people in support of this policy, and who throughout his adult life has staked everything and suffered everything without bitterness and without allowing hatred and aggression to replace his abiding love of his fellow men. But if the day should come when the struggle of the non-whites in South Africa to win their freedom denigrates into bloody slaughter, then Luthuli’s voice will be heard no more. But let us remember him then and never forget that his way was unwavering and clear. He would not have had it so (author’s emphasis).55

To the press in Oslo, Albert Luthuli explicitly, repeatedly and consistently advocated the use of non-violent methods as a means by which to achieve liberation for all people of colour. Again and again, Luthuli belaboured non-violent tactics during his Norwegian visit. Various newspapers quoted Luthuli’s unambiguous stance, highlighting that though Luthuli recognized efforts in the past had not produced reward he and ‘responsible persons’ in the ANC held fast to Gandhian methods of non-violent resistance. Because of the Apartheid government’s intransigence, Luthuli warned that his ability to effectively advocate for non-violent methods might be undermined by his less patient and more militant lieutenants. 7 December 1961

9 December 1961

. . . even today it would be possible for white and coloured people to live peacefully together in South Africa.56 There was no animosity on the part of non-Whites in South Africa. The longer the suppression lasts,

Kader Asmal, David Chidester and Wilmot James, eds., South Africa’s Nobel Laureates: Peace, Literature and Science, Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 2004, pp. 20-1. 56 The Star, ‘Luthuli Suffering from Strain’, 8 December 1961. 55


10 December 1961

11 December 1961

Scott Everett Couper however, the greater the danger of violence. We might be pressed so far that efforts of those who try to lead the struggle along peaceful lines may be jeopardised’ (author’s emphasis).57 I firmly believe in non-violence. It is the only correct form which our work and our struggle can take in South Africa. Both from the moral and the practical point of view the situation of the country demands it. Violence disrupts human life and is destructive to perpetrator and victim alike. . . . To refrain from violence is the sign of the civilised man.58 I am a firm believer in non-violent action, and I hope to see the liberation of my people and all oppressed people in Africa accomplished by nonviolent means.59 Through all this cruel treatment in the name of law and order, our people, with few exceptions, have remained non-violent. If today this (Nobel) peace award is given to South Africa through a black man, it is not because we in South Africa have won our fight for peace and human brotherhood. Far from it. Perhaps we stand farther away from victory than any other people in Africa. But nothing we have suffered at the hands of the government has turned us from our path of disciplined resistance. It is for this, I believe, that this award is given.60

57 The Daily News, ‘Big Crowd Will See Lutuli Receive His Nobel Prize’, 9 December 1961. In the past, ‘Luthuli’ is often spelt ‘Lutuli’ (without the ‘h’). Albert Luthuli himself spelled it ‘Lutuli’, though his family did not. 58 Colin and Margaret Legum, The Bitter Choice: Eight South Africans’ Resistance to Tyranny, New York: World Publishing Co., 1968, p. 62. 59 Daily News, ‘Message from Lutuli’, 13 December 1961. 60 Asmal, Chidester and James, South Africa’s Nobel Laureates, pp. 28-9. Publication unknown, ‘Way of Violence Still Rejected’, 12 December 1961. Publication unknown, ‘S.A. Is “Museum-Piece of Our Time”: Lutuli Surveys Africa Changes’, 12 December 1961. These publications are at the University of Witwatersrand’s William Cullen Library and originally clipped without reference. Photocopies of these articles can be found at the Luthuli Museum where I donated my Ph.D. dissertation research.

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’

12 December 1961

14 December 1961


Even for purely practical reasons non-violence is the only course we can follow. Direct attack by an unarmed public against the fully armed forces of the government would mean suicide. There are no responsible persons among us in the African National Congress who advocate violence as a means of furthering our struggle (author’s emphasis).61 . . . militant non-violence in South Africa was still a valid weapon that could be most effective and that it was better than resorting to violence to gain one’s freedom. . . . We feel that to engage in any other method might bring bloodshed. To gain freedom without bloodshed is a much better way.62 In carrying with me back to South Africa the heavy responsibility inherent in the acceptance of the award, I am strengthened by the knowledge that our belief in the peaceful solution of human problems is shared by millions throughout the world.63

Little did Gunnar Jahn know that less than one week after his introduction of Luthuli as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway and two days after Luthuli publically expressed that it was his ‘responsibility’ as leader of the ANC to press for a ‘peaceful solution’, Luthuli’s lieutenant, Nelson Mandela, would orchestrate the ANC’s abandonment of Satyagraha.

Rand Daily Mail, ‘100 brave Cold to Greet Luthuli’, 12 December 1961. 62 Panorama (British Broadcasting Corporation current affairs programme), 12 December 1961. Cited in: Publication Unknown, ‘Help from the World Welcomed’, 12 December 1961. 63 University of Fort Hare (UFH), Howard Pim Africana Library (HPAL), ANC Archives (ANC), A2561, Box 70, Folder C 3.9, press statement by Albert J. Luthuli, 14 December 1961.See also: Daily News, ‘Message from Lutuli’, 13 December 1961. 61


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THE FIRST DILUTION The first dilution of Satyagraha in the South African context occurred on 16 December 1961, six days after Albert Luthuli accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, when Nelson Mandela launched MK which in time became the ANC’s armed wing. 64 MK orchestrated several bombings, best characterised as ‘sabotage’, of government installations in South Africa’s major metropolitan areas. If Satyagraha was to ever be considered effective against the Apartheid regime, the effectiveness would have started with the Nobel Peace Prize which brought Luthuli, the ANC and the liberation movement to the front pages of the world’s newspapers. The launching of MK short-circuited any work that the Nobel Peace Prize would have achieved for the satyagrahis. Mandela rendered a humiliated and angry Luthuli politically obsolete as military action repudiated Luthuli’s position on which he staked his domestic and international credibility.65 In South Africa, Satyagraha weakened as the liberation movement’s largest and most powerful congress resorted to armed conflict. Just as the Nobel Committee’s Chairperson warned, Luthuli’s voice soon ‘would be heard no more’. Only recently, some have remembered Luthuli and refused to forget ‘that his way was unwavering and clear’. Nelson Mandela released a manifesto when he launched MK, stating that MK placed itself ‘under the overall political guidance’ of the national liberation movement as was agreed in mid-1961.66 However, in Mandela’s autobiography he states that he was authorized to ‘create this organization and would not be subject to the direct control of the mother organization’, the ANC.67 Did the awarding of the most prestigious humanitarian prize in the world and the constant plea to only use non-violent tactics by the liberation movement’s leader on the front pages of the world’s newspapers escape Mandela’s political calculation? Reflecting on 64 Due to an operational anomaly, the launch actually happened prematurely in Durban on 15 December 1961. 65 Peter Rule, Marilyn Aitkin and Jenny van Dyk, Nokukhanya: Mother of Light, Braamfontein: The Grail, 1993, p. 131. 66 Feinberg and Odendaal, ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe Manifesto, 1961’, p. 122. 67 Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, pp. 323-4.

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


the launch of MK and Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu confided in a 1995 interview: ‘Now, on the question of Chief Luthuli: We had not, I must confess, by that time attached such an importance to the Nobel Prize itself. But from that time on we began to analyse it and realise its significance’.68 Most likely, Nelson Mandela felt that he was neither under direct (tactical/strategic) or indirect (political) control of the ANC nor under its leader Luthuli. In short, the guidance offered by the President-General of the ANC, the acknowledged leader of the liberation movement, was circumnavigated. Mandela concluded in his manifesto that Luthuli’s policy invited, rather than stemmed, further oppression, stating that ‘the government has interpreted the peacefulness of the movement as weakness’.69 Mandela disagreed with Luthuli in his adherence to Satyagraha and took measures to change the liberation movement’s policy. This action was not uncharacteristic of Mandela. In May 1961, the ANC Executive reprimanded Mandela for stating to the press, ‘In my mind we are closing a chapter on this question of non-violent policy’.70 Justifying the position, Mandela stated in his autobiography, ‘. . . sometimes one must go public with an idea to push a reluctant organization in the direction you want it to go’.71 With the launch of MK, Mandela pushed the ANC in the direction he wished it to go – against the explicit and public statements of its leader whose views were published in newspapers throughout the world. Nelson Mandela never confessed to be a satyagrahi; in fact, he expressed that Satyagraha should only be implemented if it proved efficacious. Mandela recalled: I was raising the issue of violence so soon after the Treason Trial, where we had contended that for the ANC non-violence was an inviolate principle, not a tactic to be changed as conditions warranted. I myself believed the Interview with Walter Sisulu, 15 September 1995. Found in: Tor Sellström, ed., Liberation in Southern Africa-Regional and Swedish Voices: Interviews from Angola, Mozambique, Nambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Frontline and Sweden, 2nd edn., Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikainstitutet, 2002, p. 190. 69 Feinberg and Odendaal, ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe Manifesto, 1961’, p. 123. 70 Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, p. 320. 71 Ibid., p. 320. 68


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opposite; that non-violence was a tactic that should be abandoned when it no longer worked.72

In mid-1961, Nelson Mandela confided to then General Secretary of the Communist Party and future Treasurer General of the ANC, Moses Kotane, that the movement ‘. . . had no choice but to turn to violence’.73 Therefore, Mandela was perhaps naïve to think that MK’s initiation of violence against the Apartheid regime would somehow avoid loss of life when he declared in his manifesto that ‘We of Umkhonto we Sizwe have always sought – as the liberation movement has sought – to achieve liberation without bloodshed and civil clash. We do so still. We hope – even at this late hour . . . ’.74 It is unlikely that Mandela intended the ‘sabotage’ of symbolic sites to be a ‘warning’ to the government, thus preventing it from committing further ‘violence’. Paul Landau’s excellent article linking Mandela’s initiation of MK with the Communist Party rather than with the ANC highlights that Mandela’s own notes reveal he understood sabotage as ‘an arm of guerrilla warfare’.75 Landau wrote: The readings and lectures that Mandela scrupulously took handwritten notes on suggest that for Mandela, Nokwe, Sisulu, Slovo and their allies, sabotage was not just a nudge to the state, not just ‘armed propaganda’, but was a prelude to, or part of, guerrilla war. Mandela’s own words suggest this, and his actions in Algeria, Ethiopia and the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East and Central Africa (PAFMECA) in 1962, before his final arrest, make this trajectory even more apparent. He also recollected as much 30 years later.76

Mandela’s 1962 speech to the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East and Central Africa in Addis Ababa went beyond disagreement with Albert Luthuli’s advocacy for Satyagraha; 72 Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, pp. 321-2.There is contestation as to whether the pre-1961 policy of non-violence was based on a ‘inviolate principle’, as many who justify the ANC’s turn to violence argue today that the ANC simply made a tactical turn. 73 Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, p. 321. 74 Feinberg and Odendaal, ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe Manefesto, 1961’, p. 123. 75 Paul Landau, ‘The ANC, MK, and “The Turn to Violence” (1960-1962)’, South African Historical Journal 64, no. 3, September 2012, p. 554. 76 Landau, ‘The ANC, MK, and “The Turn to Violence”’, p. 555.

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


Mandela repudiated it and indicted so saying: . . . a leadership commits a crime against its own people if it hesitates to sharpen its political weapons where they have become less effective. . . . Then on the night of 16 December last year the whole of South Africa vibrated under the heavy blows of Umkhonto we Sizwe.77

When Mandela returned from North Africa, he felt Luthuli’s past position advocating non-violent methods reflected poorly on the liberation struggle. He reported to the ANC’s National Working Committee that ‘Luthuli’s Nobel Peace Prize had created the impression that he was a tool of the West’.78 Mandela considered Luthuli’s autobiography Let My People Go, with its ubiquitous references to non-violence, to ‘have been extremely unfortunate and have created the impression of a man who is a stooge of the Whites’ and thus ‘compromised the ANC’.79

Shortly after the launch of MK, the faith placed on Satyagraha expired within the ANC.80 Albert Luthuli became politically obsolete since those who could carry out the administrative machinery of Satyagraha in a heavily repressed political atmosphere were underground, exiled, arrested or killed (some even by their own hands). Upon learning of the attacks on 16 December 1961, Luthuli said in response to the acts of sabotage, ‘For myself, I regret anything that is violence’ and he fumed that the press or others would assume it was directed by Blacks.81 Luthuli ‘demanded an explanation of what was going on’.82 Only one of his closest Feinberg and Odendaal, ‘A NC Address at Pan-African Freedom Conference, 1962’, p. 131. 78 Sifiso Ndlovu (SADET), ‘The ANC in Exile, 1960-1970’, in The Road to Democracy in South Africa, 1960-1970, Cape Town: Zebra, 2004, pp. 1 to 433. 79 Tom Lodge, Mandela: A Critical Life, Oxford: Oxford University, 2006, p. 101; Ndlovu, ‘The ANC in Exile’, p. 1: 433. 80 Only at the November 1962 Lobatse Conference did the ANC claim MK to be its armed wing. Albert Luthuli was not present. I am not aware that Luthuli offered any views on the matter, en absentia, despite the fact that he was (at least the titular) President-General of the ANC until his death in July 1967. 81 Rule, Nokukhanya, p. 130. 82 Brian Bunting, Moses Kotane: South African Revolutionary: A Political Biography, London: Inkululeko, 1975, p. 268. 77


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political confidants, Moses Kotane, could pacify him. To Kotane, Luthuli ‘made it clear that he was not able to tell any member of the ANC to resort to violence, but neither was he prepared to condemn it’.83 Luthuli reasoned: ‘If my son decides to sleep with a girl, he does not ask my permission, but he just does it. It is only afterwards, when the girl is pregnant and the parents make a case, that he brings his troubles home.’84 THE SECOND DILUTION The second dilution of Satyagraha in the South African context is the silencing of Albert Luthuli’s voice and the mutation of his perspective on the use of violence within South Africa’s liberation struggle. Domestically, Luthuli continued to publicly argue for the use of non-violent methods until at least the end of April 1962. After June 1962, the Sabotage Act prohibited Luthuli from publishing his words or being quoted; thus with his banning, he incurred a ‘social death’. Also, there is evidence that he was silenced by the liberation movement. In March 1962, the Golden City Post published the following, unaltered, from Luthuli’s pen: When we strive for the same goal through non-violent methods, the government visits us with more and harsher laws to suppress – if not completely destroy – our liberation efforts. Is this not inviting the oppressed to desperation? Nonetheless, I would urge our people not to despair over our methods of struggle, the militant, nonviolent techniques. So far we have failed the methods – not the methods us (Luthuli’s emphasis).85

In response to articles in which Luthuli continued to advocate for non-violent tactics such as the one above, the Congresses Joint Executive minutes recorded: A speaker stated that the articles which Chief Luthuli wrote for ‘Golden City Post’ were frequently so mutilated that the policies expressed there were on occasion distorted, thus being of some embarrassment to the Bunting, Moses Kotane, pp. 268-9. Ibid., p. 269. 85 Albert Luthuli, Golden City Post, ‘Our Way Is Right – We Must Keep On’, 25 March 1962. 83 84

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


Congresses. A delegate agreed that the matter would be taken up.86

Internationally, Luthuli publicly advocated for the pursuance of non-violent strategies at least until 1964. He did so within the context of the ‘Appeal for Action against Apartheid’ (December 1962) with his contemporary satyagrahi, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.87 Luthuli advocated for the use of non-violence through his reception of the New York Protestant Council’s ‘Family of Man Award’ (October 1964).88 Luthuli also maintained his non-violent stance privately in discussions with United States based ecclesiastic representatives at least as late as 1964.89 Thereafter, the official record is silent. 90 Gunner Jahn’s prescience that ‘. . . Luthuli’s voice will be heard no more’ proved prophetic. The first public declaration that Albert Luthuli supported the armed struggle was issued by the ANC, through Oliver Tambo, on the day Luthuli died, 21 July 1967. Only after Luthuli’s death was 86 University of the Western Cape (UWC), Robben Island Mayibuye Archives (RIMA), Congress of Democrats (MCH 229), Report of a meeting of the Congresses’ Joint Executives held in March 1962, p. 7. 87 Albert Luthuli and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘Appeal for Action against Apartheid’, issued by the American Committee on Africa, 10 December 1962.Amistad Research Centre (ARC), American Committee on Africa Collection (ACA), Box 100, Folder 20, correspondence from Albert Luthuli to the international public, September 1962. ACA was founded by a pacifist, George Houser, to advocate against Apartheid. During World War II, George Houser was a conscientious objector and was imprisoned for one year for his stance. Luthuli’s affiliation with ACA was facilitated by a Quaker, Mary Louise-Hooper, who served as Luthuli’s secretary and later became a staff member for ACA. 88 Publications unknown, ‘Lutuli Gets Grant’, 29 October 1964 and ‘Big Cash Award for Lutuli’, 18 October 1964. 89 Interview with Edward Hawley, by Scott Couper, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 29 June 2009. In late 1964, Edward Hawley met and discussed with Albert Luthuli the use of violence by the liberation movement and his feelings about it. Luthuli stated, ‘I have never been a violent man. And I could never be one. . . . The young men still come to see me. When they tell me that non-violence has always been met with violence, I have no words left’. 90 Domestically, Albert Luthuli was silenced primarily by the Sabotage Act (June 1962) and secondarily by his restrictive banning and possibly by the liberation movement. Internationally, Luthuli was still able to communicate, for example via correspondences and telegrams.


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the myth cultivated within nationalist history that he supported the armed struggle. Tambo wrote: Chief Luthuli is irrevocably linked with the [ANC] and the revolutionary movement of the people of South Africa. The period of his leadership of our organisation saw the change-over from a reliance of solely non-violent forms of struggle to a need for a combination of both legal and illegal clandestine forms of struggle following the ban on the [ANC] in April 1960. This new period was emphasised by a decision to prepare for armed confrontation with the enemy and the setting up of the armed wing of our revolutionary movement – [MK]. The enemies of our revolutionary struggle who were bent on fanning divisions inside the ranks of the ANC whilst at the same time making futile attempts to isolate Chief Luthuli from the main stream of the revolutionary movement, came forth with allegations that Chief Luthuli never approved the change-over from emphasis on non-violent struggle to the present phase. This was strongly refuted by Chief himself when he made a statement following the passing of prison sentences on our leaders at the conclusion of the Rivonia Trial in 1964. . . . There are those amongst us who, whilst claiming to have been permanently inspired by Chief Luthuli’s qualities of leadership are, however, working against the policies of the organisation he led until his last breath. These are people who from within the ranks of the oppressed population are counseling against the use of revolutionary violence with the plea that those who advocate this form of struggle are leading people to catastrophic suicide.91

And so the narrative ‘Luthuli supported the armed struggle’ began. It continued in the ANC mouthpiece Mayibuye: ‘It is true that Chief Luthuli was an advocate of non-violence. He was a champion of a multiracial society in South Africa. But Chief Luthuli never believed in non-violence at all costs in the struggle.’92 Sechaba iterated a similar defense of the armed struggle: UFH, HPAL, ANC, Oliver Tambo Papers (A2561), Folder C 39, ‘July 21’, original typed manuscript. Albert Luthuli did not ‘strongly refute’ that he did not support the armed struggle through his Rivionia Trial statement. Luthuli expressed sympathy and solidarity with men who were ‘brave’ and ‘just’. However, Luthuli did not indicate that he supported their actions.See also: Scott Couper, ‘Emasculating Agency: An Unambiguous Assessment of Albert Luthuli’s Stance on Violence’, South African Historical Journal 64, no. 3, September 2012, pp. 564-86 and 578-81. 92 T. Makiwane, ‘Somlandela uLuthuli’, Mayibuye 2, no. 29, 19 July 1968, pp. 4-5. 91

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


There is a wrong and unfortunate impression that Chief Luthuli was a pacifist, or some kind of apostle of non-violence. This impression is incorrect and misleading. The policy of non-violence was formulated and adopted by the national conferences of the [ANC] before he was elected President-General of the organisation. The policy was adopted in 1951 specifically for the conduct of the ‘National Campaign for Defiance of Unjust Laws’ in 1952. What is correct, however, is that as a man of principle and as a leader of unquestionable integrity, Chief Luthuli defended the policy entrusted to him by his organisation and saw to it that it was implemented. When that policy was officially and constitutionally changed, he did not falter.93

Sechaba is inaccurate in implying that non-violence was employed solely for and/or as from the Defiance Campaign. Sechaba is also inaccurate when implying that Luthuli possessed no agency and thus subscribed to non-violence because the ANC did and then abandoned it when the ANC did. The implication is that Luthuli blindly followed the dictates of the political party because it so decreed. A Luthuli with little or no agency can not be a Luthuli of ‘principle and a leader of unquestionable integrity’. After Nelson Mandela launched MK, Luthuli as a person of principle and leader of character continued to advocate for nonviolent methods and thus refused to compromise the integrity upon which his Nobel Peace Prize was premised. Sechaba is very strategic with the phrase ‘did not falter’ because it does not indicate that Luthuli supported the policy but it implies that he did only because he refused to condemn the use of violence by his colleagues. Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom argues that it is untrue that Luthuli was ‘. . . deeply opposed to the ANC taking up violence’, declaring emphatically, ‘Nothing could be farther than the truth’.94 Many other sources too numerous to count, until the

93 No author cited, ‘Chief Albert John Mvumbi Luthuli, Isitwalandwe, 1898-1967’, Sechaba 1, no. 8, August 1967, insert supplement. 94 Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, pp. 342-3. The book ‘by’ Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself contradicts ‘his own’ autobiography in regard to Albert Luthuli’s stance on the formation and thus launch of MK Mandela, Conversations with Myself, p. 78.


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present day, argue that Luthuli supported the armed struggle.95 For example, Jacob Zuma rejected as ‘erroneous’ and misleading suggestions that former President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Luthuli, never supported the ANC’s armed struggle.96 Zuma also erred in claiming that Luthuli named the armed wing.97 THE THIRD DILUTION The third dilution of Satyagraha within the South Africa context has occurred more recently as organizations that claim Mohandas Gandhi’s heritage and promote Satyagraha actually highlight and celebrate the contributions of those who were and are not satyagrahis, even imperfectly. Some of those recognized as heir to Gandhi’s legacy disagree with Satyagraha in both theory and practice and led the armed struggle against white supremacy. For example, Gandhi Development Trust (GDT) is an organization that advocates and supports efforts to promote non-violent methods of conflict resolution yet confusingly celebrates personalities whose biographies do not reflect an allegiance to the tenets of Satyagraha. GDT’s website states that the organization ‘promotes a culture of non-violence’ by itemizing ten activities. Among those activities are: . . . providing non-violence training and tool-kit for learners and teachers . . . organising the Mahatma Gandhi Salt March in which communities, learners and educators and the public in general are mobilised to commit to non-violence . . . promoting the spirit of unity in diversity on the International Day of Non-violence . . . raising awareness of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi on the day of his martyrdom . . . (author’s emphasis).98

Scott Couper, ‘Irony upon Irony upon Irony: The Mythologising of Nationalist History in South Africa’, South African Historical Journal 63, no. 2, June 2011, pp. 339-46. 96 S. Khumalo, The Mercury, ‘Zuma Slams Luthuli Claims’, 25 November 2010. 97 Nelson Mandela named MK. 98 ‘9th Annual Salt March: 21st April 2013’, 1-2. http://www.gdt.org.za/ current/, accessed 25 January 2013. 95

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


GDT also promotes a culture of non-violence through the giving of the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Peace and Reconciliation (MAGI), otherwise known as the ‘Satyagraha Award’.99 GDT explains the motivation for the award: The loud and clear message of non-violence in the face of dire adversity is projected by the lives of these icons in our times. We have chosen to honour leaders who have chosen non-violence and negotiation as their tools. GDT believes that the award should not merely be seen as an annual event that happens on an evening, but rather is a catalyst for initiating non-violence, ubuntu and nation building (author’s emphasis).100

This motivation suggests GDT’s belief that Satyagraha is not something to be taken up at one point and discarded when inconvenient. While the honour, morals, integrity, heroism, selflessness and patriotism of the Satyagraha Award recipients are not questioned, many of the recipients did not [and still do not] subscribe to the Gandhian Satyagraha form of political and moral strategy. The name ‘Satyagraha Award’ strongly suggests that its recipients strove to live their lives as satyagrahis, even if imperfectly. However, the award honours many who did not subscribe to Satyagraha but technically pursued the opposite, or in Gandhi’s words, ‘the reverse’; that is, violence (himsa) as a means to obtain a particular political, economic and/or social order. If the purpose of the Satyagraha Award is to promote a culture of non-violence then unfortunately the purpose is undermined when awarded to those who have never subscribed and/or do not now subscribe to the Gandhian philosophy. 99 The Award’s name is confused. In some GDT documents, the MAGI award and the Satyagraha award are distinct. In others, they are synonymous. In others, the names are amalgamated. For example, Denis Goldberg won the ‘2012 Satyagraha Award for Peace and Reconciliation’. In practice, the awards are synonymous. Some documents indicate the Award began in 2003; another indicates the Award began in 2006. 100 ‘Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Peace and Reconciliation: MAGI Awards’, 1. http://www.gdt.org.za/current/index.php?option=com_ content&view=article&id=46&..., accessed 25 January 2013.


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Bestowing the Satyagraha Award for ‘any’ contribution to ‘peace’ and ‘goodwill’ dilutes to uselessness the potency of Satyagraha from a Gandhian perspective. For example, a 2010 announcement for the Award indicated that the ‘Satyagraha Management Committee is keen “to honour every single individual whose labour and sacrifice made a difference to building our country’’’ (author’s emphasis).101 While it may be right to honour, for example, Solomon Mahlangu for his labour and sacrifice, it makes little sense to grant him an award in the context of Satyagraha.102 While it also may be right to honour, for example, Robert McBride for his struggle against Apartheid, it makes little sense to award him in the context of Satyagraha.103 The above point does not assume that a satyagrahi or a non-satyagrahi is more or less ethical than the other. It does not assume that a satyagrahi or a non-satyagrahi is any more or less strategically efficacious than the other. This article does not assume that a satyagrahi or a non-satyagrahi is any more or less beneficial to society, or more or less patriotic or peace-loving than the other. Nonetheless, there is contradiction in that a Satyagraha Award is often bestowed on those who are not satyagrahis, or who do not ascribe to Satyagraha, or whose actions and words actively defy or disagree with Satyagraha, as a means of establishing peace and justice in the South African historical context. This contradiction confuses the ideals which Mohandas Gandhi advocated. Bestowing the Satyagraha Award on one who uses or used violence to establish peace and justice

101 Satyagraha: In Pursuit of Truth, ‘Your Assistance Is Needed’, April 2010, 1. 102 Jayren Soobramoney, Satyagraha: In Pursuit of Truth, ‘Solomon Mahlangu – Feeding the Tree of Freedom’, April 2012, 8.Solomon Mahlangu served as a MK cadre who was arrested after a shootout with police that killed two civilians. See also: ed., Satyagraha: In Pursuit of Truth, ‘Remembering Our True Comrades’, April 2011, p. 2. 103 Robert McBride was a member of MK and was convicted for the 1986 bombing of Magoo’s Bar and ‘Why Not’ restaurant in Durban. Under the authority of the ANC through MK, McBride with other accomplices detonated a car bomb killing three and injuring at least 69.

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


sends a mixed message to those whom GDT wishes to educate. Bestowing the Satyagraha Award to those who advocated the use of violence in the past, and who morally justify the use of violence in the present, does not effectively compel a constituency to use non-violent methods to resolve contemporary contested issues.104 Ironically, Mohandas Gandhi’s ideological metropole itself, Phoenix Settlement, was burnt to the ground in 1985. Phoenix Settlement may have been a victim of, what is euphemistically termed at the re-built site as, ‘Apartheid violence’ in part instigated by the African National Congress (ANC), the same political party to which prominent leaders of Gandhi Development Trust, such as Ela Gandhi and Mewa Ramgobin, belong. A day after Victoria Mxenge was killed in Umlazi, the ANC’s Radio Freedom, through which many ANC and United Democratic Front (UDF) activists received their direction, transmitted the following: ‘Let us hit at Botha’s puppet and agents. Let us attack small police and army units. Let us spread this people’s war to the white suburbs. Let them feel that the country is at war. . . . While we continue eliminating enemy agents inside our country, let us also spread the campaign into the white, Indian and coloured residential areas. The whole country must go up in flames.’ During the first week of mourning after Mxenge’s death, unrest was unleashed. ‘The first attack on an Indian shop in the huge Inanda informal settlement (where Indian traders lived in close proximity to a vast mass of African shack dwellers) came the following day. . . . By Wednesday 7th August all the shops in Inanda had been burnt and 500 Indians had fled their homes’, and Phoenix Settlement was rendered charred rubble. While it would be irresponsible to argue (and I do not) a direct ‘cause and effect’ based solely on the above, it is possible that the ANC/UDF contributed to, if only indirectly and in part, the zeitgeist of violence that incited and led to the gutting of Phoenix Settlement. Therefore, perhaps the ANC’s advocacy of violence is a proximate, rather than acute, cause of Phoenix Settlement’s 1985 destruction. Anthea Jeffrey, People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa, Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball, 2009, pp. 63 and 101-2 fns. 66-8, 560. Jeffrey cites: Sunday Times, 4 August 1985; Seekings, The UDF: A History of the United Democratic Front in South Africa 1983-1991, David Philip, Cape Town, James Currey, Oxford, Ohio University Press, Athens, 2000, p. 183. Radio Freedom, ‘S Africa Must “Go Up In Flames”’, ANC response to Mrs. Mxenge’s Murder’, Addis Ababa, British Broadcasting Corporation Short Wave Broadcasts, ME/8021/B/6, 2 August 1985 and The Star, 8 August 1985; South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), Race Relations News, ‘Durban: Diary of Destruction’, September 1985, p. 4 and The Citizen, The Natal Mercury, 9 August; The Star 2, 12 November 1985 [sic]; SAIRR, ‘Durban: Diary of Destruction’, p. 4. 104


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One may have been confused when Billy Nair (19292008) received GDT’s Saytagraha Award in 2007. Tribute was recently given to Nair in the publication, Satyagraha, wherein ‘[Gwede] Mantashe urged the youth to follow Nair’s example’.105 Billy Nair was a member of MK, participated in the opening campaign and bombed the office of the Indian Affairs Department. In one interview, Nair incorrectly recalled Albert Luthuli’s foreknowledge of MK’s launch before he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize: [Luthuli] already knew, before he left for Oslo, to receive the Nobel, he knew that night, that [MK] was going to be launched. Chief is safe in his home, nine o’clock that night, throughout South Africa there were bombings taking place. And I was a part of that campaign.106

In 2008, in the year he celebrated his 90th birthday, Nelson Mandela, the founder and Commander-in-Chief of the ANC’s armed wing, received the Satyagraha Award. Mandela received the award despite the historical reality that he unilaterally turned the ANC to the path of violence, against the public pleadings of Albert Luthuli, who argued vociferously for the liberation struggle to continue the non-violent struggle, then given incredible support and affirmation through the awarding of the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize. While one may fully agree, as I most certainly do, that Mandela fought successfully for peace and worked successfully for reconciliation, one cannot agree that he followed the tenets of Satyagraha or believed non-violent methods were Nompumelelo Zuma, ‘Tribute: African National Congress Honours Billy Nair’, Satyagraha: Pursuit of Truth, January 2013, p. 3. 106 Billy Nair, interview, ‘The Legacy of a Legend: Chief Albert J.M. Luthuli’, documentary video produced by Amandla Communications in cooperation with the National Film and Video Foundation, sponsored by the Department of Arts and Culture, aired on SABC, 2005.If Nair was accurate in his claim that Albert Luthuli knew of and when MK would be launched, Luthuli’s dozens of statements advocating and pleading for the continuance of non-violent methods were disingenuous, at a minimum. Had Luthuli supported or even known of MK’s impending launch, the entire basis upon which he accepted the Prize would have made his acceptance of it, hypocrisy, of the highest order. 105

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


efficacious against the Apartheid regime’s oppression.107 Curnick Ndlovu (1932-2002) received the Satyagraha Award in 2009. Ndlovu was appointed the first leader of the Natal Regional Command. Ndlovu recruited others into the armed struggle and carried out sabotage attacks on government installations around the Durban area from 1961 to 1963. Ndlovu and his comrades bombed the Durban Pass Office (kwaMuhle). In 2009, the Gandhian institute also bestowed the Satyagraha Award on Rajes Pillay, one of the first Indian women to join the MK in exile. In 2012, Denis Goldberg received the Satyagraha Award, an award intended to promote a culture of non-violence. Ironically, Goldberg was a member of the MK’s High Command and its technical officer.108 A leader of a revolutionary armed organization who sought to overthrow white supremacy with violence received an award for choosing ‘non-violence and negotiation as [his] tools’. While possible, too many moral and ethical qualifications are required to justify an award for non-violence to the leader of a violent organization. Nelson Mandela received the Gandhi/King Award for Non-Violence in 1999. Ela Gandhi, granddaughter to Mohandas Gandhi and former member of South Africa’s national parliament, presented the award to Mandela and stated that he was ‘the living legacy of Mahatma Gandhi; the Gandhi of South Africa’ because he had ‘completed the anti-colonial movement began by Mahatma Gandhi’. This statement reveals that it is the ‘ends’ that are honoured, not the ‘means’; yet, the ‘means’ were the heart of Gandhi’s legacy. At another award ceremony where Mandela was awarded the International Gandhi Peace Prize in 2001, India’s President, Shri K.R. Narayanan, said, ‘We are paying tribute to an unusual hero in the Gandhian mould . . .’. Asmal, Chidester and James, South Africa’s Nobel Laureates, 85. It is ironic and confusing that he is considered to be ‘the living legacy’ and ‘mould’ of Gandhi when the two had very different philosophies, especially as they regard non-violent methods and therefore Satyagraha. Mandela has long articulated his belief that the use of violence is a valid moral and strategic means by which to fight Apartheid. Mandela once stated, ‘As I said when I stood in the dock at the Rivonia Trial twenty-seven years ago and as I said on the day of my release in Cape Town, the ANC will pursue the armed struggle against the government as long as the violence of Apartheid continues’. Feinberg and Odendaal, ‘Address to Rally in Soweto, 13 February 1990’, p. 219. 108 Satyagraha: In Pursuit of Truth, ‘The Awards: The 2012 Satyagraha Award for Peace and Reconciliation’, August/September 2012, p. 6. 107


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The majority of the Satyagraha Award recipients have never engaged in acts of violence to further their cause and pursue methods that are intentionally non-violent. For example, Gift of the Givers (2006), Aung San Suu Kyi, Paul David and Richard Steele (2009), South Africa’s indentured labourers (2010), the Dalai Lama, Paddy Meskin and Saydoon Sayed (2011) and Steve Biko and Sue Brittion (2012). Yet, placing members of MK (soldiers), such as Billy Nair, Curnick Ndlovu, Rajes Pillay, Denis Goldberg and Nelson Mandela alongside the Dalai Lama and Aung Suu Kyi creates confusion when all are bestowed an award that recognizes ‘leaders who have chosen non-violence and negotiation as their tools’. For the sake of argument, it is not suggested that Nair, Ndlovu, Pillay, Goldberg and Mandela are any less worthy of honour, respect, appreciation, admiration and even emulation when compared to Albert Luthuli, Mohandas Gandhi, the Dalai Lama or Aung San Suu Kyi. What is recognized is that the former, under incredible and, arguably, irresistible pressures, opted for a resolution engendered by violence. The latter, under equally incredible and irresistible pressures, opted for a resolution engendered by nonviolent methods. Yet both received an award that acknowledges the importance of non-violent methods in Gandhi’s name and under the philosophy of Satyagraha. This contradiction, at best, dilutes, and at worst, distorts, what Satyagraha is understood to be and that for which Gandhi advocated. This confuses GDT’s constituency in regard to the efficacy and worthwhileness of non-violent strategies in various circumstances. The imagined comic book narrative of Mohandas Gandhi’s political career in South Africa referred to earlier takes advantage of children’s naïveté, or ignorance, concerning South Africa’s history and it conveys the confusion, or dilution, that is the thesis of this article. The narrative is told by John Dube and reads as follows: John Dube: ANC Colleague: Narrator:

Could we use peaceful protest to move our cause forward in South Africa? In the right hands, I believe it could take our people to freedom (emphasis in the original). Meanwhile, amongst the rolling hills of the Eastern Cape . . .

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’

Nelson Mandela (child): Nelson Mandela’s Mother: Nelson Mandela (child): Nelson Mandela’s Mother: Narrator:


I hope I’ll grow up to be a strong leader one day (emphasis in the original). Rolihlahla! Stop dreaming and come home. It’s too late to be out! A flower for you, Mama. I’ve never known a peaceful boy like you… South Africa’s liberation movement was influenced greatly by Gandhi. People like Moulvi Cachalia and Yusuf Dadoo continued to correspond with him in India. As racial tension in South Africa heightened, Gandhi offered guidance from afar. Gandhi’s influence on social justice in South Africa is unmistakable.109

The above narrative conveys the strength of Gandhi’s Satyagraha to free South Africa from white supremacy. The dialogue asserts that peaceful protest could work if the right person led it and implies that Nelson Mandela was the peaceful leader who implemented it. In reality, Mandela did not believe in Satyagraha and says as much in his autobiography.110 Furthermore, his launching of the armed struggle immediately following the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize neutralized Albert Luthuli (the actual satyagrahi leader) politically and rendered him obsolete as a leader of the liberation struggle. Mandela indicated in 1962 that the continuance of Satyagraha in South Africa ‘was a crime against the people’. The comic book narrative is a historical misrepresentation of Mandela as an heir of Gandhi’s non-violent philosophy, Satyagraha. The narrator correctly points out that Mohandas Gandhi corresponded with Yusuf Dadoo (1939-83) and others providing insights and advice on the South African struggle. For example, in a The Gandhi Committee, ‘Gandhi in South Africa’, p. 20. An anomalous instance when Nelson Mandela almost declares an allegiance to Satyagraha was in September 1992 when he stated, ‘Gandhiji was a South African and his memory deserves to be cherished now and in post-apartheid South Africa. We must never lose sight of the fact that the Gandhian philosophy may be a key to human survival in the twenty-first century’. Asmal, Chidester and James, South Africa’s Nobel Laureates, p. 85. 109



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telegram to Dadoo in October 1946, Gandhi writes: ‘Glad passive resisters adhere [to] non-violence. Hope no weakening or division among our people’.111 In a message to South Africa in May 1947, Gandhi writes: ‘To the satyagrahis: I would advise strict adherence to the fundamentals of Satyagraha which literally means force of truth and this is forever invincible. . . .’112 The historiographical problem, of the way this history is narrated, is clearly evident: Dadoo did not ultimately follow the path of Satyagraha. Dadoo was [with Billy Nair, Denis Goldberg and Nelson Mandela] a member of the South African Communist Party that ideologically advocated for violence as a means by which to catalyse economic and socio-political changes on a global scale.113Dadoo eventually became the Vice-Chairman of the Revolutionary Council and the ANC Politico-Military Council directing the armed struggle. Oliver Tambo eulogized Dadoo by stating, ‘He died spear in hand – like a true warrior’.114 The historical link, or rather de-link, between Dadoo and Gandhi is not articulated in the Gandhi Committee’s narrative, thus confusing and diluting that which is understood to 111 Mohandas Gandhi, ‘Telegram from Gandhji to Dr Dadoo, 10 October 1946’, in Dr Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo, His Speeches, Articles and Correspondences with Mahatma Gandhi (1939-1983), ed. Fatima Meer, Durban: Madiba Publishers, 1991, p. 385. Meer cites: Leaflet of the Passive Resistance Council of the Natal Indian Congress, 25 July 1946. 112 Mohandas Gandhi, ‘Gandhiji’s Message to South Africa, 18 May 1947’, in Dr Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo: His Speeches, Articles and Correspodences with Mahatma Gandhi, p. 385. Meer cites: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, pp. 85, 442. 113 Not all members of the South African Communist Party (SACP) advocated for violence, either in the global or South African context. Rowley Arenstein, for example, was expelled from the SACP for advocating nonviolent methods. Arenstein also indicated in an interview that Albert Luthuli ‘very strongly believed in non-violence. At no stage, did Luthuli ever agree to a change of violence. Never!’ Interview with Rowley Arenstein, KwaMuhle Museum, File number 545617, Accession number 99/3697 – 3699 – 4200 – 4204, recording track 11 10 25 12 through 13 12 16 15. 114 A Quaker, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge could also be considered another anomalous SACP member who did not participate in the armed struggle. Oliver Tambo, ‘A Message to the National Executive Committee at the Funeral of the Dr Yusuf Dadoo by the President of the ANC, 1983’, in Dr Yusuf Mohamed Dadoo, His Speeches, Articles and Correspondences with Mahatma Gandhi, p. 391.

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define Satyagraha and the actions that point to one as a committed satyagrahi. CONCLUSION In a 2012 Sunday Tribune editorial, former Deputy Minister of Health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, wrote that ‘the recent spate of political violence, police killings and police brutality in [South Africa] are a cause for great concern’.115 When contemplating Satyagraha and how the ‘means justify the end’, Mohandas Gandhi indicated that when the use of violence is employed, even if justifiable, the unintended consequences are often very negative: ‘We reap exactly as we sow’.116 The ANC justified using violence in South Africa to liberate it from racial oppression due to the brutal and violent methods of the Apartheid regime. Yet, despite the fall of Apartheid, South Africa remains profoundly violent. MadlalaRoutledge therefore urged ‘. . . South Africans to reject violence in all its forms and return to the proud legacy of non-violence bequeathed to us by Albert Luthuli and Gandhi’.117 When Albert Luthuli partnered with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to issue the 1962 Appeal for Action against Apartheid he feared a race war, the unintended consequences of violence that physically, psychologically and spiritually damages both parties. A year after Nelson Mandela launched MK, Luthuli pleaded for international pressure and the continued utilization of non-violent methods, particularly sanctions ‘. . . before we are caught in a bloody revolt which would necessarily polarise along racial lines and blot out all hope of justice in South Africa. Such a cataclysm would destroy our movement here; it would endanger hard-won progress everywhere . . .’118 Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, Sunday Tribune, ‘Culture of Violence Poisons SA Society’, 4 November 2012. 116 ‘2005 Awards: Quote’, Gandhi Development Trust, p. 1. http://www.gdt. org.za/current/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=59%..., accessed 27 January 2013. 117 Madlala-Routledge, ‘Culture of Violence Poisons SA Society’, 4 November 2012. 118 ARC, ACA, Box 100, Folder 20, correspondence from Albert Luthuli to various international leaders, September 1962. This correspondence introducing the Appeal was written in September 1962, but the Appeal was released in December 1962. 115


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The race war never manifested itself due to MK’s military inconsequence (in part due to its lack of capacity and in part due to the ANC’s laudable restraint of its employment of violence) and the ANC’s multi-racial character. Nonetheless, South Africa seems unable to break its cycle of violence. Madlala-Routledge argued that currently: There is no justification for using violence and the state has to lead by example. Non-violence is far more powerful and effective than violence in achieving the legitimate rights outlined in the constitution. . . . What we need is disciplined, non-violent direct action campaigns addressing issues of injustice and inequality, drawing on the theory and spirit of practitioners such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Albert Luthuli. . . .119

If Madlala-Routledge’s wish is to be fulfilled, it will be up to organizations such as Gandhi Development Trust to send clear messages about who truly emulates the core tenets of Satyagraha and thus, Mohandas Gandhi. On the contrary, the incorrect impression given is that anyone who fought for freedom and liberation is therefore a practitioner of Satyagraha, a disciple in the Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Albert Luthuli tradition. To have fought against Apartheid does not therefore make one, de facto, a promoter of non-violent methods. The legacy of Gandhi and Luthuli is severely compromised by bestowing the Satyagraha Award on members of, for example, MK’s High Command. Such decisions do not communicate an allegiance to the values espoused by Gandhi, but rather an allegiance to a particular political party. What is occurring, historiographically, is that MK freedom fighters’ later laudable efforts at peace and reconciliation are eclipsing their former use of and present ideological justification for violence to solve seemingly intractable conflicts. Nelson Mandela’s position has always been consistent; from 1952 to present, Mandela was utilitarian in supporting nonviolent methods and violent methods when warranted. To his credit, Mandela always desired non-violent methods. Yet, Mandela was willing to adopt violence when needed. That Mandela’s extraordinary efforts towards peace and reconciliation engendered 119 Madlala-Routledge, ‘Culture of Violence Poisons SA Society’, Sunday Tribune, 4 November 2012.

‘But Let Us Remember Him Then and Never Forget . . .’


the well-deserved awarding to him of the Nobel Peace Prize does not therefore merit an award claiming his example embodies an allegiance to Satyagraha, or non-violent resistance. Institutions such as Gandhi Development Trust (Phoenix), Luthuli Museum (Groutville) and ML King Centre (Atlanta) should be accurate and clear about the values of their progenitors. To do otherwise misrepresents the clear positions of Mohandas Gandhi, Albert Luthuli and Martin Luther King, Jr., dilutes their thoughts and actions and discredits them.120 Honour Nelson Mandela for that which he justifiably believed. Honour Luthuli for that which he justifiably believed. Honour both for the way they acted. Both are heroes; both deserved, but for different reasons, the Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela ought not be portrayed as one who liberated South Africa by ‘peaceful protest’ and therefore as the heir to Gandhi and Luthuli; to do such is as disingenuous as it is historically inaccurate. As Gunner Jahn said of Luthuli and his stance on non-violence days before Mandela launched MK, ‘. . . let us remember [Luthuli] and then never forget that his way was unwavering and clear’.

120 Though they both fought honourably for civil rights in the United States, strategic and ideological distinctions must be made between the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s movement. Scott Couper, ‘South Africa’s Historiographic Conflation: A Theoretical Analysis Comparing and Contrasting the Binary Memories of King and malcolm X with Luthuli and Mandela’, unpublished, submitted to Historia.


Resistance and Change – Religion in the Middle: Assessing the Role of Religion in Social Transformation in South Africa P. PRATAP KUMAR

‘Religion’ is what actually or potentially divides us and may set us intolerantly against one another. Talal Asad1

INTRODUCTION The Arab Spring is gradually turning to Arab Winter in the face of the American heat on Egypt and other North African countries on the eve of the killing of the American Ambassador to Libya on 11 September 2012. The reason for all this is the release of a film ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ from an unknown source in America.2 This is not the first time that we have seen religion taking its most sought after place in the middle of political turmoil around the world. Whether it is in a small suburb in a city or across the world, religion has been one of the most difficult terrains to traverse in the context of multiculturalism and religious pluralism. Multiculturalism and religious pluralism suddenly became too 1 ‘Talal Asad’, Religion and Politics: An Introduction’, Social Research 59, no. 1, 1992, pp. 3-16. 2 Political analysts in the US believe that the film was only a pretext and the attack on the US Ambassador was planned given the fact that they were ambushed as they were being whisked away from the Embassy to a safe place. The fact that it happened on September 11 seems to reinforce that idea.


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conspicuous on the South African scene since the establishment of democracy in 1994 notwithstanding the fact that they existed all along during the period of colonial rule as well as during the apartheid government. Before 1994, they were confined to separate locations by the might of the Group Areas Act of 1950. So, the mainstream white society did not obviously see the rainbow colours of religious pluralism and multiculturalism in South Africa. It was only after the establishment of democracy that someone like Arch Bishop Tutu had to point out that we live in a ‘rainbow nation’! It wasn’t as if he discovered it for the first time. All he did was to point out the obvious. In a sense, it underscores the relative isolation in which South Africans lived by being ignorant about each other. This profound ignorance still permeates the South African society even to this day to the extent that one community does not seem to know or sometimes does not wish to know the others even in the face of the changing demography in many parts of the previously whites-only suburbs. One other point that needs clarification at the outset is that notwithstanding the diversity that existed all along the apartheid rule, there is an assumption made that South Africa is a Christian country and therefore its society must be governed by Christian values. By this it was meant Christian majoritism. Since Christians were supposed to be in the majority, the society must give Christian community a privileged status in all social relations. That comes with the presence of Christian institutions and organizations as well as the general social ethos. In other words, in a school children and teachers must observe what is normative in Christian society, e.g. Christian prayers at the beginning of the school or meetings and general preferential treatment to Christian children and Christian teachers and so on. Conversely, the non-Christian values and practices are either frowned upon or rejected outright by inventing rules by the governing bodies. In a sense, in the past a local institution such as a school became the microcosm of the state that encouraged Christian majority and its values and beliefs. The notion of Christian majority is really problematic not merely because it rejected the non-Christian values and practices. Most ironically, it pitted against its own. In point of fact, of the total number of Christians in the country, majority are African Blacks.

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The African Independent Churches/African Initiated Churches make up the majority of the Christian community in South Africa. However, what are meant by Christian majority values are more specifically the European Christian values or in general what was counted as Western value system. FROM WHITES-ONLY TO MULTI-RACIAL DURBAN NORTH Prior to 1966 Durban North suburb had a mixed population. Along the Riverside Road and Prospect Hall Road, there were a substantial number of Indian families living side by side the white communities almost up until 1965, that is, almost a decade after the formal promulgation of the Group Areas Act of 1950.3 Between 1965 and 66 the Indian community was forced to move to the newly established Indian townships, viz., Chatsworth and Phoenix. However, the Soofie Mosque that was located on the previously known Lower Bridge Road (present name is Soofie Saheb Road) was not removed and it remained to this day as an important landmark of the city as well as an important reminder to the presence of Indians in that area. Ever since, Durban North became an exclusively white location until the early 1990s. Such spatial segregation of communities since 1948 when the National Party came to power is significant to our understanding as not only the living but even the dead were segregated by spatially separating the cemeteries of various racial groups.4 Particularly since 1994 many Indian professionals and some wealthy business 3 The implementation of the Group Areas Act was saddled with many inconsistencies and difficulties for the bureaucrats on the ground. In many instances, the areas that were vacated by the Indian communities were left unused for the white communities (e.g. Cato Manor). In order to woo the Indians and the Coloured communities to coopt them in the government through segregated parliament, the government had to allow desegregation of business districts such as Grey Street in Durban. [see, Elaine Unterhalter, Forced Removal: The Division, Segregation, and Control of People of South Africa, London: IDAF Publication, 1987, p. 138.] 4 For a detailed study of the segregation of cemeteries see, A. J. Christopher, ‘Segregation and Cemeteries in Port Elizabeth, South Africa’, The Geographical Journal 161, no. 1, 1995, pp. 38-46.


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families began to relocate to Durban North. In the last decade, Umhlanga Hindu Society and a Durban North Islamic Society have been established for the benefit of the Hindu and Muslim communities respectively. The establishment of these organizations indicates the growing significance of non-Christian presence in the Durban North area. Formerly whites-only schools are already experiencing enormous growth in the percentage of non-white pupils. This changing demography raised not only the eye-brows of the once comfortably settled white community, but also has begun to show tensions between neighbours. Although the main stream white community seems unaffected by the presence of the non-white communities and do not seem to mind their presence, and some even welcome them warmly, the tensions reported in local community papers seem relatively of small significance, until the issue of mosque was raised by some members of the white community. For the first time, it has signalled the disquiet publicly. So, let’s examine the mosque issue. A MOSQUE IN DURBAN NORTH IS OUT OF THE QUESTION On 24 April 2012 a local community newspaper – Northglen News reported about the objections made by local community regarding the proposed construction of a mosque in Durban North residential area. The reasons for their objection were the following – increased traffic, noise pollution and house devaluation. The objectors made sure to point out that their motivations were not driven by racial or religious considerations – ‘One concerned resident, who did not want to be named, said their concerns were not racially or religiously based, but rather on the negative impact the mosque would have on traffic in the area.’ The objectors also pointed out that many local residents were not aware of the proposed plans for the mosque and therefore appropriate bureaucratic protocols were not followed. Other important aspects that were pointed out included the following – ‘sheer size, calibre and overpowering appearance of the planned building won’t allow it to blend in’. Nevertheless, they were at pains to point out that ‘[W]e have no problems with the religion but a mosque in that location is out of the question’. However it was said, the determination to say no to

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the mosque was evident in the statement. A mosque in a residential area is not appropriate from the stand-point of the objectors. A town planning consultant who represented the Muslim community that is proposing the mosque responded to the bureaucratic protocol issue. The Northglen News reported:5 Kavi Soni, a town planning consultant representing the applicants said due protocol was followed with regards to the provisions of the legislature. ‘From our view, we have complied legally and are duly satisfied the provisions of the planning and development act have been complied with. We were provided with a list of parties to be notified which are determined by the municipality, including properties within a 100 m radius of the applicant property and accordingly sent out registered letters to each of the listed parties. ‘In addition site notices were placed on the property and adverts in two languages were published in The Mercury and Ilanga.6 All forms of notification outlined what was proposed, where documents could be inspected including the appropriate times that the documents were available for inspection. On this basis, any claims that due protocol was not followed are not true,’ he said. Soni added the process was underway and ultimately, the municipality would have to review the application and the objections before making a decision.’

The newspaper also reported: A trustee of the planned mosque moved to allay residents’ fears. He said concerns of noise pollution were unfounded, because the Azaan (call to prayer) would not be broadcast over loud speakers. He also said the property was used presently for worship purposes and as a community meeting place with nothing expected to change if the planned mosque gets the tick of approval. “We are not going to have any rush of people coming to this place. The Muslim community has steadily grown over the years and the demographics of the area have changed. This centre It was also reported in the main local newspaper, Daily News and on 14 May 2012 a local Real Estate website posted it giving the news a real estate twist—Nondumiso Mbuyazi, ‘Durban Neighbours Irked over Rezoning, Daily News, 11 May 2012. From http://www.iolproperty.co.za/roller/news/entry/ durban_neighbours_irked_over_rezoning. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 6 Mercury is an English daily newspaper while Ilanga is a Zulu language local newspaper in Durban. 5


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is meant to serve the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the community to a place of worship. The final part of the trustee’s response was noteworthy. While most of his response was to allay the fears expressed by the objecting community, his final stand was on constitutional grounds. That part of the statement reflects the determination of the Muslim community to pursue its goal to build the mosque. It is clear now that the two sides have dug in their heels. In the blog of the Newspaper one resident quickly responded by pointing out: The applicant should be aware that the stated present non-conforming usage is illegal and that 2 wrongs do not make a right.7 This application must follow due course and cannot be bulldozed through. My experience is that Mosques are massive traffic congestion generators and are certainly not quiet. The typical aesthetic is also not in keeping with the Durban North where I have resided for 50 years. There was a church which was recently sold on auction off Blackburn Road, Redhill.8 Why did they not buy that? The zoning was in place.

To give a perspective on the existing religious places, it may be noted that there are 18 Christian worship centres, 2 Jewish, 1 Hindu, 1 Muslim which is different from the newly proposed mosque.9 In response to the Northglen Newspaper’s report on 24 April 2012, a further follow up was published in the same newspaper on 9 May 2012. This time it was in the letters to the editor column in which a representative of the Muslim community wrote an explanation offering more details on the proposed mosque. The report notes: 1. The proposed mosque will have a basement for parking 2. A prayer and teaching area 3. Residence of the Imam 4. The mosque will be no higher than the surrounding double storey homes A Durban North based website operated by the local Muslim community does indicate that the place is already being used for religious and other community purposes seemingly without prior permission for rezoning. See their website: http://mobi.gohalaal.com/index.php?option=com_ mtree&task=searchby&cf_id=5&value=Durban+North&Itemid=119. 8 Redhill area is an adjoining part of Durban North. 9 For details see the website: http://www.durban-north.co.za/worship.html. 7

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5. Call to prayer (Azaan) will not be transmitted to the homes of worshippers directly and not through use of loud speakers

Additionally, the writer also emphasized that the values of surrounding properties will go up instead of declining as it happened in other places in such situations.10 Furthermore on the issue of potential for crime, the writer also assured that there would be adequate security on the property. The writer also emphasized that the mosque would not attract large crowds as it would only serve the existing local Muslim community. But as I noted in the footnote below (fn.10), if in the long run more and more Muslim families move into the Durban North area with the attraction of the mosque, then it could increase the traffic around the mosque. However, the writer is emphatic that the mosque would be a smallscale one compared to the existing large ones in Umhlanga region and the older mosque (Soofie Mosque) in Durban North, known to local residents as Riverside mosque. The comparison made is between a large supermarket and a local convenience store, making the proposed one to be of such smaller scale. Then the writer takes a different turn in his letter by placing arguments on the basis of constitutional provisions for any religious community to have freedom to establish religious places to practice their religion. The argument then turns slightly confrontational when it is argued that ‘[T]he present site was used as a swimming school before we bought it and there were no issues about traffic and noise nor of property values being negatively affected.’ It goes on to argue—‘[T] here are 12 churches within a radius of a few kilometres from the proposed prayer site and it is rather disingenuous for people to want to deny Muslim residents of Durban North a place to worship.’ Although the letter ends on a conciliatory note expressing a desire to meet with local residents, a link is also made to the phenomenon of Islamophobia manifested elsewhere in the world. I shall return to this point later in the article. Let me turn to the second episode. 10 It is unclear if this increase in property value is due to more Muslims moving into the area because of the mosque and the incoming Muslims are perhaps willing to pay more for the property in order to be close to the mosque. If this does happen, then it underscores the fear of some existing residents that they might be forced to sell their properties to move elsewhere.


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HINDU POLICE PERSONNEL CANNOT WEAR THEIR CUSTOMARY RED STRING On 2 May 2012 the media reported that a Hindu policeman serving at the Pinetown (Durban) police station was asked by his superior, to remove the red string that Hindus wear on their wrists as a symbol of protection. The Brigadier who was responsible for the order is said to have cited a 1977 dress code for police in South Africa. It is said that while three other colleagues of the policeman in question have removed the red string, he refused to do so on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated. The policeman in question further alleged that only Indian policemen were targeted and not the others as Black policemen also wear a goat skin bracelet on their wrists also as a symbol of protection. The main Hindu religious organization, the Hindu Maha Sabha of South Africa has thrown its weight behind the affected policemen and threatened to take the matter to the top authorities in the police department. The police union also made a representation to the national police commissioner in this matter. Comments posted on various blogs strongly criticized the police for using their time for such petty things when the police have far more serious crimes to attend to.11 According to the Sunday Times report at least 24 Indian police officers were asked to remove the string. The concerned police officials through their unions requested the national commissioner’s office to review the dress code. The spokesperson of the Human Rights Commission of South Africa, which also received a complaint, reportedly said that the ‘officers were well aware of the strict code of conduct, therefore it was ‘interesting to see them challenge it’. The Indian police officers in turn claimed that the dress code was never strictly implemented by pointing out – ‘We have been wearing these strings for years. Why were we only told to remove them now?’12 The fact, that the order to remove the bracelet was seemingly directed at the Indian 11 Logan Govender, ‘Cops told to Remove Religious Bracelets’, Post, 2 May 2012. From http://article.wn.com/view/2012/05/02/Cops_told_to_ remove_religious_bracelet/. 12 Nivashni Nair, Hindu Police Challenge Rule’, Times Live, 8 June 2012. From http://www.timeslive.co.za/thetimes/2012/06/08/hindu-policechallenge-rule.

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policemen reinforced the perception that it was racially motivated. This perception is not surprising given the fact that in 2002 a famous Black musician composed a racist song about Indians in South Africa. Commenting on it, a political commentator, Max Dupreez said the following: Ngema did not start a dialogue between Zulus and Indians as he calls it. It was not a revelation of something hidden and unspoken either. Both these groups and the rest of us have known since the racial conflict of 1947 in Natal and Idi Amin's expulsion all Indians from Uganda, that there is a prejudice among some African people against people of Indian extraction. I have probably heard as many derogatory statements about Indians from black South Africans as I have heard from whites about blacks in my life. Ngema's song, Amandiya, is about nothing else but prejudice, insult and perhaps extreme opportunism.13

Subsequently the song was banned by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa which agreed in its judgement that it demeaned the Indians in South Africa.14 It is perhaps in this context of generally perceived prejudice against Indians from the Black South Africans the issue of red string is bound to take racial overtones. RACE ‘AND’ RELIGION In order to understand the above two experiences, we first need to clarify something about the intrinsic relationship between race and religion in South Africa. In the context of South Africa, perhaps the conjunction between race ‘and’ religion collapses as the two could not be separable so distinctly. The ideology of apartheid was fashioned within the crucibles of the Dutch Reformed Theology. In spite of their apologetics, Christian theologians have admitted the role of Calvinistic theology in shaping racial prejudices in South Africa notwithstanding their optimism about its future positive role in reconstituting the mores of South African society. For instance, 13 Max Du Preez, ‘AmaNdiya is Just About Prejudice’, Daily News, available from http://www.3rdearmusic.com/forum/forumaug02/preezmbongeni.html. 14 Media Report, ‘Ngema Regrets Public Ban of AmaNdiya’, IOL News, 20 June 2012, From http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/ngema-regretspublic-ban-of-amandiya-1.88413.


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Timothy Renick admits, ‘[H]istorically, Calvinism has been the source of profound division and injustice in South Africa.’ But in the same breath goes on to suggest, ‘[I]ronically, in the future Calvinism may be South Africa's richest resource for change and its greatest hope for peace.’15 Such optimism also is expressed by other theologians such as De Gruchy16 and Balcomb.17 While De Gruchy is optimistic about the future role of Calvinism in South Africa, Balcomb is optimistic about the Evangelical Churches. Such repositioning of sources that offered values that were once detrimental to South African society is bound to be problematic as their credibility still has to be tested in the broader multi-religious context. What is problematic is that all these theological apologetics reinforce the idea that South Africa is predominantly a Christian society. Renick begins his essay by pointing out that ‘eighty per cent of the South African population is self avowedly Christian’.18 But he does not point out that of the Christian population almost eighty per cent are in fact Black African Christians who are from the African Independent Churches. Claims of Christian majority have been called into question by other scholars.19 Therefore, comments such as Christians are the majority in South Africa might have salience within Christian theological internal discourses, but they evoke negative responses from the non-Christian communities, especially in the face of a need to affirm South Africa’s multireligious and multi-ethnic cultural landscape. Furthermore, such attempts hide the very distinction that was made between race and religion by the older theological discourses before the end of Timothy M. Renick. ‘From Apartheid to Liberation: Calvinism and the Shaping of Ethical Belief in South Africa’, Sociological Focus 24, no. 2, Special Issue: The Sociology of Morals, 1991, p. 141. 16 John W. de Gruchy. ‘The Revitalization of Calvinism in South Africa: Some Reflections on Christian Belief, Theology, and Social Transformation’, The Journal of Religious Ethics 14, no. 1, 1986, pp. 22-47. 17 Anthony Balcomb, ‘From Apartheid to the New Dispensation: Evangelicals and the Democratization of South Africa’, Journal of Religion in Africa 34, Fasc. 1/2, Febuary-May 2004, pp. 5-38. 18 Renick, From Apartheid to Liberation, p. 129. 19 See Jaco S. Dreyer, Hendrik J.C. Peterse, and Johannes A. van der Ven. ‘Inter-religious Orientation Among South African Youth’, Religion & Theology 6/2, 1999, pp. 194-220. 15

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apartheid system. So, the present discourse on race and religion must proceed first with an admission that a conjunctive distinction was once significant in order to separate white Christians from Black Christians. The present debate on the religious space and religious practice in South Africa has to take account of this earlier distinction between race and religion. For it is precisely on the basis of that distinction that white Christian values were considered normative in South African society. Thus, underneath the claim that in Durban North area a mosque is ‘out of the question’ as claimed by some residents lies this fundamental assumption that white Christian values are the norm in the area in question. Analogously, the claim that Indian policemen cannot wear a red string on their wrist is rooted in the Christian value system that once dominated South African legal and social codes. The difficulty in separating race and religion in the discourse of South Africa has to do with the identification of Christianity with white people not only by Muslims and Hindus in South Africa, but also by Black communities. It is an irony that despite the fact that majority of Blacks by the turn of the twentieth century became converted to Christianity, in the context of the struggle for their freedom during the apartheid government, they could not identify themselves with the European Christianity. This internal struggle among Black Christians was most effectively expressed by Frank Chikane in his autobiography when he drew the distinction between the ‘God of the oppressed and the God of the Oppressor’.20 As such, a certain type of Christianity became conflated with the race of white community in the consciousness of South African non-white society. After the Group Areas Act of 1950, as Durban North became predominantly a white suburb until 1994, the general populace that lived in the area assumed that the cultural and religious ethos of the area is Christian. From the responses to the incident in Durban North in letters to the editor columns in local community newspapers it seems clear that while a significant number of whites presently living in the area do not seem to project such Christian bias, among some the past value system seems to have remained in the back of their memory. The inability of such 20 Frank Chikane, No Life of My Own: An Autobiography, Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2009 (first published in 1988).


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members in society to separate Christian value system from their perception of the newly emerging society on the one hand, and the continued perception among non-Christian groups to conflate Christianity with race on the other is bound to complicate the bureaucratic intervention in this regard. And the same can be said about the general Indian Hindu perception of Christianity, especially in predominantly Indian populated townships such as Chatsworth and Phoenix. There is one interesting phenomenon that often seems to have escaped the attention of social scientists in the case of South African Indian Christians. Majority of them are from Pentecostal and Charismatic groups and the mainline Churches that were originally from European background have very few members among the Indian community. This phenomenon needs to be further explored and explained adequately to understand why during the colonial and apartheid period Christian activity was visibly less among Indian community in South Africa. Be that as it may, for our purpose the intrinsic relationship between race and religion and in this context, Christianity in particular is clear and this conflation between the two, viz., race and Christianity needs to be borne in mind as we analyse the above two incidents. UNIVERSALIZING THE PROBLEM By linking what happened in Durban North with the universal phenomenon known as Islamophobia, the Muslim community certainly raised the stakes on the issue. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islomophobia is defined as follows—‘Islamophobia refers to unfounded fear of and hostility towards Islam. Such fear and hostility leads to discriminations against Muslims, exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political or social process, stereotyping, the presumption of guilt by association, and finally hate crimes’.21 By giving a local issue a pan-Islamic depiction such universalization and essentialization of a local problem offers affected communities greater leverage by invoking the larger global community of Muslim support. Notwithstanding the fact that the http://www.cair.com/Issues/Islamophobia/Islamophobia.aspx


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Muslim society in any part of the world is highly different along many lines such as ethnicity, language, culture and by different local beliefs and practices the notion of Umma in Islam offers the kind of cohesiveness that is unparalleled in other religions. However, it must be noted that very early on after the prophet’s death the unity of Umma came under threat. It must also be noted that what is counted as Umma really is a more comprehensive term that includes a gradation of the community. Gaffney points out—‘[I]n the Quran (49:14-17), for instance, an explicit distinction is made between “Muslims” (muslimun) and “believers” (mu’minun).’22 The Umma went through several pressures throughout the history of Islam in many parts of the world and in the aftermath of the colonial era there were efforts to restore the unity of Umma to fend off Western influence.23 In recent years there is much evidence of it in the wake of Western interaction with the Muslim countries and especially in the wake of incidents that mocked Islamic values or the prophet as witnessed in the most recent case of a film made to ridicule the prophet Muhammad.24 South African Muslims have rallied behind the Palestinian cause and even put enormous pressure on the South African government to support the Palestinian cause. By placing their local issue of Durban North in the context of Islamophobia they seem to signal that their cause is bigger than being confined to a local area. However, in the case of the Hindu incident, there seems to be less media profile and Hindus did not [at least so far] define their local problem in relation to the Hindutva movement whose presence in South Africa is not too visible although it does exist in some small measure in greater Durban area. The relative isolation in which Hindus in South Africa lived largely unaffected by South Asian political climate could offer some explanation in this regard. Nevertheless, their inability to universalize their local problem does not necessarily diminish the importance of their fight to seek justice 22 Patrick D. Gaffney, ‘Popular Islam’, in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 524, 1992, p. 41. 23 Gaffney, Popular Islam, p. 44. 24 The film made by an American called ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ has evidently caused a great deal of uproar throughout the Muslim world and caused the unfortunate death of the Ambassador of the US to Libya.


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for their religious rights. Comparatively the Hindus in South Africa are not as vocal as their Muslim counterparts when it comes to such communal issues. Perhaps, most important consideration would be that the sense of a larger Hindu unity is less conspicuously expressed among Hindus than among their Muslim counterparts. Although, the Hindu Maha Sabha attempts to play such a unifying role, for all practical purposes, many Hindu organizations and temples generally function very autonomously and are more conscious of maintaining their independent identity than to consciously make efforts to create a common Hindu identity. SOUTH AFRICA AND MULTICULTURALISM South African constitution is perhaps one of the most liberal documents when it comes to freedom of religion. The Bill of Rights section of the constitution guarantees religious freedom in every sense in which democracy is practised.25 Religious pluralism and multiculturalism is not only a growing phenomenon, but is also equally significant in rural parts of South Africa. Elsewhere, I have pointed this growing phenomenon of religious pluralism in rural areas.26 Given the fact that in the new democracy, freedom to practise one’s religion anywhere in South Africa is entrenched in the constitution of the country, we need to locate the above events of alleged discrimination within the various available political and social discourses. Here, I would identify three possible resources that might inform the discourse on religious practise in the South African context. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive but can be seen to have complimentary relationships. First is the Renaissance Approach that the former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbkei had championed. According to Bongmba, the idea was first mooted by Nelson Mandela in his address in 1944 to the Organization of African Unity. It was 25 See, South African Constitution, 1:1; 1:5:b:ii; 2:9:3-4; 2:16:2:c;2:31:12. From http://www.info.gov.za/documents/constitution/1996/index.htm. Retrieved 22 September, 2012. 26 See, P. Pratap Kumar, ‘Religious Pluralism and Religion Education in South Africa’, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 18, 3, pp. 273-93.

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later pursued by Thabo Mbeki.27 Although in Mbeki’s shaping of the idea it was largely drawn from the African indigenous heritage,28 it underlined an important universal idea of recovery and restoration. Embedded in it is the key idea of what is called ‘coinciding boundaries’29 which reflects the true African ethos. It means a fundamental restoration of the spirit of Africa in which the apartheid bounded existence had to be overcome in favour of shared and unbounded communities. One of the central ideas of African renaissance is the promotion of a national identity and pride. This cannot happen unless every community across ethnic boundaries feels ‘belonged’. In this respect, the role of cultural and religious institutions is vital in an effort to promote the African values embedded in the ideology of African renaissance. According to some scholars, such responsibilities of promoting African values cannot be left to the governmental agencies and departments but rather they must be driven by local communities. Cecil Blake argues, ‘[I]mportant galvanizing cultural and convivial activities cannot thus be constructed anecdotally or left to the whims and caprices of ministries of culture that are more concerned with the promotion of tourism and the like than the consolidation of African value systems. Civil society organizations have to play a central role in efforts to galvanize and systematize convivial activities in society.’30 Viewed in this way, then the local communities must be seen to be amenable to such noble goals of shared values and mutual coexistence. Here, in the context of the above cited two cases, the notion of ‘coinciding boundaries’ can be of some significance as it offers communities some structural idea of how communities can have their religious orientations within a freely flowing communal space. Instead of seeing each other’s religious spaces as competing and identity threatening complexes, ‘coinciding boundaries’ can open up a meaningful dialogical relationships. What this means Elias K. Bongmba, ‘Reflections on Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance’, Journal of Southern African Studies 30, no. 2, 2004, pp. 291-316. 28 Bongmba, ‘Reflections on Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance’, p. 293. 29 Ibid., p. 294. 30 Cecil Blake, ‘An African Nationalist Ideology Framed in Diaspora and the Development Quagmire: Any Hope for a Renaissance?’, Journal of Black Studies 35, no. 5, May 2005, pp. 573-96. 27


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for the Muslim community and the majority Whites in Durban North area need to be clarified further. In other words, the selfmade boundaries of the two communities need to enter into a common space instead of shooting from each other’s hips through new media and blogs and confront each other’s fears and anxieties of cultural otherness. The second resource could be identified as ‘rainbow nation’ ideal promoted by Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu. It was meant as a symbol of reconciliation, restoration and unity. From businesses, government bureaucracies to ordinary people it has become a catch phrase in the vocabulary of South Africans. It is intended to infuse both national pride and self-esteem. Moller, Dickow and Harris in a joint paper argued that national is fused in the personal in a collective society. They argued: [T]he individual and the group derive their meaning from coexistence with each other. People are expected to place the common good before their personal interests. In individualistic societies, by contrast, individuals are loosely connected and expected to look after themselves. The African philosophy of ubuntu fits the definition of collectivism; its morality emphasises mutual respect and support as well as group cohesiveness.31

One of the biggest challenges in South Africa is social integration. From an era of spatial, psychological and emotional separation of communities South Africa now needs to move towards an era in which reconciliation and restoration could happen. This is fundamental to South Africa’s political and social existence. Throughout Africa, the post-independent conflicts have demonstrated sufficiently the price that ordinary people in the street had to pay having been caught in the cross fire of power struggles among dictatorial leaders on the one hand and the communal wars among local communities on the other. South Africans had already experienced in the mid- 1990s what it could be if communities fall apart fuelled by political and social divisiveness. In this context, analysts have emphasized the enormous role of the state in ensuring that social integration receives utmost priority. Valerie Møller, Helga Dickow and Mari Harris, ‘South Africa’s ‘Rainbow People’, National Pride and Happiness’, Social Indicators Research 47, no. 3, July 1999, p. 248. 31

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Particularly people who are placed in national leadership roles need to lead by example. Here the case of Mr. Nelson Mandela, the former president is perhaps the best example to recall. It is widely known that when the African National Congress (ANC) at its executive meeting during the deliberations on the issue of national symbols decided to remove Springbok as the symbol of Rugby Union in South Africa, it was at the special intervention of Mr. Mandela that the ANC withdrew its decision and allowed the Springbok to remain the symbol of South African Rugby. Mandela was able to see the cultural significance that the symbol had for the Afrikaaner people for whom Rugby was a major sport. It was his willingness to accommodate the unique cultural aspects of a people in the new South Africa that made him a symbol of unity in South Africa. Aside from the role of such virtuosos, equally important is the role of civil society organizations in putting pressure on the state organs to implement many reconciliation programmes. Local context has been emphasized significantly in these reconciliation discourses, particularly in dealing with issues around local culture and religion.32 The notion of ‘rainbow nation’ and the ideal of ‘Ubuntu’ can foster religious tolerance and mutual respect and willingness to accommodate one another’s religious practices. In this regard some have proffered a ‘polycultural’ model to overcome alienation in South African society. For instance, Flint, in the context of African and Indian cultural encounters, suggested that when cultural groups encounter one another, particularly with frequency, there is potential for leakage – the diffusion, adoption and appropriation of other cultural ideas, practices, and artefacts. The result is a polycultural amalgam that blends together various strands of influence, creating new and sometimes unexpected patterns.33

Inasmuch as she points out that antagonism between African and Indian communities is a ‘cultural production arising from specific

32 Christopher J. Colvin, ‘Civil Society and Reconciliation in Southern Africa’, Development in Practice 17, no. 3, 2007, p. 333. 33 Karen Flint, ‘Indian-African Encounters: Polyculturalism and African Therapeutics in Natal, South Africa, 1886-1950s’, Journal of Southern African Studies 32, no. 2, 2006, p. 369.


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historic circumstances’34 same can be said about the Indian and White antagonism also. In other words, the race relations in South Africa are attributable to the specific historical and socio-political circumstances and therefore a much more holistic approach is needed to reintegrate communities in South Africa. A third resource would be drawing from the enormous fountain of Gandhian philosophy and ideals. Gandhian ideals have been implemented in many parts of the world particularly his strategy of ‘non-violent passive resistance’ From Dr. Martin Luther King to Mr. Nelson Mandela, several political stalwarts have emulated Gandhi and his ideals. One of the greatest stumbling blocks in achieving any progress in inter-faith relations is the vast divergence that exists in the way different religions have understood transcendence, vis à vis, God, divinity, Goddess, non-self and so on. In this context, one idea that might be drawn from Gandhi’s enormous fund of ideas is his notion of Truth. Instead of referring to transcendence in anthropomorphic terms, Gandhi chose to use the word Truth to refer to what in other religions is called God, divinity, Goddess and non-self. As much as God is personal for Gandhi, his idea of Truth lends itself to a more practical way to enter into a relationship with other religious groups. As Glyn Richards underlines, Gandhi characterizes Truth (satya) with non-violence (ahimsa). In other words, Truth is the ultimate goal and non-violence is the means to attain it.35 Pradhan points out that ‘[F]or Gandhi, truth is not only a metaphysical category but also a moral and spiritual concept signifying the importance of truth in life.’36 Likewise, another Gandhian scholar Hettne points out that the significance of non-violence lies in the strategy to ‘exclude all actions that restrict the free will of your opponent, i.e. it should be based only on positive influence.’37 These ideas are perhaps most relevant to the South African social context, especially in the 34 Flint, ‘Indian-African Encounters: Polyculturalism and African Therapeutics in Natal, South Africa, 1886-1950s’, p. 368. 35 Glyn Richards, ‘Gandhi’s Concept of Truth and the Advaita Tradition’, Religious Studies 22, no. 1, 1986, p. 9. 36 R. C. Pradhan,‘Making Sense of Gandhi's Idea of Truth’, Social Scientist 34, no. 5/6, 2006, p. 36. 37 Bjørn Hettne, ‘The Vitality of Gandhian Tradition’, Journal of Peace Research 13, no. 3, 1976, p. 230.

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context of achieving social integration among different religious communities. Gandhian idea of grasping the truth instantly provides an atmosphere in which the two sides can find each other in a mutually agreeable space. It removes the fear of being dominated. Therefore, it is in some fundamental ways different from invoking Islamophobia sort of universalizations. An appeal to such fear-based and provocative, non-substantive claims can harden the positions of communities and isolate them from coming forward for an exchange of meaningful dialogue. Notwithstanding the fact that both in the Mahabharata epic and its associated text, the Bhagavad Gita the idea of detached action is promoted in that a warrior should fight without any attachment, for Gandhi the epic demonstrated the futility of war and conflict. In a sense, Gandhi departed from the most commonly attributed interpretation to Gita that warfare is in tune with Gita’s idea of renouncing the fruit of action. According to B.R. Nanda, Gandhi is said to have commented—‘[B]ut after 40 years’ unremitting endeavour fully to enforce the teaching of the Gita in my own life, I have in all humility, felt that perfect renunciation is impossible without perfect observance of ‘ahimsa’ in every shape and form.’38 This unequivocal rejection of violence and conflict in Gandhian philosophy can offer a compelling ground for renegotiating the mutual relations between communities in South Africa. The relevance of Gandhi for South Africa has a particular resonance. For it is here in South Africa that he first experimented with this idea of ‘satyagraha’. It is because of his inherent conviction about its philosophical and practical power that he was willing to give up a lucrative career as a lawyer and become a social activist for the rest of his life dedicated to the upliftment of the poor and the oppressed. It was while living in the Phoenix settlement in Durban when he fashioned his ideas around the philosophy of Satyagraha. He turned what was initially seen as a merchant political struggle into a mass movement by coopting the indentured labourers into his movement. He was able to realize that the struggle for the rights of Indian community as a whole cannot be achieved without all parties being involved in it. It is to identify himself with the working class that he spent his 38 B.R. Nanda, quoted in M.N. Srinivas, ‘Gandhi’s Religion’, Economic and Political Weekly 30, no. 25, 1995, p. 1490.


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life at the Phoenix settlement as an ordinary labourer and through his actual deeds that he demonstrated his leadership. It was this very example that he implemented in the context of India when he led the Indian National Congress by drawing into the movement the ordinary people from the villages. It is these unifying features in Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha that can form the basis for forging unity among culturally and religiously distinct groups across racial and ethnic boundaries. CONCLUSION By bringing together these extraordinary resources that already exist in the intellectual and cultural discourses of South Africa it is perhaps not impossible to renegotiate the spatial distance that exists between communities along cultural and religious lines. Resisting social transformation on the part of the previously advantaged on the one hand, the imposition of change and transformation without enlisting all the stakeholders, especially the previously privileged, can only deepen suspicions and cause even more alienation between parties. Any form of resistance has two sides. The dominant side and the victim side and both tend to exert pressure on the other. Victor and victim are not essentialized polarities that remain cast in some abstract mode. They are rather sociological realities that change places. What was once referred to as dominant group could become the underprivileged. And the previously underprivileged when they become politically dominant can impose conditions of disadvantage on the previously advantaged. The fact, that so many whites and even Indians who relatively had some better conditions complain today about ‘reverse discrimination’ in South Africa points to this phenomenon. The lack of enthusiasm for social transformation among previously disadvantaged could stem from a deep sense of being the target of reverse discrimination. Therefore, it is easy to understand why previously dominant group tends to maintain status quo where possible to retain their diminishing privilege by entrenching their social dominance and by invoking existing and new structures, whereas the previously disadvantaged having come into a position of power tend to resist the existing and any new structures that are not conducive for

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social transformation. I began with the comment of Talal Asad. Religion has the potential to deepen conflict and endanger peace and economic prosperity for all people of South Africa. Religion has never been on the side lines of South African politics and society. It has always remained in the middle making social relations that much more complicated. Therefore, if the South African society does not avail itself of the enormous positive resources that exist in the multiple traditions in dealing with religious issues it will only deepen mutual suspicion and could move in the direction of noncooperation between communities. For the resources to be properly utilized in order to achieve social integration both the state and the civil society organizations need to join hands and work with local communities to achieve peaceful and harmonious society which is the basis to promote the ideals of democracy and human rights. The two instances that I have described above, the mosque saga and the red string saga, can repeat themselves again and again in one corner of South Africa or another if the mutual suspicion and antagonism that underlines these events are not addressed with political and social will. Mere constitutional guarantees cannot offer sufficient hope and practical means to achieve harmonious society in South Africa. Rather in line with the Gandhian thinking, a cultural dialogue that is based on the two principles underlined by Gandhi, viz., Truth and Non-violence, can offer a more pragmatic and practical approach to resolving social tensions within South African society. And Like Gandhi and Mandela, people in leadership roles must play a positive role by being exemplary citizens rather than simply making speeches. Every positive change comes from every small instance of positive action. The two instances cited in this paper are simply symptoms of a larger malaise in society. A fundamental rethinking along the lines of Gandhi, Mandela and Tutu can offer South African society the way forward to find a new society that will grant the same rights, privileges and duties to all those who live in it. In fact, Gandhi’s idea of holding on to truth (satyagraha) resonates through the lives of Mandela and Tutu for they have clearly emulated the example set by Gandhi and in doing so, they have made the experience of Gandhi relevant for South Africa.


An Approach to Peace: Gandhi on Conflict Resolution through Satyagraha NAMITA NIMBALKAR

We can achieve everything by love. Love can never be impatient and nor can it ever be angry. M.K. Gandhi

Even after reaching the extremes of violence during the two World Wars, the human race is still going through the agony of violence of every kind, to this day. There is no end in sight to conflict. Hence, the need of the hour is to understand M.K. Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha so that we can resolve conflict and manage ourselves in a better manner. We can talk about the present violent situations of the world and find likely solutions to them through non-violence or Satyagraha. Non-violence is both a science and an art. Like all sciences, it has a history and philosophy behind it. It is not an invention of the age. It is a discovery that has been resuscitated from the debris of violence and materialism, of rage and passion, of hatred and competition, by which it has been covered over for centuries. Gandhi’s struggle called Satyagraha was a moral equivalent of war and a deeply spiritual action. To quote Gandhi, ‘I believe in war bereft of every trace of violence.’1 Satyagraha was an important constituent of Gandhi’s programme of national self-purification. When he started campaigning against the racially discriminatory measures in South Africa, Harijan, 14 May 1938.



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Gandhi discovered that his countrymen there lacked personal and communal self-respect, courage and the willingness to organize themselves.2 In a memorable phrase, he urged them to ‘rebel’ against themselves. The concept of ‘rebel’ was something totally new to the people, who were used to taking orders and not doing any critical thinking on their own. In fact, the people did not take any major decisions for themselves. Satyagraha was like a fresh wind, which had blown into their lives, daring them to come out in the open and breathe fresh air. The same holds true when Gandhi used the weapon of Satyagraha in India. The millions in India were coiled in superstition, poverty, ignorance, and religious beliefs and had no weapon with which to resist the mighty British Empire. Gandhi provided them with the weapon of non-violence, urged them to resist with non-cooperation, and shook the foundation of the Empire on which, it was reputed, the sun never set. Gandhi struck a chord with people, talked about their concerns in the language they understood. He also believed that ‘in our land of millions of destitute and crippled people, if we take to the practice of seeking justice through murder, there would be a terrifying situation. Our poor people would become victims of our atrocities. By making a dharma of violence, we shall be reaping the fruit of our own actions’.3 The only weapon available to the people was a spiritual weapon and that was Satyagraha. The term Satyagraha was coined by Gandhi in South Africa as a name for the force that Indians there used in their fight to earn respect and basic rights. The root meaning of Satyagraha is holding on to ‘truth’, hence truth-force. It is a combination of two words – Satya and Agraha. The word Satya is derived from Sanskrit ‘Sat’ which means ‘being’, or to exist ‘eternally’. Nothing really exists eternally except Truth. Truth is also absolute, which means God. Therefore, Truth is God. Agraha means holding firmly on to Truth. Gandhi believed in the efficacy of Satyagraha. For Gandhi, Satyagraha, meaning civil insistence on or tenacity in the pursuit of truth, aimed to penetrate the barriers of prejudice, ill-will, dogmatism, self-righteousness and selfishness, to reach out to and activate the soul of opponent. The concept of Satyagraha gives Savita Singh, Satyagraha, Publications Division: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 2007, pp. 44-6. 3 Young India, 29 March 1931. 2

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practical expression to religious and ethical ideals of truth and non-violence. But Gandhi’s choice of the term Satyagraha did more than that: it forged a bond between his actions and his basic beliefs concerning the nature of human beings and the nature of reality. His religious and metaphysical beliefs concerning truth or good, the soul or atman, and the essential unity of all existence were given existential expression through the principle of Satyagraha. Hence, the reason it is referred to as truth force or soul force or surgery of the soul.4 Satyagraha is Gandhi’s technique of non-violent activism. The term is translated as ‘non-violent resistance’, ‘non-violent direct action’, ‘passive resistance’ and even ‘militant non-violence’. However, there is a fundamental difference between Satyagraha and passive resistance. By the choice of the term Satyagraha, Gandhi distinguished the non-violent actions of the Indian movement from the passive resistance of the European movements, thereby removing the cause of confusion and at the same time preparing the way for a better understanding of Indian aspirations in South Africa.5 Satyagraha differs from passive resistance as the North Pole from the South. To further elaborate, passive resistance is poweroriented, a method of securing rights by personal suffering: it is the reverse of resistance by arms. Satyagraha on the other hand is truth-oriented, a process of conflict-resolution by mutual understanding and by educating public opinion through reason, discussions and self-suffering. It implies self-sacrifice, readiness to bear untold suffering bravely. Gandhi describes Satyagraha as not being associated with anger. It is never fussy, never impatient, and never vociferous. It is the direct opposite of compulsion. It was conceived as a complete substitute of violence.6 For Gandhi, ‘suffering love’ was the best way to give expression 4 M.K. Gandhi, ‘Statement to Disorders Inquiry Committee’, 5 January 1920, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 19, New Delhi: Publications Division, 2000, p. 206. It is nearly impossible to cleanly separate the different terms since they very often blend together and are highly interrelated. 5 Glyn Richards, The Philosophy of Gandhi: A study of his Basic Ideas, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1995, p. 49. 6 Abdul S. Sattar, The Relevance of Gandhian Satyagraha in the 21st Century, Anasakti Darshan, New Delhi: Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, vol. 2, no. 1, January-June 2006.


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to and achieve Satyagraha, and formed the inspiring principle of his new method. To put it in the words of Gandhi, ‘For me, the law of Satyagraha, the law of love, is an eternal principle. I co-operate with all that is good. I desire to non-cooperate with all that is evil, whether it is associated with my wife, son or myself.’7 The love force in Satyagraha has no room for hatred against ‘others’.8 Satyagraha is subject to a higher law. Gandhi had made it very clear, ‘Hatred has no place in Satyagraha but is a positive breach of its ruling principle. Satyagraha proceeds on the active principle of love, which says, “Love those that despitefully use you”. It is easy for you to love your friends. But I say unto you, love your enemies.’9 The influence of Christianity is evident in the above statement of Gandhi. The reading and understanding of different religions and traditions can be observed in Gandhi’s formulation of Satyagraha. Gandhi fused his own interpretation of the Indian tradition of ahimsa, of Jainism’s observance of strict non-violence, the ideas he found in Tolstoy and the Sermon on the Mount; the result was a principle that evoked rich religious symbolism and contributed to a dynamic method of action unique in Indian history. The influence of Socrates, to defy the state and face the consequences, and Kasturba’s quiet submission to his will and patient suffering, also influenced him in the formation of his philosophy. Gandhi’s early childhood experiences also played an important role. A couplet in Gujarati, learned in his childhood days, profoundly influenced Gandhi’s conscious and sub-conscious thinking: ‘If a man gives you a drink of water and you give him a drink in return, that is nothing; Real beauty consists in doing good against evil.’10 Satyagraha is further described as an unending, dialectical quest for truth; it is holding on to truth come what may. It requires no physical assistance or material aid and is capable of being exercised by men, women and children.11It appeals to the common sense and morality of one’s adversary through words, purity, humility, honesty Young India, 18 June 1925. Ibid., 8 August 1929. 9 Harijan, 14 May 1938. 10 M.K. Gandhi, The Story of my Experiments with Truth, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1940, p. 32. 11 Richards, The Philosophy of Gandhi, p. 49. 7 8

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and self-suffering. It is universally applicable, it is to violence, and therefore, to all tyranny, all injustice, what light is to darkness.12 This brings us closer to understanding the philosophy of Satyagraha. The philosophy rests on the postulate that all individuals have souls residing in them, and an individual is not different from others though the colour of the skin, race or varna may be different. As such, violence is not the law of our being. As Bhiku Parekh states, ‘The use of violence denied the ontological facts that all human beings had souls, that they were capable of appreciating and pursuing good and that no one was so degenerate that he could not be won over by appealing to his fellow-feeling and humanity’.13 Gandhi also rejected violence on moral grounds. Morality consisted in doing what was right because one believed it to be right and required unity of belief and conduct. Since the use of violence did not change the opponent’s perception of truth, it compelled him to behave in manner contrary to his Swabhava14 and sincerely-held beliefs and violated his moral integrity.15 On close analysis of the influence on Gandhi, his concept of non-violence (ahimsa) differs remarkably from the traditional Indian non-violence. Gandhi used Satyagraha as a means, not an end; a means to removing social injustices and social evils in society. Gandhi laid great emphasis on means than on ends. Because good ends can never grow out of bad means, the opponents (for Gandhi there may be opponents but never enemies) are not forced to expose themselves to loss. There is ideally no threat, no coercion or punishment. Instead, in Gandhi’s scheme, the idea is to undergo ‘self-suffering’ in the belief that the opponent can be converted to seeing the truth by touching his or her conscience, or that a clearer vision of truth may grow out of the dialectical process for both parties.16 Nelson William Stuart, ‘The Tradition of Nonviolence and its Underlying Forces’, in G. Ramchandran and T. K. Mahadevan (eds.), Gandhi: His Relevance for our Times, New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1967, p. 25. 13 Parekh, Bhikhu, Gandhi, New York: Sterling, 2010, p. 87. 14 Meaning one’s nature. 15 S.K. Jolly, Reading Gandhi, New Delhi: Concept, 2006, p. 114. 16 Thomas Weber, ‘Gandhian Philosophy, Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practical Approaches to Negotiation’, Journal of Peace Research 38, no. 4, July 2001, pp. 493-513. 12


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Gandhi believed in the inherent goodness of humans. He also believed that the spiritual element in human existence cannot be subdued for a long time. As Gopinath Dhawan puts it, The whole conception of Satyagraha rests on the psychological assumption that the innate goodness of the most brutal opponent can be aroused by the pure suffering of a truthful man. Thus pursuit of truth, i.e. of development of conscious non-violence is neither impossible, nor even impracticable, though it is a difficult ideal requiring constant effort and ceaseless vigilance.17

This belief rests on the Gandhian approach which, though spiritual in essence, is an extremely practical one. Once the individual’s mind or the mind of the group gets rooted in the truth of the situation and in the rightness of the cause by identification, it is no longer the individual who works but the spiritual force, that is stronger than any physical force. The spiritual force overpowers the material force and the good ultimately wins over the evil. The means justifies the ends. The two opposing forces are wholly different in kind; the one moral and spiritual, the other physical and material.18 The one is definitely superior to the other which by its very nature has an end. The basic postulates of Satyagraha are Truth, Non-Violence, Faith in God, Fellowship of Humanity, Supremacy of Moral Law and Purity of Means. Joan Bondurant, in The Conquest of Violence, expresses the relationship between Truth and Non-Violence: ‘To proceed towards the goal of Truth – truth, in the absolute sense . . . must lead through the testing of relative truths as they appear to the individual performer. The testing of truth can be performed only by a strict adherence to ahimsa – action based on refusal to do harm or, more accurately, upon love. For truth, judged in terms of human needs, would be destroyed on whichever side it lay, by the use of violence. Non-violence or ahimsa becomes the supreme value, the one cognizable standard by which true action can be determined’.19 17 Gopinath Dhawan, The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, New Delhi: The Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1990, p. 96. 18 Harijan, 10 February 1946. 19 Joan Bondurant, The Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University, 1958, p. 25.

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In order to cement the relationship between truth [the end] and non-violence [the means], Gandhi advocated the concept of self-suffering. An appeal to reason does not always work, where the layers of prejudices are age-long and based on supposed religious authority. Reason has to be strengthened by suffering and suffering opens the eyes of understanding. In Hind Swaraj, Gandhi proclaims that ‘Sacrifice of self is infinitely superior to sacrifice of others and that a self-sufferer does not make others suffer for his mistakes’.20 When we put together Gandhi’s statement on the varied dimensions of Satyagraha, we find that he conceives it as essentially an attitude of mind and a way of life based on the firm desire for vindicating just causes, correcting wrongs and converting wrong–doers by voluntary self-suffering and by patient but active use of the means which are non-violent and intrinsically just. Non-violence, thus, in Gandhi’s thought has a metaphysical status equal to that of Truth, for love, like Truth, is regarded by him as the law of our being, as the universal first principle on which the very existence of the world depends. Ahimsa is the force that sustains the world and ‘includes the whole creation, not only human.’ The link between Satya and Ahimsa is highly metaphysical. To quote Margaret Chatterjee, ‘since our views of the truth are but fragmentary, no man must impose his partial vision on others: this is the foundation for Gandhi’s belief in non-violence’.21 Even in the realm of science, it is found that there is a centripetal force without which nothing could have existed. Gandhi points to this relationship and says, ‘Not violence, not untruth, but non-violence, Truth is the law of our being. The ties of love bind us all. Nothing could have existed without a centripetal force. Scientists tell us, that without the presence of the cohesive force among the atoms that comprise this globe of ours, it would cease to exist, and even as there is cohesive force in blind matter, so must there be in all things animate, and the name of that cohesive force among all animate beings is love’.22 20 M.K. Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, or Indian Home Rule, Ist edition, 3rd rpt., Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1958, p. 79. 21 Margaret Chatterjee, Gandhi’s Religious Thought, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983, p. 74. 22 Young India, 13 September 1928.


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To change the present world order, Gandhi suggested, ‘I would advise the adoption of non-violence to the utmost extent possible and that will be India’s great contribution to the peace of the world and the establishment of a new world order’.23 Gandhi was also aware of limitations of individuals, to possess moral power needed by them to follow Satyagraha. He also realized that at all times people could not follow the concept of non-violence. Rather than have chaos in society, he asks them to follow the dictates of the state. Of course, the state has to be democratic in its set up. For example, at New Delhi, in September 1947 Gandhi said to the Hindus,

. . . even presuming that all the Mussalmans in Delhi have an evil design

and that they possess weapons including gunpowder, sten-guns, brenguns, and machine guns, which they intend to use for killing others, even then you have no right to kill them. If every citizen arrogates to himself the powers of a Government, then all government comes to an end. If, on the contrary, every citizen willingly submits himself to the authority of the government which he himself has helped to come to power, the machinery of the State would run smoothly.

For Gandhi, Satyagraha was also a method of resolving conflict. The satyagrahi uses Satyagraha when he is in conflict with an ideal or principle. Gandhi used the concept of Satyagraha well to resolve different conflicts both in South Africa and in India. The vital activity of Satyagraha is a search for justice to which the ethic of non-violence is invited. ‘The first condition of nonviolence’ he said ‘is justice all round in every department of life’. 24 Confronted with an injustice, the satyagrahi seeks a dialogue with his opponent. There are three instances of how Gandhi used spiritual laws to overcome hatred and strife and to bring about justice and peace in India. One was in the economic sphere, to free the peasants of Champaran from exploitation by British planters; another in the political sphere, to wage war against alien rule; and still another in the social sphere to overcome Harijan, 26 March 1938. M.K. Gandhi, Communal Unity, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1949, p. 267. 23


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hatred between religious groups, that is the Hindus and the Muslims.25 In a conflict situation for Gandhi, there is no other plan than the adherence to non-violence in thought, words and deeds, and no other goal than to reach the truth (and ultimately the Truth). For Gandhi, rational discussion and persuasion were the best way to resolve conflict. Gandhi, like Tolstoy, urges us to hate the sin and not the sinner. Gandhi’s own statement readily reflects these principles: ‘A satyagrahi must never forget the distinction between evil and the evil-doer’.26 ‘The essence of non-violence technique is that it seeks to liquidate antagonisms but not antagonists themselves’.27 ‘ . . . It is often forgotten that it is never the intention of a satyagrahi to embarrass the wrong doer . . . the satyagrahi’s object is to convert, not to coerce, the wrong doer’.28 It is the acid test of nonviolence that, ‘in non-violent conflicts, there is no rancour left behind, and in the end the enemies are converted to friends’.29 In Harijan, Gandhi observes: ‘the idea underlying Satyagraha is to convert the wrongdoer, to awaken the sense of justice in him, to show him also that without the cooperation direct or indirect, of the wronged, the wrong doer cannot do the wrong intended by him’.30 Thomas Weber in his article identifies three forms to resolve conflict: The first norm relates to goals and conflicts and states that one should act in conflicts; define the conflict well; and have a positive approach to the conflict. The second norm relates to conflict struggle and enjoins one to act nonGene Sharp, Gandhi Wields the Weapon of Moral Power: Three Case Histories, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1960, p. viii. 26 M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1958, p. 77. 27 Harijan, 24 April 1939. 28 Harijan, 25 March 1939. 29 M.K. Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as Told in His Own Words, compiled by Krishna Kripalani, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1960, p. 128. 30 Harijan, 10 December 1938. 25


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violently in conflicts; to act in a goal-consistent manner; not to cooperate with evil; not to polarize the situation, not to escalate. The third and final norm relates to conflict resolution and it directs that conflicts should be solved; that one should insist on essentials rather than non-essentials; that one should be generous with opponents; and finally that one should aim for conversion rather than coercion.31

A study of Gandhi’s Satyagraha points to a well laid-down plan, a system, and it was implemented in all Satyagrahas that he had undertaken. As Bhikhu Parekh has observed, ‘In all his Satyagrahas, Gandhi observed certain basic principles. They were preceded by a careful study of the situation, patient gathering of facts, a reasoned defence of the objectives, a popular agitation to convince the opponent of the intensity of the satyagrahi’s feeling and an ultimatum to give him a last chance for negotiations. Throughout the Satyagraha, the channels of communication with the opponent were kept open, the attitudes on either side were not allowed to harden, and intermediaries were encouraged’.32

R.R. Diwakar expounds the moral context of Satyagraha. He says, ‘In Satyagraha, the opponent is not an enemy to be destroyed or defeated. He is a person who is to co-exist with the satyagrahi. He is, therefore, to be helped to become a better man for himself and for the society’.33 The satyagrahi is therefore obligated to enter into reason and discussion with his opponent in order to awaken the sense of justice and fairness in him. If the satyagrahi fails in discussion, then he is to undergo self- suffering instead of inflicting suffering on the latter. Voluntary self-suffering results in change of heart; what Gandhi calls, ‘conversion of the wrong doer.’ At the same time, he also does not expect a person to stretch himself or herself beyond a limit. As he said to Mirabehn, ‘in every case never go beyond your capacity, that is a breach of truth’.34 Richard Gregg has very rightly said, ‘Satyagraha provides to all parties to a Weber, Gandhian Philosophy, p. 494. Bhikhu, Gandhi, p. 93. 33 R.R. Diwakar, Is Not Gandhi the Answer, Bombay: Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, 1966, p. 57. 34 M.K. Gandhi, Gandhi’s Letters to a Disciple, New York: Harper Brothers, 1950, p. 49. 31 32

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conflict (the satyagrahi, the opponent and the onlookers) a ‘mirror’ in which every person sees himself as others see him’.35 Comparing the satyagrahi with a surgeon and the Satyagraha participants with his assistants, Gandhi says, Satyagraha is a purely spiritual weapon. It may be used . . . through men and women who do not understand it spiritually, provided the director knows that it is spiritual. Everyone cannot use surgical instruments. Many use them, if there is an expert behind them directing their move I claim to be a Satyagraha expert in the making. I have need to be far more careful than the expert surgeon who is a complete master of his science. I am still a humble searcher.36

Gandhi’s Satyagraha points to two related things. Negatively, it enjoins upon humans the duty to eradicate evil and, positively, it reminds one of one’s obligation to serve the community. Gandhi’s Satyagraha shifts the emphasis from the doer to the deed so that both the satyagrahi and his opponent may address themselves to the solution of the problem rather than seek destruction of each other. Gandhi’s critics criticized him for employing Satyagraha to weaken the state machinery. Gandhi believed that Satyagraha is constitutional. To the critics who see Satyagraha as an appeal to emotions, creating chaos in society by disobeying the law of the land, Gandhi explains it differently: the law-breaker breaks the law surreptitiously and tries to avoid the penalty; not so the civil resister. He ever obeys the laws of the state to which he belongs, not out of fear of the sanctions, but because he considers them to be good for the welfare of the society. But there comes occasions, generally rare, when he considers certain laws to be so unjust as to render obedience to them dishonour. He then openly and civilly breaks them and quietly suffers the penalty for their breach. And in order to register his protest against the action of the lawgivers, it is open to him to withdraw his co-operation from the State by disobeying such other laws whose breach does not involve moral turpitude.37 Richard Gregg, Satyagraha as a Mirror, in G. Ramachandran and T.K. Mahadevan (ed.), Gandhi–His Relevance for Our Times, New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1967, p. 138. 36 M.K. Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, 18 January 1934 to 19 May 1934, vol. 63, New Delhi: Publications Division, 2000, p. 348. 37 M.K. Gandhi, Selected Political Writings, ed. Dennis Dalton, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1996, pp. 61-2. 35


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The pathway to Satyagraha is discipline of the body with the disciplining of the mind. Gandhi laid emphasis on Yoga along with penance or tapas, which will help one to become fearless. If Satyagraha is a new way of life, then the application of this principle to every walk of life and all human affairs, and especially the use of this principle on a mass scale to fight evil and injustice, to establish truth and justice, is certainly a new feature. To quote Gandhi, ‘it is a force that may be used by individuals as well as communities. It may be used as well in political as in domestic affairs. Its universal applicability is a demonstration of its permanence and invincibility.’38 Gandhi’s Satyagraha as such is a ‘Dharma Yuddha’, and only in a state of utter helplessness and utter darkness, does a satyagrahi resort to it. Nevertheless, once the satyagrahi resorts to this principle, he will refuse to compromise on the basic moral issues in the face of the punishment, persecution and infliction of suffering. Satyagraha presents the force, which is ever progressive and endless. Gandhi also realized that to raise the morbid generation from their slumber, the key lies in building a different non-violent human community, such as the Constructive Programme hoped to achieve in India. As Gene Sharp states, ‘Constructive Programme is an active method of attacking and removing social evils. It can be purer than a non-violent struggle because it leaves no room for hypocrisy, compulsion or violence. The programme gradually builds up the structure of a new non-violent society.’39 It leads to sarvodaya of all – welfare of all. In conclusion, I again quote Gandhi who has called Satyagraha ‘a science in the making’ and insisted that it was still growing and there was nothing like finality. He insisted that all can use the weapon alike. Indeed, as noted above, in Gandhi’s hand, Satyagraha got its metaphysics, its philosophy, its technique and its dynamic as well as its positive function in individual and social life.

M.K. Gandhi, ‘The Theory and Practice of Passive Resistance’, Indian Opinion, Golden Number, 1 December 1914. 39 Sharp, Gandhi Wields the Weapon of Moral Power, p. 8. 38


Evaluating the Legacy of Nonviolence in South Africa* GAIL M. PRESBEY

INTRODUCTION As time goes by, historians may increase their knowledge of the historical facts, or details may blur in forgetfulness. Writers in different times may interpret the same facts according to a new perspective or new value system. Recently, many non-violence advocates have been commenting on the successes of the antiapartheid movement. Some, like contemporary Gandhian N. Radhakrishnan, breezily chalk up Mandela’s successes to nonviolence.1 It is not unusual to hear people praising the ‘relative’ non-violence of South Africa’s struggle, compared to some other countries’ bloodier civil wars. Walter Wink and Jonathan Schell count the South Africa case as proof of non-violence’s efficacy, but more modestly suggest that non-violence was one factor which *I would like to thank the J. William Fulbright Foundation for sponsoring my research on Gandhi’s ahimsa in 2005, and for the support of my home institution, University of Detroit Mercy. Thank you to Josef Velazquez and Scott Couper for help in editing this paper. Thanks to Wiley Publishers and for Erika Kuhlman’s help in securing permission to re-publish this article from an earlier version that appeared in Peace and Change, 31/2 (April 2006), pp. 141-74. 1 N. Radhakrishnan, Preface to Raghavan Iyer et al., Gandhi and Global Nonviolent Transformation, New Delhi: Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti, 1994, p. x.


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contributed to apartheid’s demise.2 Still others like Stephen Zunes, George M. Fredrickson, and Matt Meyer and Bill Sutherland depart from mere historical interpretation and indulge in ‘what ifs’ – they go further and suggest that apartheid could have been toppled more quickly if the African National Congress (ANC) had stuck to non-violent tactics.3 Why this interest in claiming the success of the anti-apartheid struggle for non-violence? Proponents of non-violence often feel that their approach is neglected or underrated. To claim a victory would be to bolster popularity and credibility of non-violence. And to go further and suggest that non-violence could have worked better if it were tried more sincerely as an attempt to influence future struggles for justice. Indulging in alternative retrospective scenarios has been done before: for example, in 1839 Charles K. Whipple wrote a book suggesting that the American Revolutionary War would have been won as quickly, and with fewer casualties, if it were fought non-violently.4 I suggest that to consider South Africa an easy case of the success of non-violence flies in the face of many important factors. Mandela was familiar with Gandhian non-violence and explicitly Walter Wink, ‘Non-violence Does Work’, in Arun Gandhi, ed., World Without Violence: Can Gandhi’s Vision Become Reality?, Memphis, TN: M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, 1999, pp. 316-17; Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World, New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2004. See also The Center for Study of Conflict, ‘Non-violence Plays a Role in Ending Apartheid in South Africa’, in Robert Holmes and Barry Gan, ed., Non-violence in Theory and Practice, Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 2005, pp. 328-31. 3 Bill Sutherland and Matt Meyer, Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan-African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation in Africa. Foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2000, pp. 26667; Stephen Zunes, ‘The Role of Nonviolence in the Downfall of Apartheid’, in Stephen Zunes, Lester R. Kurtz and Sarah Beth Asher, ed., Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective, New York: Blackwell, 1999, pp. 20330; George M. Fredrickson, The Comparative Imagination: On the History of Racism, Nationalism, and Social Movements, Berkeley, CA: The University of California Press, 1997, pp. 185-7. 4 Cited in Glenn D. Paige, Nonkilling Global Political Science, New Delhi: Gandhi Media Centre, 2002, p. 60. Jonathan Schell’s book The Unconquerable World insists that the American Revolution depended extensively on nonviolent tactics. 2

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departed from it. As he explained, ‘I followed the Gandhian strategy as long as I could, but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone.’5 In this quote, which is not atypical, Mandela clearly expresses a very non-Gandhian idea that non-violence will only work against mild oppression. Mandela follows this claim by insisting that Gandhi himself admitted that violence in a struggle against oppressors could never be ruled out completely. While Gandhi did say that, his rationale for violence in certain situations is completely different than Mandela’s: for Gandhi, a person or movement which does not have the courage to face its opponents nonviolently should resort to violence as a second best option (and preferable to doing nothing). With Gandhi, it is the character of the activist that dictates whether non-violence is possible or not, not the character of the repressive regime. We may never know conclusively whether Gandhi is right in claiming that non-violence will always work, even against the worst oppressors, since most imperfect humans resort to violence and don’t have a chance to test the world’s worst regimes. Whether or not Gandhi is right, we know that Mandela did not think he was right on this hypothetical point, and he made decisions that he thought were based on practical considerations. The ANC organized an armed faction and engaged in acts of sabotage, and over time widened the scope of violent acts condoned by their organization. South African security forces responded to non-violent protest with extreme repression, which contradicts claims often made by non-violent proponents that sticking to non-violence will lessen the chances of extreme repression. And the suffering of the South African people, while perhaps dwarfed when compared to genocides in other countries, was extensive and profound. One cannot understand some aspects of the difficult aftermath of apartheid’s legacy without taking into account the high level of violence emanating from several parties to the conflict. While I would therefore dismiss some Gandhian commentators as simplistic, there is nonetheless an important debate going on in Nelson Mandela, ‘The Sacred Warrior: The Liberator of South Africa Looks at the Seminal Work of the Liberator of India’, Time 154, no. 27, 31 December 1999, p. 124. 5


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the literature regarding the efficacy of non-violence in confronting unjust regimes. I will focus on the commentators who have claimed that non-violence, if adhered to more resolutely, would have ended apartheid sooner. I will contrast them to Mandela’s non-Gandhian claim that both violence and non-violence working in tandem, were needed to bring a speedy and just resolution to South Africa’s crisis of racist governance. Let me clarify that I am not accusing the anti-apartheid movement of immorality. Certainly the South African apartheid government used structural and direct violence to harm people of colour. This paper has no argument with the claim that South Africans of colour had a just cause and could morally justify using violence according to just war criteria. The United Nations repeatedly supported the liberation movement in South Africa, even when it took up arms.6 The authors evaluated in this paper are making a different point: that the use of non-violence would have been more efficacious. Their argument is important here. I claim that Mandela abandoned non-violence, to a large extent, because he estimated that his fellow South Africans in struggle were not willing to take on the levels of self-suffering that Gandhi explains are part of a non-violent movement. We can speculate that their reluctance was, in part, a predictable and common emotional reaction to being hurt and abused by both individuals and a system. But it is probably in part also due to scepticism that taking on self-suffering will result in an efficacious programme. Certainly people have shown that when they believe that their suffering will really help the community, their family, or future generations, they are willing to take on the suffering. But if one is convinced one’s own suffering will be futile, one loses the will to suffer, becomes defensive, and would rather protect the self and inflict the suffering on others, if possible. So, if non-violence theorists can convincingly 6 Enuga S. Reddy, ‘United Nations and Apartheid–A Chronology’ www. anc.org.za/un/un-chron.html Note especially that Resolution 1881 (XVIII) in October 1963 asked South Africa to drop prosecution of the Rivonia trial. Security Council’s Resolution 311(1972) condemned apartheid and recognised the legitimacy of the struggle of oppressed South Africans. The General Assembly’s Resolution 3151 G (XXVIII) said in December 1973 that the liberation movements in South Africa were the authentic representatives of the majority of South Africans.

Evaluating the Legacy of Non-violence in South Africa


show that non-violence could be successful, it could encourage future people to bear the suffering such a project entails. To add some clarity to the discussion that follows, I will use Joan Bondurant’s definition of violence: the wilful application of force intentionally injurious (physically or psychologically) to the person or group against whom it is applied. In contrast non-violence is the exercise of power or influence without injury to the opponent.7 Obviously, there can be lengthy debates over what counts as violence or not. For the purposes of this paper, non-violence will cover actions of petition, boycott, strike, unarmed public gatherings and marches and the like. Sabotage, while obviously concerned to spare direct harm to individuals, has inflicting harm and suffering of one’s opponent as its goal, and so is a borderline case rejected by many non-violent activists8. Mandela himself advocated sabotage while declaring that he was departing from non-violence. SUTHERLAND AND MEYER The inspiration for this paper came from reading Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan-African Insights on Non-violence, Armed Struggle, and Liberation in Africa (2000). The authors, Bill Sutherland and Matt Meyer, surveyed both activists and heads of State in Africa, and found that neither group believed in non-violence as a method of struggle, or that, at best, they considered it merely an adjunct or supplement to more violent means. But Meyer and Sutherland do not accept this common judgment. They point to the major gains that non-violence achieved in South Africa, and they also point out the obvious drawbacks of violence. This insistence on the ideal of non-violence is an inspirational aspect to their book. In fact, Meyer and Sutherland go so far as to speculate about what would have happened in South Africa after the massacre at Sharpeville, if instead of choosing to abandon non-violence and start a subgroup dedicated to violent resistance, Umkhonto we Joan Bondurant, Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict, Bombay: Princeton University Press, 1959, p. 9. 8 See Robert J. Burrowes, The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense, Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1996, pp. 233-5. 7


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Sizwe (MK), Mandela and others had instead devoted themselves to mass non-violent actions. The country was ripe for the toppling of apartheid because of a huge economic crisis. A mass non-violent action could have blocked the eventual Chase bank bailout, a bailout which was crucial because the government was broke at the time. Meyer and Sutherland therefore predict that apartheid could have been toppled more quickly and with less casualties if only people had had more faith in non-violence as a method of social change. But such faith in non-violence was not forthcoming, because people in the movement were demoralized by the casualties at Sharpeville.9 One argument often directed at non-violent activists, and raised again in the context of the Sharpeville massacre, is that it may have been fine for Gandhi to use non-violence against the British, who would stop short of massacre and negotiate with protesters, but that against the apartheid government non-violence would not have worked because that government would neither have negotiated nor shown mercy.10 Sutherland is not sympathetic with this line of reasoning. He notes that the British killed more Indians at Amritsar than the South African government killed at Sharpeville. His point is that non-violent activists must be trained to anticipate losses, so that they do not give up if there are casualties. This does not imply a callousness about the deaths at Sharpeville, but rather a determination, a determination as strong as in violent resistance, to risk one’s life in the pursuit of a common worthy goal. And yet Meyer and Sutherland do not rest content with a simple message of non-violence either. And their insistence on the complexity of these issues is a second inspirational aspect of the book. Meyer and Sutherland take pains to explain that, while they are advocates of non-violence, they are supportive of a wide spectrum of revolutionary actions. They are committed to the idea that it is up to each group of oppressed people to determine their own ideologies and tactics. As Sutherland explains, ‘I identify with any people’s struggle to get a boot off their necks.’11 In fact, though Sutherland criticized the strategic decision of some anti-apartheid activists to adopt violent means, he nonetheless Sutherland and Meyer, Guns and Gandhi in Africa, pp. 150-1 and 266-7. Ibid., pp. 110-11. 11 Ibid., p. 153. 9


Evaluating the Legacy of Non-violence in South Africa


remained committed to their cause. For, as he puts it, ‘I couldn’t tell the ANC or PAC to wait until my non-violent experiment works.’12 These peace activist authors also provocatively state that more love and creativity can be found among active violent revolutionaries than among those who refuse violent action yet remain inactive. And they challenge the ‘purist’ pacifists who enjoy taking the moral high ground to come and learn from the stories of activists in Africa. But continuing with their insistence on the complexities of these issues, Meyer and Sutherland likewise challenge those who too quickly cite ‘pragmatics’ as their reason for abandoning non-violence. They insist that all taking of a life has negative consequences, and cannot be seen as ‘good’ (even in pursuit of the noblest goals) or ‘cathartic’ (as Fanon would say). Non-violence, the authors admit, is a slow, necessarily mass-based, and disciplined strategy, but they argue that it is more likely to succeed. And so Sutherland and Meyer are frustrated with the extent to which non-violence is dismissed and ‘neglected by revolutionaries of all stripes’.13 Sutherland notes that those who side with violent tactics often say that ‘the only thing the other side will understand is force’. But Sutherland cautions that, yes, the other side understands force very well, and they have enough force to wage a war. Hence, opponents of violence must invent something else, a new approach, something more logical than using force against an adversary who is stronger.14 GANDHI Could pure non-violence really have worked in South Africa? One way to think about this is to ask whether pure non-violence could work in general. And one way to think about this is to look at the role of non-violence in Gandhi’s campaign in India. Sutherland and Meyer, Guns and Gandhi, p. 153. PAC is the acronym for the Pan-African Congress, an organization similar to the ANC. 13 Sutherland and Meyer, Guns and Gandhi, p. 266. 14 Ibid., p. 83. 12


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Now, the results of this case were decidedly mixed. While India won its freedom from British rule, independence was also accompanied by the religious riots which soon split the country in two. What to say about such mixed results? Advocates of nonviolence typically say that if only the movement had been more purely non-violent, the results would have been more purely good. Gandhi himself explained the riots by saying that Indians had not been sincerely non-violent before; they had, for the most part, acted non-violently, but without internalizing its values.15 Gandhi was led to make a distinction between those who considered nonviolence a policy for a limited objective, and those who embraced it as a creed applicable to all areas of their lives. Gandhi held nonviolence as a creed; he was convinced that if even a small group of people acted bravely and non-violently, that the effects would be great.16 But realistically he knew that very few people would have enough trust in non-violence to risk their lives in a non-violent cause. He admitted that the causes he led were filled with thousands or millions of followers who themselves were not convinced of non-violence’s efficacy, but merely agreed to abide by non-violent guidelines because of the insistence of their leaders. He admitted that there were also thousands or millions of others who, though also unconvinced of non-violence’s efficacy, were in no position to offer violent resistance, and so participated non-violently because it was either do that or do nothing. At times, Gandhi sounded pleased enough to have such a result. He knew it was important to have the purer kind of non-violence as an ideal, but he still emphasized that it was better to act in a less than ideal condition than to wait for the perfect conditions, for perfect conditions, almost by definition, will never come.17 At other times though, particularly near the end of his life, Gandhi seemed more critical of his less than ideal satyagraha [insistence Mohandas K. Gandhi, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, New Delhi: Government of India Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, 1988, 88: p. 336 (July 1947). 16 Gandhi, Collected Works 27: 90 (15 May 1925); 42: pp. 394-5 (23 January 1930); 72: 195 (24 June 1940). 17 Gene Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, Boston, MA: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1979, pp. 91, 96, 104. 15

Evaluating the Legacy of Non-violence in South Africa


on truth] campaigns,18 citing the participants’ imperfect adherence to non-violence as the cause of lingering problems. While people can use non-violence as a policy to topple a bad ruler or regime, Gandhi explained that rulers are ‘an exaggerated edition of what we are in the aggregate.’ People make rulers what they are, because rulers respond to an environment. So, the root of what rulers are is in the people themselves. It is not enough, therefore, to topple an unjust ruler. The people have to reform themselves; otherwise the ‘new’ regime will be just as bad as the one before.19 Hence Gandhi criticized those who embraced non-violence only for temporary goals, saying that one cannot take non-violence on and off like a garment; rather, it must reside in the heart.20 And he pointed to the violence in newly independent India as proof of what happens when non-violence does not reside in the heart.21 THE AXIOMS OF NON-VIOLENCE One can see why South Africans would be attracted to Gandhi’s analysis of power dynamics in colonial situations. Gandhi argued that both political and economic exploitation involved the cooperation of those who were exploited. Commenting on the British occupation of India, he said, ‘The spectacle of 300 million people being cowed down by living in the dread of 300 men is demoralizing alike for the despots as for the victims.’22 That a small white minority ruled over millions of black (and coloured and For example, many satyagraha campaigns broke out into violence despite Gandhi’s exhortations to his followers to maintain non-violent discipline. See Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, translated by Mahadev Desai, New York: Dover Publications, 1983, pp. 422-3. 19 Gene Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, p. 52. 20 Gene Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, p. 90. Interestingly enough, a study by Amrut Nakre based on interviews with those who participated in Gandhi’s satyagrahas found that most of Gandhi’s followers did believe in non-violence as a creed, whereas many of the leaders with higher education who helped Gandhi organize held non-violence only as a policy or expedient. See Amrut Nakre, Social Psychology of Nonviolent Action: A Study of Three Satyagrahas, Delhi: Chanakya Publishers, 1982, pp. 72-3. 21 Gene Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, p. 102. 22 Ibid., p. 45. 18


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Indian) South Africans certainly gives rise to a similar frustration. Imagine, if the cowed millions had, instead, simply refused to cooperate: no violence would have been necessary; merely widespread non-violent non-cooperation would have been enough to give the few hundred who tried to control these millions an impossible job. But then again, if the millions had risen up in arms, the few hundred who controlled them would have had a similar problem, even if the people’s ‘arms’ were of inferior technology. So it seems the crucial point is not that the means chosen be non-violent ones, but simply that the millions do something (anything) to non-cooperate rather than cooperate. Why then insist that the non-cooperation be non-violent? Usually non-violence theorists give two reasons which I will call ‘axioms’ for insisting on non-violence. First, there is the argument that the movement has to be broad in order to be effective. Since only a few people are able to devote themselves to violent resistance, the movement will only get its necessary breadth (including the elderly and children, for example) if it insists on remaining nonviolent. Such non-combatant participants will also be scared off from a movement where they know that some participants will be violent, out of fear that they will inadvertently be caught up in the government’s reprisals against the violent participants. Secondly, there is the argument that it would be harder (though clearly not impossible) for repressive forces to use violence against a nonviolent movement, in part because a non-violent movement would hold the moral high ground and thus make the repressive violence aimed against them seem to be disproportionate to their threat.23 However, in the South African situation, attempts to stick to non-violence in large demonstrations, such as the Defiance Campaign in 1952, seemed to nevertheless draw heavy repressive measures from the government, which deemed non-violence to be basically as big a threat as violent resistance. In such a situation, axiom two actually seems to be false, and the advantage of choosing non-violent tactics is whittled away. Secondly, as time went on it See Walter Wink, Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa: Jesus’ Third Way, Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers, 1987, pp. 38-44. See Burrowes, The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense, pp. 239-44. 23

Evaluating the Legacy of Non-violence in South Africa


turned out that there were more and more volunteers who wanted to engage in organized violence against the State. The leadership calculated that if such recruits for an armed rebellion could be organized into a parallel institution (MK), the anti-apartheid movement could benefit from the effects of their violent acts against the government, while not suffering any significant reduction in the number of people agreeing to participate in non-violent parallel movements. And so it looks like axiom one was false here as well. One could argue that the anti-apartheid movement actually managed to have it both ways, i.e. it actually managed to benefit from both a large non-violent movement as well as from a small armed insurgency. Just as a boxer can have more success if he jabs mostly with the right fist, but sometimes with the left, than if he always predictably jabs only with the right fist, the ANC decided to keep their opponent more off balance with a mixed approach to resistance. Or to use another metaphor, a group might decide that playing ‘good cop, bad cop’ will bear more fruit than merely playing ‘good cop’. The ANC’s seeming success is therefore more problematic from a Gandhian point of view than some non-violent activists want to admit. To argue that a mixed approach is more successful tears at the heart of the two axioms mentioned above. ZUNES Stephen Zunes presents the only possible argument in favour of the non-violent position, which is that MK was for the most part ineffective and/or counterproductive.24 To use the boxing analogy, what if the boxer’s left jabs were so weak, that the boxer would have had more success focusing instead only on an unremitting attack with his right fist? Zunes’ position is, of course, controversial. Some agree with Zunes; many (including Mandela himself) disagree.25 For this reason, it becomes important to go back through the history of the anti-apartheid movement, and to try to appraise what role violence and non-violence each played in the success Zunes, ‘The Role of Non-violence in the Downfall of Apartheid’, pp. 203-30. 25 See Burrowes, The Strategy of Non-violent Defense, pp. 233-4; Mandela, ‘The Sacred Warrior’, p. 124. 24


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of that struggle. It also becomes important to go back through Zunes’s argument to appraise how cogent it actually is. This paper will therefore now turn to these two issues: the history of the antiapartheid movement first and Zunes second. To anticipate a bit, the conclusions that will be reached are as follows: (i) the history of the struggle against apartheid is extraordinarily complex, and the advocates of both violence and non-violence do have good arguments; (ii) there is, on balance, reason to suppose that a purely non-violent campaign would have succeeded in South Africa, if only the South African people would have been able to retain their confidence in the method and use nonviolent tactics that would have been strategic for their situation; (iii) Zunes’ own argument, however, oversimplifies the historical record; it achieves its conclusion in favour of non-violence with such ease and confidence only because it ignores large stretches of troubling fact. HISTORICAL REVIEW: PHASE ONE: EARLY NON-VIOLENCE CAMPAIGNS AND THE DEFIANCE CAMPAIGN The story begins with Mohandas Gandhi who moved to South Africa in 1893, where he practised as a barrister until returning to India in 1915. He helped to establish the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 to advocate for Indian interests, and spent years devoted to legal work to improve Indians’ status.26 Gandhi devised a technique of non-violent resistance, drawing on his knowledge of British law, and exposing the gap between British principles and laws and current practices.27 Gandhi’s experiments in non-violence in South Africa met with mixed success, and happened in a larger context of violent protest. In April 1906 Gandhi reported with concern the results of a poll tax protest undertaken by black South Africans. He noted that two British sergeants were killed, and in response 26 Mohandas K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa. Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 2, translated by Valji Govindji Desai, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishers, 5th rev. edn., 2001, pp. 48-9. 27 Brian Lapping, Apartheid: A History, New York: George Braziller, 1987, p. 49.

Evaluating the Legacy of Non-violence in South Africa


martial law was declared. Twelve people were rounded up and convicted of the killings. The public was invited to observe those convicted being blown up by cannon fire. Gandhi considered the loss of twelve lives for two quite unfair, and cautioned that such actions were warnings to the coloured and Indian communities.28 The first satyagraha non-violent action began on 11 September 1906, when Gandhi convinced all attending a large meeting to vow to resist the ‘Black Act’/Registration Ordinance and to do so nonviolently.29 Perhaps the inspiration to decide to make the fight non-violent had to do with his sizing up his opponent and noting that violent resistance incurred heavy repression. At the same time, another factor was his growing spiritual conviction that non-violence was the correct means for any struggle for justice.30 On 18 August 1908, Gandhi had collected about 2,000 registration passes which were then publicly burnt. Gandhi was not beaten by the police at this demonstration (despite the dramatization of such a scene in Richard Attenborough’s film on Gandhi).31 The ANC was founded in 1912 and patterned itself after Gandhi’s earlier Indian Congress of Natal. The ANC committed itself to Gandhian non-violence. Its long range goals were franchize and equal rights, but in the short run it devoted itself to removing special disabilities and discriminatory laws. In 1913 it sent a delegation to Britain to protest the new land ownership laws. But Britain said it would not get involved in the country’s ‘internal affairs.’32 In 1930 activists decided to re-enact Gandhi’s earlier 1908 protest of the Pass Laws. Most cities, however, were too intimidated to protest. But in Durban, 4,000 passes were collected. As the Gandhi, Collected Works 5, pp. 266-7. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, pp. 111-17. 30 Prakash N. Desai, Hyman L. Muslin, Triumph and Tragedy: Psychohistorical Decisions of Mahatma Gandhi, New Delhi: Har-Anand Publishers, 1998, pp. 76-8, 106. 31 James D. Hunt, ‘Gandhi in South Africa’, in John Hick and Lamont Hempel, ed., Gandhi’s Significance for Today, London: Macmillan, 1989, quote 63. See also Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, pp. 216-20. 32 Ian Liebenberg, ‘Resistance by the SANNC and the ANC, 1912-1960’, in Ian Liebenberg et al., eds., The Long March: The Story of the Struggle for Liberation in South Africa, Pretoria: HAUM, 1994, pp. 8-21, reference pp. 10-11. 28 29


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crowd gathered to burn them, police opened fire, and attacked protestors with batons, ‘knopkieries and assegais’ [Southern African weapons, the first being a club with a large knob at the end, and the other being a spear or lance] and killed the leader of the protest, Johannes Nkosi (a member of the Communist Party of South Africa as well as the ANC), and two others. Twenty-seven more were sentenced to many years of hard labour. The repression was more severe than what Gandhi had faced, and it stifled any further protest.33 In the 1940s, the ANC Youth League was ‘reformistic’, according to M. Motlhabi. But once the National Party came into power, the emphasis changed from words to deeds. They wanted action, and called for non-collaboration with the government through strikes, boycotts, and civil disobedience. But this new radicalism was kept within a non-violent framework. Albert Luthuli, who was the leader of the ANC at the time of the 1952 Defiance Campaign, agreed that a plan of action was needed, but he stipulated that the ANC’s aim was ‘to bring the white man to his senses and not to slaughter him. Our desire has been that he should co-operate with us, and we with him.’34 The Defiance Campaign was begun soon after the National Party was voted in, in 1948, and after the new government had instituted many new laws to enforce racial segregation. The ANC requested that Prime Minister Malan repeal the Pass Laws, as well as the Group Areas Act of 1950, and the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951. When Malan refused, the campaign began. Volunteers went through extensive training in non-violence, and took an oath not to retaliate if they were handled roughly during arrest. Gandhi’s son Manilal, who still lived in Natal, lent his support. The goal was to fill the prisons; the ANC sent notice to the police ahead of time, including lists of those who would 33 Lapping, Apartheid, p. 58; ‘Johannes Nkosi’, South African History Online, accessed 27 November 2013, http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/ johannes-nkosi-0 34 Motlhabi quoted in Liebenberg, ‘Resistance by the SANNC and the ANC’, p. 13. Primary source: Mokgethi Buti George Motlhabi, The Theory and Practice of Black Resistance to Apartheid: A Social-ethical Analysis, Johannesburg: Skotaville Publishers, 1984, pp. 42, 153-4. Luthuli quoted in Liebenberg, ‘Resistance by the SANNC and the ANC’, p. 13.

Evaluating the Legacy of Non-violence in South Africa


come to protest and be arrested. Nelson Mandela also participated, leading a group of 52 men through an area off-limits to them at 11 pm at night without their passes. All were arrested, the total number of detainees from the Campaign reaching around 8,000.35 Was this campaign really a non-violent one? Outwardly, the answer is yes, but inwardly, just as was the case with Gandhi’s campaign in India, the answer is not so clear. George M. Fredrickson notes that the non-violent tactics of the ANC were ‘not based to any significant degree on a belief in the power of love to convert enemies into friends or the higher morality of nonviolence. Indeed the very use of the term ‘defiance’ suggests that anger more than agape [unconditional love] was the emotion being called forth.’36 And the Campaign’s chief planner, Walter Sisulu, seemed to see non-violence not so much as an absolute ideal, but as an effective tactic. He saw it as a way of escalating resistance by bringing masses of aggrieved people into the streets. Its point was to provoke revolutionary upheaval.37 Was this campaign successful? It seems that it was not. The Campaign did not result in the repeal of the Pass Laws. It degenerated into violence in 1953. And it was followed by repressive laws which made such non-violent civil disobedience actions serious crimes.38 However, even though it failed to repeal the Pass Laws, there were other ways in which the Campaign was a success. As Lapping points out, the Campaign attracted new members to the ANC. After the Campaign, its paid membership rose from 7,000 to 100,000, and the number of active branches rose from 14 to 87. Not only that, but the Campaign caught the attention of India, who raised the issue in the United Nations. The U.N. created a commission to scrutinize apartheid, whose meddling was highly resented by the National Party.39 Moreover, the degeneration into violence needs to be looked at more closely. Lapping explains how the clashes began. Police 35 Lapping, Apartheid, pp. 119-20; Fredrickson, Comparative Imagination, p. 173. 36 Fredrickson, Comparative Imagination, p. 179. 37 Ibid., pp. 178-9. 38 Ibid., p. 173. 39 Lapping, Apartheid, p. 120.


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tired of arresting large numbers of protesters, and turned instead to attempts to prevent protests, using force. Even if trained nonviolent protesters refrained from retaliating, those who came to watch sometimes jumped in and attacked.40 And Zunes makes the point that it was later proven that the violence was also caused, at least in part, by agent provocateurs, a sign that the government sought to undermine the massive non-violent resistance.41 This last point – the point about agent provocateurs—bears on the second axiom of non-violence. This axiom states that nonviolence is a good strategy because its peacefulness discourages overly repressive counter measures. And this axiom was actually proved true in the present case. For the police were afraid to attack the non-violent protesters – which is why they had to first make the protesters seem violent before they attacked. In other words, it’s not that the second axiom is wrong; rather, the police found a way to get around the ‘roadblock’ thrown up by non-violent resistance. The next question is whether the change from non-violence to violence was a useful change? Here the answer is fairly clearly no. Zunes argues that when the Defiance Campaign, intended to be non-violent, broke out into riots, this helped the government justify its clampdown. Even Albert Luthuli (the ANC leader) argued that violence gave the initiative back to the government, harming the movement for change. What followed the Defiance Campaign was a period of increased repression. Very quickly, Mandela and other planners of the Campaign were imprisoned. Many ANC leaders who were not arrested were placed under banning orders which limited their ability to speak publicly and organize politically. New restrictive laws were passed.42 Despite these setbacks, a Congress of the People formed and met in Johannesburg in June 1955, and they drafted the Freedom Charter—a Charter which outlined their vision of a free South Africa, a South Africa without racial discrimination. The ANC ratified the Charter at their 31 March-1 April 1956 meeting.43 Lapping, Apartheid, p. 120. Zunes, ‘The Role’, pp. 213-14. 42 Ibid. 43 Scott Couper, Albert Luthuli: Bound by Faith, Scottsville, S. Africa: University of KwaZulu Natal Press, 2010, pp. 69-72. 40 41

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The government responded by arresting 156 of the participants, charging them with conspiracy to commit treason. Their trial lasted from 1956 to 1961. While creating great hardships for those arrested, the trial brought international attention and financial support to the ANC. It also inadvertently helped the ANC leadership to organize, since many were kept in adjacent cellblocks. In the end, the government could not make their case, because, in the words of the court, ‘they had failed to prove a policy of violence’, and charges were dropped.44 While it was important during the trial for all the accused to state that they believed in non-violence, already Mandela and others began to consider non-violence as a tactic which, in some circumstances, would have to be abandoned.45 HISTORICAL REVIEW, PHASE TWO: SHARPEVILLE AND MANDELA’S DECISION The demonstration at Sharpeville was not organized by the ANC, but rather by the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), a group that, under the leadership of Robert Sobukwe, had broken away from the ANC in 1958. Sobukwe distrusted the white Communists in the ANC; he considered Marxism to be a European ideology inappropriate for Africa. Sobukwe announced that 21 March 1960 would be a day of protest against the Pass Laws. He planned the protest according to the pre-existing models provided by Gandhi, Luthuli, and the Defiance Campaign. Demonstrators should prepare to be arrested and offer no resistance. However, the demonstrators were not trained; Sobukwe believed in a spontaneous uprising of the masses, and did not think that training was necessary. This departed from the ANC practice which confronted the apartheid regime only when people at the grassroots had been educated and organized.46 On 21 March 1960 at 10 a.m. about five thousand people Lapping, Apartheid, pp. 123-7, quote 127. Anthony Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography, London: Harper Collins, 1999, p. 149. 46 Lapping, Apartheid, pp. 137-9; Fredrickson, Comparative Imagination, pp. 165-6. 44 45


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showed up at the police station to turn in their passes and be arrested. The police officers were surprised and did not know what to do, since they could not arrest them all. The crowds did not disperse. Low-flying Sabre jets did not scare off the crowd. Police reinforcements came in, so that by 1:15 pm their number grew to 300. A small scuffle broke out, and police said that protesters threw stones at them. The police opened fire, shooting and killing 69 people, wounding 180. Almost all were shot in the back.47 One could perhaps wonder if the slaughter were more a result of jittery police than of policy. However, repressive policy soon followed. Both the ANC and the PAC were banned, and the government detained 18,000 people. Lapping describes the impact of these actions on the South African economy: ‘Foreign investment in South Africa halted. A sharp outflow of capital hit the value of the South African currency, the rand. House prices and the share market slumped. The country’s gold and foreign exchange reserves fell, over the following year, by more than half.’48 Was the slaughter at Sharpeville, and the following repression, proof that non-violence had failed? Proof that the time had come to adopt violent means? Well, when confronted with a similar situation, the massacre of protesters at Amritsar in India, Gandhi did not give up on his method of non-violence. If anything, that massacre was even more horrific than the one at Sharpeville, for at Amritsar the shooting happened in a walled square so that the people assembled there could not flee the shooting. Casualties at Amritsar (379 killed, 12,000 wounded) were higher than Sharpeville (69 killed, 180 wounded).49 Yet, Amritsar cannot really be thought of as a victory for the British. The courage of Gandhi and his followers ensured that it did not stop their campaign for independence. Despite this atrocity, Gandhi still succeeded in convincing his followers to try non-violence again. While some individuals like Bhagat Singh became disillusioned with Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement Lapping, Apartheid, p. 138. Ibid., p. 139. 49 Richard Cavendish, ‘The Amritsar Massacre’, History Today 59, no. 4 (2009), accessed 28 November 2013, http://www.historytoday.com/richardcavendish/amritsar-massacre 47 48

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and turned to violence, it can nevertheless be said that nationwide the majority were willing to continue with mass non-violence and in general did not lose their confidence that it was the right way to proceed.50 The commander Reginald Dyer at Amritsar later embarrassed Britain before the world when he could not give a good reason for continuing to fire upon defenceless people trying to flee the bullets. The issue of adequate training comes up here again. For Gandhi suggested that the massacre had been made more likely by the people’s response of running away: If the message of nonviolence had reached them, they would have been expected when fire was opened on them to march towards it with bare breasts and die rejoicing in the belief that it meant the freedom of their country. Nonviolence laughs at the might of the tyrant and stultifies him by non-retaliation and non-retiral. We played into General Dyer’s hands because we acted as he had expected. He wanted us to run away from his fire, he wanted us to crawl on our bellies and to draw lines with our noses. That was part of the game of ‘frightfulness’. When we face it with eyes front, it vanishes like an apparition. . . . The might of the tyrant recoils upon himself when it meets with no response.51

But to ask people to walk calmly toward the source of flying bullets is to ask an enormous amount. The protesters at Sharpeville do not seem to have been ready for that. In fact, many do not seem to have been ready even to vigil at all, let alone to face bullets. According to Philip Frankel, eyewitness accounts claim that, on the morning of 21 March, the usual buses that took commuters to work were stopped, making attendance at work impossible. Peer pressure and threats were used to ensure that people came to the protest, with Carlton Monnakgotla recalling that ‘people were lifted from their Bhagat Singh is an example of someone who, having witnessed the bloodsoaked Jalianwala Bagh square after the massacre in Amritsar, was impacted by that experience and subsequent ones to engage in bomb-making and assassination in order to end British rule in India. He was not the only one to opt for violence, but I think it is still fair to say that most Indians consider Gandhi’s satyagraha actions as the key factors in gaining independence. See V.N. Datta, Gandhi and Bhagat Singh, New Delhi: Rupa & Co. 2008, pp. 22, 25-6. 51 Mohandas K. Gandhi, Non-violent Resistance, New York: Schocken Books, 1961, p. 57. 50


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beds by the PAC’ and brought to the street protest.52 Perhaps the seeming tenacity of the crowd’s reluctance to disperse from in front of the Sharpeville police station was due more to fear of ‘thuggery within the PAC ranks,’ or belief in rumours spread by some PAC members that they might be shot by white policemen if they left, than any fearless commitment to non-violence.53 Such accounts show just how large is the chasm between actual participants in demonstrations and Gandhi’s ‘ideal’ of those fearless in the face of bullets. However this criticism of ‘actually existing protesters’ is tempered by Gandhi’s admission that the ideal is only an ideal, and his commitment to working with a less than ideal situation.54 There were many things that could have been done through training and preparedness that could have reduced the chance of casualties at Sharpeville. Frankel, after extensive research on the massacre, decided it was ‘leadership failure’ on the part of both sides – the police and the PAC – that led to the slaughter.55 One could therefore argue that it would be erroneous to conclude that a violent response from the South African police was inevitable. Non-violent strategists like Robert Burrowes have suggested that in situations where protesters know that police and army forces rallied against them may resort to brutal oppression, there are certain tactics that can be used that would likely minimise casualties. By running away, people at Amritsar and Sharpeville created a chaotic scene. Protesters who sit motionlessly and silently are less likely to be shot. If large public gatherings are still considered too dangerous, a non-violent movement can change their tactics to dispersion rather than concentration. During the 1961 ‘stay at home’ South African police went from house to house beating up Africans and driving them to work, but Burrowes insists that ‘this In Philip Frankel, An Ordinary Atrocity: Sharpeville and Its Massacre, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, p. 84. 53 Khadija Magardie, They Didn’t Have To Die: The 1960 Sharpeville Massacre Was a Mistake for Which the PAC Is Partly To Blame, According to a New Book’, Mail and Guardian 3-9 August 2001, 6; Philip Frankel, An Ordinary Atrocity, pp. 103-4. 54 Gene Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, p. 37. 55 Philip Frankel, An Ordinary Atrocity, pp. 172-3. 52

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method still offered less opportunity for direct repression than did public gatherings.’56 While the ANC had not planned the Sharpeville protest, Luthuli called for a stay-at-home in honour of those killed and wounded. In the tradition of Gandhi’s hartal [day of mourning], it is estimated that about 95 per cent of Africans in the Cape and many Coloureds refrained from going to work on that day, and work strikes continued for two weeks, making it ‘the first ever national strike in the country’s history.’57 Ninety per cent of buses that usually carry workers to Johannesburg had been empty the morning of 29 May, with overseas news sources reporting that over half of Johannesburg’s work force had not shown up for work. By 30 May seventy-five per cent of Port Elizabeth workers were staying away. According to Couper and Landau, Mandela oversaw the stay-at-home (‘general strike’) but after the second day called off the action prematurely, based on believing Radio South Africa news broadcasts claiming that workers were not participating in the stay-at-home. In a published post-strike analysis, Mandela admitted he had naively been taken in by the negative press coverage.58 And so, it was on this day of calling off the stay-at-home that without any permission from the ANC executive, Mandela took the opportunity to voice his position during an interview with British reporter Brian Widlake, thinking that by doing so he could push a reluctant ANC to embrace a new approach. According to biographer Anthony Sampson, Mandela appeared weary, glum and depressed when he stated, ‘If the government reaction is to crush by naked force our nonviolent demonstration, we will have to seriously reconsider our tactics.’59 While Mandela sounds here, like he often does, as if it is the apartheid government’s intransigence Burrowes, Non-violent Defense, pp. 241-4, quote 242. ‘Aftermath: Sharpeville Massacre’, South African History Online, accessed 28 November 2013, http://www.sahistory.org.za/aftermath-sharpevillemassacre-1960 58 Couper, Albert Luthuli: Bound by Faith, pp. 108-11; P.S. Landau, ‘The ANC, MK, and ‘The Turn to Violence (1960-62)’, South African Historical Journal 64, no. 3, 2012, pp. 538-63. 59 Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography, p. 148. 56 57


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that forces his hand so as to pursue a violent response, in fact the other factor that forces his hand is that the youth will no longer commit themselves to non-violent discipline. In the face of their lack of will to be non-violent, Mandela can no longer realistically lead a non-violent movement. In fact, other groups in South Africa had already begun organizing for a violent struggle. White liberals organized the African Resistance Movement (ARM) which planned to target buildings. The Communist Party had units which cut power lines. Soon the PAC would launch Poqo [meaning ‘alone’], which would assassinate whites in retaliation for repression. Neville Alexander, who was a founding member of the National Liberation Front and was arrested in 1964, later stated, ‘All of us, regardless of political organizations or tendency, we were all pushed, willy-nilly, across this great divide, towards the armed struggle, from a non-violent background, totally unprepared.’60 With this groundswell, Mandela felt compelled to become involved in violent resistance, with hopes that the ANC could control and direct the various violent movements springing up.61 Mandela therefore went underground and began to organize ‘Umhkonto we Sizwe’ (MK), a Xhosa phrase meaning the Spear of the Nation. The South African Communist Party (SACP) worked with Mandela in forming MK. The SACP developed a theory called ‘Colonialism of a Special Type’ which justified the armed struggle by arguing that it was actually an anti-colonial struggle. White South Africans treated the rest of the country as their colony, and therefore an anti-colonial war was justified. SACP members Joe Slovo and Yusuf Dadoo joined and helped lead MK.62 Recent research has bolstered the claim that the ANC leadership did not hatch the plan but only belatedly approved the formation of MK, which Quoted in Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography, pp. 149-50. Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography, p. 150. One should note, however, that Gandhi pushed forward his commitment to non-violence in the Indian independence struggle despite a context in which other groups in India were actively using terrorist tactics and other violence. See Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, p. 6. 62 Dirk Kotze, ‘The Role of the South African Communist Party in the Struggle for Liberation’ in Liebenberg et al., eds., The Long March, pp. 42-51, reference pp. 48-9. 60 61

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would be connected to the ANC but kept at arm’s length. Luthuli basically agreed to not condemn MK; he was not enthusiastic about the decision to take up violent means but he felt helpless to prevent it. Couper therefore argues that it is most accurate to say that Luthuli ‘accepted’ or was resigned to the turn to violence. In March 1962 Luthuli clarified that despite police repression of nonviolent methods, ‘I would urge our people not to despair over our methods of struggle, the militant, nonviolent techniques. So far we have failed the methods–not the methods us.’63 However, after the ANC confirmed relations with MK at the Lobatse, Botswana conference in 1962, the MK members were soon telling the ANC that ‘MK was a ‘child’ of the ANC.’64 Mandela, in a speech to MK in 1991, after the apartheid regime’s fall, explained MK’s beginnings. First, he explained that the decision to embrace violence was an ‘agonizing’ one, taken only because it was realized that ‘there was no other way forward other than by taking up arms.’65 He said MK was founded ‘in order to give coherence to the spontaneous revolutionary violence our people were beginning to assert in response to the repressive violence of the South African racist state.’66 According to this explanation, the necessity of switching to revolutionary violence was due to the insistence of grassroots participants. Howard Barrell emphasized the role of emotional desire to retaliate and avenge humiliation present in the new generation of ANC and SACP members as a key factor in the changed strategy. Since violence could not be stopped, it could at least be channelled towards economic targets, and away from the direct targeting of human 63 Albert Luthuli, ‘Our Way Is Right–We Must Keep On’, Golden City Post, 25 March 1962 (emphasis in the original), quoted in Scott Everett Couper, ‘Emasculating Agency: An Unambiguous Assessment of Albert Luthuli’s Stance on Violence’, South African Historical Journal 64, no. 3, 2012, pp. 564-86, quote 567-8; see also p. 571. 64 Landau, ‘The ANC, MK, and The Turn to Violence’, pp. 551-2, 561. 65 Nelson Mandela, ‘The Oppressed Will Be and Must Be Their Own Liberators’, in Steve Clark, ed., Nelson Mandela Speaks: Forging a Democratic, Nonracial South Africa, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1993, pp. 129-45, quote p. 130. 66 Mandela, ‘The Oppressed Will Be’, p. 132.


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lives.67 In this way, it differed greatly from those terrorist tactics that purposely target people, as were practiced, for example, in Algeria’s liberation movement and defended by Frantz Fanon.68 Barrell also pointed out that government repression after Sharpeville had the effect of drawing the ANC and SACP closer. Since SACP had been banned earlier and learned how to survive underground, as soon as the ANC was banned during the April to August 1960 Emergency, the SACP helped ANC leaders evade police and move to safe houses. It was in one of these safe houses in April or May 1960 that Ben Turok recalls the SACP broaching the topic of the switch to violent means.69 MK, at least at first, was successful. It did succeed in organizing the various violent factions into a coherent, and therefore controllable, whole. MK member Rocky Williams notes that MK quickly achieved a high level of legitimacy in the community, based partly on myth and partly on popular sentiment.70 MK, interestingly enough, also brought benefits to the main body of the ANC, which remained non-violent. For MK’s violent actions inspired others to mass non-violent resistance. The ANC became more popular and its membership increased. The first MK explosions occurred on 16 December 1961, and were accompanied by a manifesto which argued that there were only two choices facing the resistance: submit or fight. MK vowed to hit back ‘by all means.’ Yet they also promised to follow a political programme, serving the masses in their political struggle. The initial campaigns projected strong moral restraint and emphasized minimizing the loss of life. Chris Hani explained that the aim of 67 Lapping, Apartheid, p. 142; Howard Barrell, ‘Old Battle Cries and Borrowed Language’, chapter one of Conscript to their Age: African National Congress Operational Strategy, 1976-1986, Pretoria, South Africa, 1993: South African History Online, http://www.sahistory.org.za/archive/chapter-1-oldbattle-cries-and-borrowed-language 68 See a fuller discussion in my article, ‘Fanon on the Role of Violence in Liberation: A Comparison to Gandhi and Mandela’, in Lewis Gordon, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting and Renee White, eds., Frantz Fanon: A Critical Reader, Oxford: Blackwell, 1996, pp. 282-96. 69 Howard Barrell, ‘Old Battle Cries’. 70 Rocky Williams, ‘The Other Armies: Writing the History of the MK’, in Liebenberg, et al., eds., The Long March, pp. 22-34, reference 24.

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the campaign was to ‘bring the government to its senses,’ so as to avoid war.71 And yet, underneath this outward face of restraint, there were plans to expand the role of violence if necessary. For example, Mandela had already outlined, even at this early stage, four phases of armed struggle, beginning in sabotage, but moving on to guerrilla war, terrorism, and revolution.72 Over the course of the next eighteen months, MK launched 200 fire bombs, targeting post offices, electrical stations, and government offices. In March 1963 they blew up a main railway line between Johannesburg and Durban. The government countered with a network of black informers and used torture to get information. In July 1963 they located the headquarters of MK in a house on Lilliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, where the leaders were captured. Plenty of handwritten documents were found which implicated Mandela as the commander of MK.73 Williams argues that the fact that they were amateurs played a key role in their early capture. South African police were able to catch saboteurs and would-be saboteurs. The police were then motivated to create a directorate of Military Intelligence so as to more closely monitor and capture the rebels.74 Police eventually found a plan, drafted by Joe Slovo, called ‘Operation Mayibuye,’ which explained that the white government had left them with only one choice: to rebel using violence. Looking back at the contents of the ‘Operation Mayibuye’ document years later, Slovo said that their plan had been unrealistic. ‘We had a completely euphoric view of what black independent Africa could do and not do,’ he admitted.75 Indeed, at the time of Mandela’s stated embrace of armed struggle, there was widespread admiration for the success of the Cuban revolution in 1959. Mandela studied the successes of Mao in China and Ben Bella in Algeria.76 The Williams, ‘The Other Armies’, pp. 24-5. Ibid., p. 30. 73 Robert Kinloch Massie, Loosing the Bonds: The United States and South Africa in the Apartheid Years, New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1997, p. 163. 74 Williams, ‘The Other Armies’, p. 26. 75 Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography, pp. 183-4. 76 Ibid., p. 153. 71 72


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Cuban revolution was successful within two years. Many South Africans thought if they would only choose armed struggle, they would win the struggle within six months. A popular song said: ‘One stick, two sticks, six sticks of dynamite, we’ll take the country the Castro way.’77 Landau and Barrell both explain that the new theory based upon the Cuban success was that there would be no need to wait for all the conditions of a revolution (such as widespread political education) before beginning the guerrilla phase, since the guerrilla struggle would itself kick-start the conditions for revolution. According to Barrell this was called the ‘detonator theory’ of revolution, and Mandela and other MK members stuck to this theory years after it had failed them.78 The leaders captured in Rivonia were soon tried, found guilty, and imprisoned for life. Mandela spoke at his trial (24 April 1964), reciting a list of the peaceful measures that had been met with repression by the government for the last thirty years. Though witnesses testified at Mandela’s trial that the defendants had stipulated that acts of sabotage should avoid loss of life, nevertheless Prosecutor Percy Yutar ‘repeatedly asserted that the defendants plotted the murder of innocents.’79 Justice de Wet in his verdict did note that Mandela and others had not intended the loss of life, but added that ‘they should have anticipated that the effort might get out of hand’,80 hence the convictions and long sentences. After the capture of Mandela, MK began training in other countries. However, its soldiers could not get back into South Africa due to lack of friendly governments bordering it. This led to demoralization among the troops. In 1967, when MK did try to cross into South Africa through Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), they got pinned down by Rhodesian forces who then called upon the South African army to aid them in finishing MK off.81 Lapping says that by 1965 MK was ‘crushed.’ Mandela and 77 Joe Richman and Sue Johnson, ‘Mandela: An Audio History’. Radio Diaries, 2004. See www.radiodiaries.org/mandela/Broadcasted on All Things Considered, National Public Radio, 30 April 2004. 78 Landau, ‘The ANC, MK, and ‘The Turn to Violence’, p. 555; Barrell, ‘Old Battle Cries’. 79 Massie, Loosing the Bonds, pp. 164-5. 80 Ibid., p. 167. 81 Williams, ‘The Other Armies’, p. 26.

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others consider MK to have survived the entire duration of the fight against apartheid, but this was only in the sense that it still survived in other countries – not in South Africa. The PAC’s violent wing, Poqo, was less organised and more violent than MK. By 1964, its leaders were also jailed. Verwoerd’s government crushed these organizations, and whites regained their confidence in the state’s abilities, leading to a growth spurt in the economy.82 This ability of the government to quickly suppress violent movements has led some commentators to suggest that it was a mistake to turn away from non-violence. Tom Lodge suggests that the South African Congress of Trade Unions (COSATU), which had not been banned, could have served as the organizing force for continued nonviolent actions, particularly strikes. Lodge argues that the sabotage campaign of the ANC turned out quite badly because it resulted in all the top leadership being jailed.83 Fredrickson notes that ‘it would be hard to establish from its record of achievement in the 1960s and 1970s that the resort to violence, however justifiable in the abstract, represented a more effective method of struggle.’84 Of course, hindsight gives historians the advantage; to make judgments like this now does not mean that historical actors were not doing the best with what they knew at the time. Also, Williams notes that while MK did not have the opportunity to battle South African forces, many of its troops helped the liberation forces fighting for independence in Mozambique and Zimbabwe in the 1970s.85 It has been argued that non-violence did not seem a viable option at the time because the mood of rebellion in the country was too angry and too full of hate for people to accept a purely nonviolent response. Psychologically, it’s easier to hate one’s oppressors than to separate the sin from the sinner, directing one’s hate toward the system rather than the race in power. And yet, plausible as it might sound, this argument seems to be factually false. For, to a large extent, the movement in South Africa did avoid this slide into hating whites, and did direct its anger at the Lapping, Apartheid, pp. 142-3. Tom Lodge, in Fredrickson, Comparative Imagination, p. 185. 84 Fredrickson, Comparative Imagination, p. 186. 85 Williams, ‘The Other Armies’, p. 31. 82 83


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system. The emphasis on a future non-racial South Africa, which had roots in both Christian humanism and Marxism, seems in fact to have been stronger than the voices of hate.86 Martin Luther King kept abreast of the developments in South Africa, and in December 1964 implored South Africa to consider non-violence once again. He began by stating that he understood why people would abandon non-violence when they felt so desperate due to the government’s extensive repression. He then suggested that others around the world could engage in nonviolent action that would help South Africa: they could engage in economic sanctions. This would be an international version of non-violent action which had not yet been tried, but should be advocated in the South African context. And as Fredrickson says, ‘It is now possible to argue that the breakthrough that came with the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC was as much, if not more, the result of international non-violence as the fruit of a strategy of violent resistance inaugurated by the Congress in the 1960s.’87 The ANC divergence from strict non-violence posed a problem for solidarity work by peace and justice groups committed to nonviolence. David Hostetter remembers that Jim Bristol who worked with American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) offices in the 1970s was criticized for merely explaining (and not necessarily condoning) Mandela’s decision to turn to armed struggle. Bristol argued, as did Sutherland, that privileged first-world pacifists did not have a right to dictate to third world liberationists the means they could choose in struggle.88 Nevertheless Gene Sharp (in a reply to Bristol in 1975), and Walter Wink in his Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa offered arguments that a non-violent movement would be more effective than Mandela and the ANC had estimated.89 Fredrickson, Comparative Imagination, pp. 137, 139. Ibid., p. 187. 88 David Hostetter, ‘Liberation in One Organization: Apartheid, Nonviolence, and the Politics of the AFSC’, Peace and Change 27, no. 4, October 2002, pp. 572-99, reference pp. 579-80. 89 Gene Sharp, quoted in Hostetter, ‘Liberation in One Organization’, p. 580; Walter Wink, Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa, pp. 38-44. 86 87

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HISTORICAL REVIEW, PHASE THREE: AFTER SHARPEVILLE There was a close connection between the civil rights movement in the United States and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. And some of the voices from America which were influential in South Africa were voices which advocated violence. For example, American theologian James Cone was a large influence on South Africa’s liberation theology. Cone argued that Malcolm X’s views on the separation and self-reliance of blacks, as well as on the sanctioning of violence in self-defence, appealed to the emotions of urban blacks in a way that non-violence could not, and gave them ‘the only basis for pride and positive identity that was in fact available to them’.90 Malcolm X referred to the ANC’s abandonment of non-violence after Sharpeville as an illustration that King’s non-violent movement was ‘bankrupt’.91 The Soweto uprising of 1976 was an example of this ‘crossover’ from the States. The uprising was spontaneous, and drew its inspiration from the South African Black Consciousness Movement – a movement which in turn drew much of its inspiration from the Black Power movement in the United States. The uprising was triggered by the government’s decision to require that Afrikaans be the official language of instruction in all the schools in the country. To protest this decision, thousands of students – from university students to grammar school children – refused to attend classes. They also destroyed schools and other buildings. What were the effects of this uprising? On the negative side, it did not succeed in getting the government to change its mind. Many of the protesting students were brutalized by the police. Steven Biko was beaten to death while in detention. On the positive side, though it’s not really appropriate to call this positive, the murder of Biko finally drew international attention to the extreme harshness and unaccountability of the apartheid system.92 And the uprising did succeed in stopping ‘business as usual’, at least for a while. Fredrickson, Comparative Imagination, p. 154. Ibid., p. 151. 92 Ibid., p. 146. 90 91


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But even here there was a negative side attached, for by stopping business as usual the uprising also had the effect of stopping the education of thousands of students. Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall argued that ‘fighting police in the streets was a ferocious but futile way to resist white rule.’93 While neither the ANC nor the SACP had organized the Soweto uprising, they stood to benefit from it when thousands of youths who had been expelled from school streamed into exile to join MK.94 The release of some MK commanders in 1975 and 1976, who then joined the uprising, helped popularize MK. Moreover, now that Angola was independent, MK was able to set up camps there which could offer specialized courses as well as emphasise political education.95 Oliver Tambo went to Angola to oversee the organization and training of MK. Unfortunately, though, MK still could not get back into South Africa. The problem was still the same: the South African military continued to intimidate its neighbours, forcing them to disallow ANC troops on their territory. Even newly independent Mozambique, which was very sympathetic to the ANC, was reluctantly forced to comply.96 As of 1976 MK had still ‘not fired a single shot within the country’s borders’.97 Despite MK’s seemingly small amount of actual fighting, Nelson Mandela in 1990 praised Oliver Tambo for organizing ‘the people’s army’, which ‘fought the enemy in deeds and not in mere words’. He argued that the key contribution of these armed forces was to boost the morale of those in the resistance movement, ‘providing the inspiration for the political upsurge which developed with increasing intensity during the decade of the 1980s.’98 However it is important to remember, as Sampson notes, Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, New York: Palgrave, 2000, pp. 341-3. 94 Kotze, ‘The Role of the South African Communist Party’, p. 45. 95 Williams, ‘The Other Armies’, pp. 27-8. 96 Lapping, Apartheid, p. 173. 97 Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography, pp. 264-5. 98 Nelson Mandela, ‘The Oppressed and Exploited Must Lead South Africa out of Apartheid’, in Steve Clark, ed., Nelson Mandela Speaks: Forging a Democratic, Nonracial South Africa, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1993, pp. 53-67, quote 55. 93

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that Mandela ‘never imagined that the armed struggle would in itself, without sanctions or other pressures, have compelled white South Africa to change its policies’99. Besides the creation of an army in Angola, MK also conducted sabotage operations within South Africa. The history of these operations is the history of a gradual increase in ferocity. During the 1970s and early 1980’s, recruits to MK were told to limit their actions to ‘armed propaganda’ and attack only symbols of apartheid. In June 1980 MK hit the Sasol oil refinery, causing R 66 million in damage. In 1982 they attacked the Koeberg nuclear power plant. But in 1983 MK announced a shift away from symbolic actions and an increase in the range of acceptable targets. Chris Hani stated that they could no longer guarantee the safety of civilians, even though they would continue their policy of not targeting civilians.100 Then in 1985, at the Second National Consultative Conference of the ANC at Kabwe in Zambia, the ANC again revised its policy. This time they decided to attack white civilians. The distinction between hard (military) and soft (civilian) targets was dropped.101 And the definition of what constituted a military target was extended. While the conference decided to still concentrate on sabotage, they also agreed to aim for direct military engagement. In response, the South African government called a State of Emergency, and detained over 10,000 activists from 1985-7.102 Were these violent tactics effective? Archie Gumede, Chair of the United Democratic Front, estimates that the violent attacks on the South African economy were on the scale of ‘flea bites,’ and the down side of the manoeuvre was that many young people went to the bush and became bored there, and some left the country for good. On the positive side, he agrees that the decision to use violence boosted morale.103 Emma Mashinini, active in the labour Sampson, Mandela: The Authorized Biography, p. 179. Williams, ‘The Other Armies’, pp. 28-9. 101 Hennie Lotter, Injustice, Violence, and Peace: The Case of South Africa, Value Inquiry Book Series 56, Amsterdam, Netherlands and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1997, p. 65. 102 Williams, ‘The Other Armies’, p. 29. 103 Sutherland and Meyer, Guns and Gandhi, p. 163. 99



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movement and later the Anglican Church’s Justice, Reconciliation and Peace Coordinator for the whole South African region, also notes that many children did not go to school during the struggle, and that this lack of education is now exacerbating the problems of homelessness and AIDS.104 In the 1980’s, two new groups began to push a non-violent agenda. The United Democratic Front was a multi-racial coalition. In 1983, the UDF decided to emphasize non-violent actions, especially boycotts and strikes. COSATU, founded in 1985, was a coalition of labour unions. And COSATU, too, emphasized non-violent protest. Nor was the ANC quiet on the non-violent front. While, it is often noted that the ANC decided to abandon complete non-violence and take up the limited use of violence in the 1960s, non-violent actions continued. The list of such actions is impressive: national campaigns against the resettlement of District Six in Cape Town, against racist evictions in Pageview outside of Johannesburg, and Ventsdorp; bringing wives into single sex housing for mine workers; Ciskei Bantustan commuters protesting raises in bus fares, and more.105 The apartheid government was clearly worried by these nonviolent actions. In fact, non-violent demonstration was seen by the government as being so dangerous, that engaging in it could get one ten years’ imprisonment. When the government called a State of Emergency in 1984, clamping down on all dissent and unarmed resistance, it galvanized European and American elites into imposing economic sanctions upon South Africa. General strikes continued in 1987-9. Much of the nonviolent activism engaged in was in the form of solidarity work outside the country. Such work was finally able to bring pressure to bear on the apartheid state, which depended on its relations with the industrialized West in order to maintain its economy. Finally, in 1989 a new Defiance Campaign was launched. This campaign did not, perhaps, ‘approach Gandhian refinement and control’,106 but by 1990 the non-violent mass demonstrations had Sutherland and Meyer, Guns and Gandhi, p. 170. Zunes, ‘The Role’, p. 213. 106 Ibid. pp. 221-5. 104 105

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finally pressured the government into negotiations: the beginning of the end of apartheid.107 The history of this period would not be complete, however, without mention of another type of violence which appeared in the 1980s: violence against collaborators.108 Allan Boesak had made a speech telling people they should not cooperate in the apartheid system by holding positions in the government or in the police, saying: ‘Working within the system for whatever reason contaminates you.’109 Gandhi had also explained earlier that a key step in non-violent action is for people in government posts (in his case, in colonial India) to resign. However, Gandhi stipulated that the ‘intermediate class’ of cooperationists should not be destroyed by violence, since they were merely creations of circumstance, and ‘the purest man entering the system will be affected by it’.110 In South Africa, however, the movement went beyond appeals for resignation. By now there was a large black police force, and undercover agents were placed throughout the community. There were also many informers. The responses of the community included ‘necklacing’ – setting fire to a gasoline and rag-filled tire put around the person’s neck – and murder. Even the supposedly non-violent tactic of boycotts frequently turned to violence when neighbourhood youths decided to punish any who broke the boycott.111 Boycotts are only effective if widely respected. So violence was used on those who would dare break the boycott. Protesters felt such violent coercion was justified because of ‘the cause’. For example, some forced old people to eat the raw Lapping, Apartheid, pp. 160-1. This period also saw the violent clash between the ANC and Inkatha. For reasons of focus, however, the history of this clash is omitted here. The interested reader is directed to Rob Nixon, Homelands, Harlem, and Hollywood: South African Culture and the World Beyond, New York: Routledge, 1994, pp. 238-9; and Nelson Mandela, ‘The Violence Has Assumed a More Organized and Systematic Character,’ in Steve Clark, ed., Nelson Mandela Speaks: Forging a Democratic, Nonracial South Africa, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1993, pp. 85-91. 109 Allan Boesak, quoted in Lapping, Apartheid, p. 171. 110 Gene Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, pp. 48-9, 56. 111 Lapping, Apartheid, pp. 173-5. 107 108


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meat, or to drink the detergent or cooking oil that they had bought in defiance of the boycott. They also shaved the heads of women who visited hairdressers.112 Whether justifiable at the time or not, these actions had a long term corrupting effect on the youth who performed them. Engaging in vigilante violence is not the most appropriate form of moral education for a young person. Looking back, Graca Machel speaks of her regret over how the struggle criminalized the children. It turned eight- and nine-year-olds into killers, with no regard for human life. What human values are left now, she wondered, and how does one rebuild values?113 Moreover, the ANC established ‘people’s courts’ in many neighbourhoods. On the one hand, these courts were justified in context as necessary to protect the movement from ruthless opportunists. On the other hand, though, letting people take justice into their own hands like this led to wrongful accusations and vengeance on scapegoats. And once such violence was unleashed, it was hard to moderate. For the courts, anyone who is not openly ‘with us’ is considered to be ‘against us’, and therefore fair game for judicial attack.114 Even today, people are swift to use violence to punish suspects outside of legal structures, and there continue to be practices of vigilante violence as well as a widespread sense of acceptance of such actions.115 Perhaps the best summary of this whole period–or, more accurately, of the various violent activities of this period–is provided Lotter, Injustice, pp. 63-4. Sutherland and Meyer, Guns and Gandhi, p. 119. 114 Clifton Crais, ‘Of Men, Magic, and the Law: Popular Justice and the Political Imagination in South Africa’, Journal of Social History 32, no. 1, Fall 1998, pp. 49-72. 115 F. Brinley Bruton, ‘ Out of Control’: Vigilante Justice Grips Impoverished South African Slum, NBC News, 30 June 2013, http://worldnews.nbcnews. com/_news/2013/06/30/19073793-out-of-control-vigilante-justice-gripsimpoverished-south-african-slum; Ginny Stein, ‘Vigilantism on the Rise in Cape Town’, ABC News Correspondents Report, 31 March 2013, accessed 28 November 2013, http://www.abc.net.au/correspondents/content/2013/ s3726705.htm; ‘Useless Police Blamed for Vigilantism’, City Press, 14 March 2013, accessed 28 November 2013, http://www.citypress.co.za/news/uselesspolice-blamed-for-vigilantism/ 112 113

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by Hennie Lotter. He catalogues the effects of the ANC’s turn to violence in three areas. For individuals, there were injury, fear, damaged relationships, and post-traumatic stress. Secondly, for groups, there were intergenerational conflict, and loss of leadership. Thirdly, for politics, there was the lesson of becoming intolerant of political criticism. There was widespread acceptance of violence, even among Christians.116 However, if violence brought such negative effects, while non-violence had such successes, one must ask why more South Africans did not propound non-violence? THE COMPLEXITY OF TRUTH One’s interpretation is, of course, influenced by one’s commitments. And this is a good thing, for it is one’s commitments that give an interpretation its heart or soul. And yet there is a risk involved here too. For this process of influence can go too far and reach the point where the historical record gets oversimplified so as to make it fit more neatly into those commitments. And this seems to have happened to some of the advocates of non-violence who have been writing about South Africa. While the book A Force More Powerful describes in detail the push and pull between violent and nonviolent tactics in South Africa, the PBS video series based on the book reduces the South Africa story to one half hour. It follows the story of a successful nonviolent struggle (the consumer boycott in Port Elizabeth in 1986) while dropping out the larger context. Thirty minutes is certainly a constraint to any serious discussion of a topic; but perhaps the choice of focus was meant to send a message that non-violence was victorious in South Africa. The episode then shows President P.W. Botha declaring a state of emergency, making reference, as he does so, to armed insurgents intent on the violent overthrow of the government. And there were in fact such insurgents, and these insurgents were active in Port Elizabeth in 1986. But since the episode does not mention these insurgents, Botha’s reference to them might strike the viewer as either a paranoid fantasy or official excuse. The episode then goes on to suggest that Botha was Lotter, Injustice, p. 66.



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actually engaged in a futile response to the non-violent efforts of the boycott, because non-violent efforts were finally able to hurt the white community in a way that violence in the townships could not. This is in fact Ackerman and Duvall’s interpretive claim (also present in their book) which argues that successful nonviolence was so powerful that it was seen to be very dangerous by the government, so much so that the government declared a state of emergency to stop the non-violence (while, it seems, merely stating that their main fear was insurgents as a decoy to disguise their real fear).117 If they are right, this wreaks havoc with the claim that non-violence will generally lessen the extent of state repression. The episode then fast-forwards to Mandela’s release from jail, and the receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize by Mandela and de Klerk. Such quick cutting to the ‘happy ending’ is the style of all its episodes. The brief exposure to the use of non-violence in South Africa that the video series offers is no substitute for a more in-depth study. It seems that the goal of the video series is not to get South Africans to rethink the roles of violence and of non-violence in their own liberation, but rather to make a general case for non-violence in the future, with South Africa being just one more example, just one more success story commandeered by the non-violence movement. Gratefully, the video’s companion website delves more deeply (and more realistically) into the murky situation of the co-existence of violence and non-violence in the same movement. Quoting from the companion book, the website more meekly suggests that freedom for South Africa was won ‘in part’ through strikes, boycotts, and other Gandhian methods. It clarifies that while non-violent sanctions were ‘indispensable,’ they did not alone bring down white rule. It even suggests that it was not the non-violent actions themselves, but just the fact that the government and the opposition were at a stalemate, which made a political rapprochement possible.118 The documentary and book include parts of an interview with scholar and ANC activist Janet Ackerman and Duvall, A Force More Powerful, p. 358. ‘A Force More Powerful’ website, www.pbs.org/weta/forcemorepowerful/ analysis Book: Ackerman and DuVall, A Force More Powerful, p. 367. 117 118

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Cherry, in which she asserts that it was UDF and not armed struggle that brought down apartheid. She has subsequently published a book based on her research.119 A stronger claim is made in Stephen Zunes’s article, ‘The Role of Non-violence in the Downfall of Apartheid.’ Zunes argues that the struggle against apartheid in South Africa was primarily a non-violent struggle, and so the success of the transition to a popularly elected, non-racial government, belongs to nonviolence. Zunes admits that the popular imagination believes that the success belongs to violence. But he argues that the popular imagination is, on this point, wrong, and that its praise of violence is mere ‘romantic rhetoric’. Zunes explained that the ‘armed struggle was a means of providing moral support for the unarmed resistance’.120 At most, violence would be used as ‘armed propaganda.’ (Imagine the surprise on the face of a Gandhian activist, who is told that non-violent activists need their morale raised by the success of their movement’s fighting wing!). Zunes insists that on a practical level, by the 1980s, opponents to apartheid had ‘reached a clear consensus’ that liberation would be pursued primarily by nonviolent means.121 But such estimates of the level of embrace of non-violence by the ANC in the eighties just do not seem factual. They jar with Wink’s experience when visiting South Africa in 1986, for Wink in fact thought that nonviolence was being dismissed.122 Zunes’ account also jars with the report of the above-mentioned 1985 ANC conference in Zambia where the ANC decided to target white civilians. And Ackerman and Duvall note with chagrin that riots in the mid 1980s were signs that ‘the initiative in opposing 119 Ackerman and Duvall, A Force More Powerful, p. 368; Janet Cherry, Spear of the Nation: Umkhonto we Sizwe, Ohio Short Histories of Africa, Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012; Janet Cherry, ‘The Intersection of Violence and Nonviolence Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle’, in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, South Africa: University of Cape Town Press, 2013. 120 Zunes, ‘The Role’, p. 211. 121 Ibid. pp. 205, 211-12. 122 Wink, Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa, pp. 15, 23, 53.


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authority seemed to pass from nonviolent groups to the clenched fists of young African men’.123 Zunes argues further that even when the ANC espoused violence, it did not engage in much violence. At its height, according to Zunes, bombings averaged 3-4 per month. But these statistics also seem inaccurate.124 They are challenged by Lotter who says the ANC guerrilla attacks were between 225-300 per year during 1986-9.125 Despite these shortcomings, there are some immensely valuable points in Zunes’ treatment, such as how violent tactics often became counter-productive, hardening resistance and alienating potential friends of the movement. Another point was his detailed military analysis proving that a full scale guerrilla war could not have succeeded in the conditions then existing in South Africa.126 Echoing Wink, Zunes notes that the South African army, and the white population in general, was heavily armed and well-trained in the use of weapons. ANC military strength abroad never amounted to more than 14,000 troops. Additional factors would be the open plains which made guerrilla warfare more difficult. Townships were purposely set up on grids, making it difficult to flee police in pursuit, similar to the Casbah of Algiers. Bantustans were geographically fragmented, and the population there was mostly comprised of women, children, and the elderly.127 Under these conditions, Zunes argues, a successful guerrilla army was not feasible. While guerrilla movements in Angola, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe showed that one did not have to win militarily, for a war of attrition would be enough to achieve liberation from a white regime, the context in South Africa differed from the other countries in many key respects. In the other countries mentioned, white population was below five per cent, while in South Africa it was fifteen per cent. South Africa did not have to worry, like the others did, about satisfying the citizens of a mother country who might be appalled by atrocities or reluctant to pay for a colonial Ackerman and Duvall, A Force More Powerful, p. 351. Zunes, ‘The Role’, pp. 213-14. 125 Lotter, Injustice, p. 66. 126 Zunes, ‘The Role’, p. 207. 127 Ibid., p. 207. 123 124

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war. Since many white families had been in South Africa for over two hundred years, many felt they had nowhere to go, and could not easily flee to a European motherland. This gave them resolve to stay and fight, even at high cost.128 The ANC bombings backfired politically, Zunes argues. While the ANC explicitly directed their attacks toward property, when they bombed the houses of some pro-government Blacks, people were killed, and public opinion turned against the tactics. When the ANC used a car bomb, such as the one detonated in Pretoria in 1983 in front of Defence Force headquarters, the media fixated on the event, and white South Africans thought the ANC was now committed to terrorism. The fact that the bomb was aimed at military personnel was not emphasized. In contrast, the shift to non-violence convinced many whites that they would not have to fear black majority rule, and would be less likely to fear reprisals upon seizing power.129 The careful military and political strategic points covered by Zunes are part of an argument that forwards a reasonable defence of the proposal that violent struggle was counterproductive, and non-violence could have won the political battle sooner. CONCLUSION This paper, after consideration of the facts as well as the myriad viewpoints on this topic, cannot easily resolve the question of which of the commentators is correct in their estimation of the relative importance of violence and non-violence in South Africa’s liberation struggle. The goal of this paper has instead been to problematize the ‘easy’ answer. The statements of Mandela as well as many members of the general public in South Africa attest to the fact that South Africans themselves saw the military aspect of their struggle as essential to its success. But none of them ever claimed that it was violence alone that brought results; MK always saw its role as working in tandem with a larger mass movement using methods of non-violent non-cooperation. None of our commentators argue that violence alone won the struggle. But several commentators, Ibid., p. 207. Ibid., p. 225.

128 129


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Mandela among them, argue that the resistance to apartheid had to include at least some forms of violence (sabotage, for example) along with mass-based nonviolent tactics in order to succeed. Others, like Zunes and the authors of A Force More Powerful, note the mixed nature of the struggle but argue that it was nonviolence that was decisive in the victory. Sutherland and Meyer went further to argue that the anti-apartheid movement would have had an earlier victory with fewer casualties if the ANC did not turn to armed struggle. One can look at the facts of the historical situation and find evidence for each of these views. The mishaps, miscalculations and roadblocks faced by MK, not to mention the repressive government retaliation it inspired, can certainly give rise to the speculation that a purely non-violent movement might have avoided some of the high costs of repression. That the non-violent movement played such a vital role in pressuring the government, as well as forcing whites to reconsider their allegiance to the apartheid government, can add to speculations that perhaps, by itself, it would have been powerful enough. On the other hand, one cannot deny that MK experienced a high level of support and legitimacy in South Africa. Part of the goal of this paper has been to show that by exploring the details of their fight, the decision of the ANC to turn to violence can be better understood, even among those who will ultimately disagree with the position. To credit the armed resistance with winning the country’s liberation, however, might fall into too easy a mindset which presumes that violence is always more powerful than non-violence. Openness to the efficacy of non-violence will be harder if the prevailing myths of the hero who triumphs using violence are unquestioningly propped up. This ‘romanticism’ of violence continues to blur the real picture of the limitations of violence and the abilities of non-violence. But such myths are not easy to discard. They are constructed not only in South Africa, but around the world, and especially in the United States today. Nuanced explorations of violence and non-violence will debunk the stereotypes on both sides. Likewise, images of non-violence as passive play a role in its continuing denigration by those people who consider themselves

Evaluating the Legacy of Non-violence in South Africa


serious advocates of change. Walter Wink noted with frustration in South Africa in the mid 1980s that many people could not recognize examples of non-violent action in which they were currently engaging, such as boycotts. They equated non-violence with humble petitions to the government. Wink thought that if people had an expanded view of non-violent tactics they could more readily recognize its efficacy.130 Confidence in the ability of non-violence to resolve problems, and scepticism regarding the ‘hero’ with the gun, could also help in challenging and resolving South Africa’s current high murder and armed robbery rates. From 1994-2000, murders in South Africa had been more than 22,000 annually, a rate incredibly high for a country with a population just over 40 million. A recent report from the South African Police Service covering April 2012 to March 2013 reported 16,425 murders.131 Non-violence theorists like Walter Wink, and non-violent organizations like the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, are working to pass gun control legislation, but continue to be handicapped by a widespread nostalgia for the days when (or so the myth goes) guns were used to overthrow the oppressor. The fact that current President Jacob Zuma won elections in 2009 using as his theme song ‘Awulethu Mshini Wami’ (Bring me my machine gun)’ is one small sign of the continuing romanticisation of the power of weapons.132 Wink, Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa, pp. 15, 23, 53. Statistics from Gun Free South Africa, www.gca.org.za; see ‘Gun Free South Africa’s Response to Release of 2012/13 Crime Statistics: “Increase in Violent Crime Not Surprising’’, September 2013, accessed 28 November 2013, http://www.gfsa.org.za/gun-free-south-africas-response-to-release-of2012/13-crime-statistics-increase-in-violent-crime-not-surprising/ 132 Christi van der Westhuizen, ‘100% Zulu Boy: Jacob Zuma and the Use of Gender in the Run-up to South Africa’s 2009 Election’, Heinrich Böll Foundation Southern Africa, 20 April 2009, accessed 28 November 2013, http://www.za.boell.org/web/publications-364.html. In 2012 elections the ANC refrained from using Julius Malema’s popular song ‘Shoot the Boer’. It had been banned as hate speech by a September 2011 High Court ruling. See David Smith, ‘ANC promises to stop singing Shoot the Boer: But Does Decision To Drop Anti-apartheid Song Have More To Do with Upcoming Leadership Contest Than Racial Reconciliation?,’ Guardian Africa Network, 1 November 2012, accessed 28 November 2013, http://www.theguardian. com/world/2012/nov/01/south-africa-spear-machine-gun 130 131

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The recent emphasis on recognizing the extent of the role of non-violence in toppling apartheid is constructive insofar as it teaches us to have an expanded and more active concept of non-violence. Challenges like that of Sutherland and Meyer, while retrospective, affect the future in this way: the next time a situation arises, people will have an expanded concept of what their options are. Those who presume that non-violence cannot succeed tactically will have to think twice. Those who think that non-violence is alright as a tactic but not as a principle may also question themselves. This pondering in itself cannot determine the future debate, but it can broaden it. Sutherland and Meyer conclude their book bemoaning the rigid debate between the purist and the tactician. They look instead for an approach that is both spiritual and strategic as well.133 But we cannot learn the lessons of history if we do not know each other’s history. The story of South Africa’s path to freedom holds lessons for us all.

Sutherland and Meyer, Guns and Gandhi, p. 267.





The 1913 Women’s Marches – Learning from the Past ELA GANDHI

A BROAD BACKGROUND For centuries the position of women as homemakers had been firmly entrenched. Women were defined as wives, mothers, keepers of the home and guardians of the moral fibre of the family. They were always under the strict care, tutelage and authority of the husband, father or, even, son. This notion was so entrenched that it became the accepted norm in society. Both men and women were socialized from early childhood into the belief that this is how the world was created and how it should be organized, and that women were, in fact, incapable of doing anything else. Many mothers themselves brought up their children accepting this belief without question. For his part, Gandhi is also aware of the differing roles of women, and writes of his readiness to become complicit in the accepted practices towards women. He married Kasturba in the late 1880s when they were both at the tender age of 13. As he records in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, ‘We were the same age. But I took no time in assuming the authority of a husband.’ 1 The Industrial Revolution did change the landscape for women, forcing many into the world beyond the home, and recruiting them into a country’s workforce. But this was still largely a restricted space, confined mainly to a workplace where physical M.K. Gandhi, My Experiments with Truth: An Autobiography, Mumbai: Jaico Publishing House in arrangement with Navajivan Trust, 2008. 1


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work predominated. The majority of women also combined their occupations with their roles as wives and housewives, and did not embrace broader social, cultural, economic or political roles for themselves. Women were not even considered fit to vote right until the beginning of the twentieth century. It is not that all women acquiesced. In the United States of America, for instance, Susan B. Anthony, who was one of the founders of the National Woman Suffrage Association, was fined $ 100 for illegally voting in the 1872 presidential elections. The fine was imposed on her because women were not allowed to vote at that time. It was only after a long and hard struggle that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, women won the right to vote in the US [although Black women in the US had to continue the fight against disenfranchisement in some states into the 1960s].2 It is worth following this landmark case, occurring at the time when Gandhi was three years old. Anthony based her arguments on the then recently adopted Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed that, All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The privileges of citizenship, which contained no gender qualification, gave women the constitutional right to vote in federal elections, but only in theory. Anthony’s trial took place at the Ontario County courthouse in Canandaigua, New York, before Supreme Court Associate Justice Ward Hunt. But the accounts of the trial show that it was a charade. Justice Hunt refused to allow Anthony to testify for herself, allowed statements given by her at the time of her arrest to be used as ‘testimony’, explicitly ordered the 2 L. Garland, ‘Irrespective of Race, Color or Sex’: Susan B. Anthony and the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1867, OAH Magazine of History 19 (2), 2005, pp. 61-64; Holly J. McCammon and Karen E. Campbell, ‘Winning the Vote in the West: The Political Successes of the Women’s Suffrage Movements, 1866-1919’, Gender and Society 15 (1), 2001, pp. 55-82.

The 1913 Women’s Marches – Learning from the Past


jury to return a ‘guilty verdict’, refused to poll the jury afterwards, and read an opinion he had written before the trial even started. The sentence was a $ 100 fine, but not imprisonment. True to her word in court (‘I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty’), she never paid the fine for the rest of her life, and an embarrassed US Government took no action against her. After her trial, Anthony petitioned the US Congress to remove the fine in January 1874. Anthony died in 1906, when Gandhi was already in South Africa and beginning to develop his political strategy to combat the injustices he saw around him in the Natal Colony. Records show that after Anthony’s death, following tireless campaigning, women were given the right to vote on 26 August 1920, by the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Although there were question marks raised around Anthony’s actions [she was accused of accepting funding from dubious sources, and suggesting that women occupy jobs in the printing industry while men were on strike, thereby supporting scab labour], she nonetheless correctly placed the struggles of women in the centre of the struggle against slavery and worker exploitation, thereby establishing that gender issues were closely connected with economic, political and social power.3 Efforts like Anthony’s, similar to those of others, were to have repercussions on women’s participation in political issues. They served to influence women away from the private space of the home to the public spaces of political engagement. In South Africa, several developments were occurring at the time in the direction of political struggle, and are worth noting. DEVELOPMENTS IN INDIA AND THE NATAL COLONY Since 1860, when Indian indenture was introduced to Natal, a few women [wives and daughters] were brought to South Africa with the indentured male workers. These women were forced to work as domestic workers and as farm workers. This was very much against traditional Indian beliefs. But the practice tested the limits Susan B. Anthony, American Equal Rights Association (AERA) Encyclopaedia Britannica. From http://www.answers.com/topic/susan-b-anthony. Retrieved 5 November 2013. 3


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of endurance when women were exploited and sexually abused by their masters. In general, by the turn of the twentieth century, the status of women was defined by their subordinate position to men, by their exclusion from educational and career prospects, and by their economic, physical, social and political subjugation. Given this context, it is not surprising that strong women, such as Sarojini Naidoo from South India, who was an independent thinker, poet, politician and activist, rose to prominence. She came to South Africa in the late 1920s and was outspoken about the treatment of Indians here. A disciple of Gandhi, she played a leading role in the Civil Disobedience Movement in India. Writing about the Indian Women’s movement in an article in the Communique, Urvashi Butalia, co-founder of Kali for Women, India’s first and only feminist publishing house, stated: One of the most enduring cliches about India is that it is a country of contradictions. Like all cliches, this one too has a grain of truth in it. At the heart of the contradiction stand Indian women: for it is true to say that they are among the most oppressed in the world, and it is equally true to say that they are among the most liberated, the most articulate and perhaps even the most free. Can these two realities be simultaneously true? 4

History records stories of this double reality pertaining to women not only in India but also in Africa, where the traditional laws and customs generally resulted in the subordination of women. The position and status of women both in rural India and in Africa, particularly South Africa, were further diminished by the colonial and apartheid policies. Yet, there are remarkable stories of women who claimed their role to change the course of history. Sarojini Naidu was one such woman. She was the doyenne of Indian women’s emancipation as well as of the struggle for Indian independence, and visited South Africa in 1924, 11 years after the great March of 1913. In one of her speeches she exhorted women to continue to be catalysts: Women were born to be strong and to unite the whole world in a common love and peace. India has always stood for peace in this world, and I want the day to come when in the history of a peaceful South Africa the historian will show that the Indian women of South Africa by their unselfishness Communique, July-Aug 1997.


The 1913 Women’s Marches – Learning from the Past


and wisdom were able to bring unity between the white man, the brown man, the black man and the coloured man . . . ask yourselves what you can do to make South Africa better. Think of your duties rather than your privileges.5

Women’s struggle takes place on two fronts – firstly, stepping out of traditional understandings of gender roles and, secondly, dealing with institutional power in social, political, cultural and economic spheres. Endorsing the principle of equal status between men and women, Sarojini Naidu said the following, when women were arrested in India: Women who were in earnest realised that equality meant equal risks and sacrifices. . . . The poets had always preserved as ideals of womanhood not patient, humble, or down-trodden women who were afraid of mice and sought protection, but women with courage, learning and wisdom – qualities in the West called male, but worshipped as female in the East.6

Sarojini Naidu was elected as Honorary Vice-President of the South African Indian Congress (SAIC). In the 1920s, women’s leadership in the male-dominated political movement was indeed a breath of fresh air particularly within the patriarchal nature of the South African Indian Congress. Sarojini Naidu, by her very presence and participation, inspired and strengthened women, and became a role model for many women [and men].7 Another woman worth noting is Cissie Gool, who played a key role in the history of the Cape Province in the early twentieth century. Gool presided over the National Liberation League of South Africa in 1935 and the Non-European United Front in 1939.8 She served on the Cape Town City Council before the Coloured population was taken off the voters roll. She was loved Speech by Sarojini Naidu, March 1924, in G.A Nateson, Speeches and Writings of Sarojini Naidu, Madras: G.A. Nateson & Co., n.d, pp. 407-11. 6 Speech by Sarojini Naidu, March 1924, pp. 407-11. 7 Priya Agarwal, Complete Biography of Sarojini Naidu. From http:// www.preservearticles.com/201104306171/sarojini-naidu.html. Retrieved 5 November 2013. 8 Non-European United Front of South Africa, Minutes of Conference held in City Hall, Cape Town, 8 to 10 April 1939, Document 119, SA History. org (http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/library-resources/online%20books/ allison-drew/volume1/document-119.htm. Accessed 22 October 2013. 5


Ela Gandhi

and celebrated as the ‘Joan of Arc of District Six’.9 Her story is truly inspiring and worth exploring more fully. TWO KEY WOMEN IN EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY SOUTH AFRICA It is worth noting that early rumblings of discontent and activism by women in South Africa started in 1913. At different times and in different locations, thousands of women of all races protested against the then pass laws, and were prepared to even court imprisonment. What motivated them and what methods did they use? This earlier history is relatively unknown in South Africa, with more prominence being given to the 1956 Women’s March. Indeed, it is important to trace the events around the 1913 women’s marches, as they mark an important first stage in women’s struggles in South Africa through the expanse of the twentieth century. CHARLOTTE MAXEKE A key person in the early twentieth century was Charlotte Maxeke, who greatly influenced the protests in 1913 and beyond, and it is worth reflecting on her life and influence. She was born Charlotte Makgomo Manye, at Ramokgopa in the Pietersburg district on 7 April 1874. It was soon recognized that she was endowed with a beautiful voice and so was able to quickly develop her ability to sing. This led to her being included in international cultural tours and she had the opportunity of singing at various concerts. After one such concert in the United States she was offered an opportunity to further her studies at the Wilberforce University in Cleveland, Ohio. Here she met and married Reverend Marshall Maxeke, a fellow South African, who was a student there. They returned to South Africa and established the Wilberforce Institute in the then Transvaal. Through the African Methodist Episcopal 9 Drum, ‘Masterpiece in Bronze’, October 1954; Argus, 4 July 1963. See also Cape Times, 6 July 1963. ‘When a Cape Town newspaper referred to her as the ‘Joan of Arc of the non-Whites’, she remarked, ‘this lady is not for burning,’ and added ‘but I’ll always burn with righteous indignation, because of man’s inhumanity to man’.

The 1913 Women’s Marches – Learning from the Past


[AME] Church she worked in conscientising the community about the various restrictions placed on black people, especially the oppressive pass laws. This mounting opposition to the pass laws spread and led to protests by women in the then province of the Orange Free State. In spectacular non-violent demonstrations women from many towns in the province marched to the local government offices and handed in their passes. Indeed, their disciplined and united effort earned them front page news in Indian Opinion and in some of the other local newspapers. The fact that Indian Opinion, under Gandhi at the time, published these events shows the tacit solidarity that existed among groups working in different spheres of interest and influence but all facing a common enemy of oppression.10 Maxeke’s work sustained women’s struggles at this time. She founded the Bantu Women’s League which was a precursor to the African National Congress Women’s League. Later, she led a delegation to the then Prime Minister to protest against the extension of the pass laws to women. In addition to the struggle against the pass laws, Maxeke also fought for justice for children. She opposed the practice of treating children as adults and sentencing them to imprisonment with adults.  Maxeke wrote for and edited a local African newspaper. She was a critical thinker ahead of her time, and an astute politician and consistently raised issues of women and children at the various conferences that she attended. She was very vocal against the Land Act of 1913 and the system of migratory labour, which deprived the African people of their land, relegated them to just 13 per cent of the land and broke up their families by forcing them to work in a migratory system. Maxeke was also a great visionary leader. She was greatly concerned about the question of African unity – and not just in South Africa but on a continental scale – and this was four decades before the formation of the Organization of African Unity [OAU]. Equally, she did not lose sight of challenges at the local 10 Indian Opinion, 2 August 1913; N. Gasa, ‘Let Them Build More Gaols’, in Women in South African History – They Remove Boulders and Cross Rivers, ed. N. Gasa, Cape Town: HSRC Press 2007, pp. 146-50; Judy Kimble and Elaine Unterhalter, ‘We Opened the Road for You, You Must Go Forward’: ANC Women’s Struggles, 1912-1982, Feminist Review 12, 1982, pp. 11-35.


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level. Records show that she visited the four women’s prisons in the country. She was concerned about the plight of prisoners; she found work for the women who had finished their sentences and she cared for children while their mothers were in gaol. She acted as advisor and friend to many African men and women, who knew her for miles around. Not content with seeking to help the prisoners, she worked to remove the causes of crime. Sadly, in 1939 she died, at the age of 65. Throughout her life she showed outstanding qualities as an ANC activist, social worker, teacher, journalist and leader in the AME Church.11 Reflecting on Maxeke’s life, we appreciate the gathering mood and momentum of political resistance that was developing at the time in different parts of the country. We appreciate the way women’s rights were linked to struggles in the sphere of social, political and economic realities and that gender issues were being included in the early stages of struggle for liberation from racial oppression. Indeed, the stalwarts of this era, like Maxeke, understood that racism and sexism were intertwined. It is no co-incidence that there were stirrings among women in different groups and in different places during this period. KASTURBA GANDHI While Maxeke was engaged in the struggles of our African sisters, there were developments elsewhere in the country against other forms of discrimination meted out to women. A contingent of Indian women was stirring and rising up in Johannesburg and Natal. My grandmother, Kasturba Gandhi, a quiet, unassuming, self-educated Gujarati woman, and wife of Gandhi, emerged to the fore at this time. She led a group of Indian women on a march across the Volksrust border to protest against a court ruling that traditional Indian marriages will not be recognized. This ruling rendered, with the stroke of a pen, a large majority of Indian women as concubines rather than as wives of their husbands, and their children as illegitimate. This law incensed the women to such an extent that they were spontaneously galvanized into action. The 11 Kimble and Unterhalter, ‘We Opened the Road for You, You Must Go Forward’, pp. 11-35.

The 1913 Women’s Marches – Learning from the Past


women braved arrests and imprisonment. They even led a fast while in prison because they were not given vegetarian food.12 Kasturba Gandhi’s own story, like Maxeke’s, is interesting. Born Kastur Kapadia in 1869, she was a simple village woman raised in Porbandar, a coastal town in the Province of Gujarat. Her father was a wealthy merchant. She married Mahatma Gandhi at the tender age of 13. Gandhi himself acknowledges that Kasturba ‘had a mind of her own’.13 Although young she was brought up in traditional Hindu custom. She loved traditional religious observations of the various important Hindu festivals. She was strong and assertive. Soon after marriage she found that her domineering husband did not wish her to attend these observances for no apparent reason. She asserted her right to lead her life according to her beliefs and defied him, much to his chagrin. In his younger days, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was possessive and wanted to maintain strict control over his beautiful, youthful, wife’s movement but of course soon found out that this was not possible. Kasturba’s firmness and strength grew and became a force to be reckoned within Gandhi’s life; Gandhi acknowledged several times that he learnt true Satyagraha from Kasturba. She was a most remarkable woman. Kasturba was fearless and helped young Gandhi grow out of his fears of darkness, ghosts and similar unfounded fears. She was a close companion and friend to Gandhi, although not as learned as he; she had many skills and was able to articulate her feelings and indeed had ‘a mind of her own’ on many issues. It is often said that she was forced into meek acceptance of Gandhi’s demands. However, Kasturba’s personality was far from meek. She was able to understand and comprehend the issues, and once convinced, she was as determined as Gandhi to commit herself to the struggle. Gandhi, for his part, learnt not to demand compliance from his wife but rather to win her to the cause. He took time to explain the issues to her so that she would then make an informed decision to work with him rather than oppose him.14 Kasturba’s own commitment and strength came to the Indian Opinion, 10 May 1913; M.K. Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1961, p. 283. 13 Gandhi, My Experiments with Truth, p. 6. 14 Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, p. 279. 12


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fore on several occasions in the struggle in South Africa. She was imprisoned in Natal and, while in India, she unhesitatingly worked side by side with Gandhi. Such was her dedication that she chose to remain in prison with Gandhi during her final fatal illness rather than be released on the grounds of ill health.15 During the farm workers strike in Champaran in India around 1917, Gandhi was concerned about the filthy attire of the people and the fact that often women were absent from his meetings. He openly commented on this at a meeting. Kasturba and her colleagues went out to the village to speak to the people. The women warmed up to her and began to speak about their plight. They told her that they were so poor that the clothes that most of them wore were the only clothes they possessed. Kasturba was moved by this revelation. She immediately set about to work to deal with this situation.16 Gandhi learnt to share his views and thoughts with her constantly and sought her opinions on various issues as he transformed from a domineering husband to an equal partner. They were friends and companions inasmuch as they were husband and wife. She was imprisoned in 1943 and while in prison in Pune, she became fatally ill. Brave to the end, she breathed her last breath in prison and was cremated in the prison, where the tombstone still stands. Gandhi has written in his autobiography that, ironically, it was after he took the vow of brahmacharya that he became closer to his wife. She was transformed in his eyes from a sex symbol to a valuable companion and comrade.17 Kasturba’s struggle clearly also indicates the link between gender, class and race oppression and the need to contextualize gender issues within the larger framework of social, political and economic power struggles. The life of Kasturba is worth recounting Local History Museum (LHM), Kasturba Gandhi Memorial, Gandhi MK, File no. 581G; Indian Opinion, Kasturba Gandhi Memorial Number, March 1944. 16 Gandhi, My Experiments with Truth, p. 107. 17 Gandhi, Satyagraha in South Africa, p. 282; Indian Opinion, Kasturba Gandhi Memorial Number, March 1944; Life Sketch of Kasturba, From, http://www.gandhi-manibhavan.org/kasturba/kasturba_lifesketch.htm. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 15

The 1913 Women’s Marches – Learning from the Past


to appreciate the inspiration she provided to women’s participation in the Passive Resistance of 1913, and even beyond. There were many women who participated in the struggle in 1913 and each story is unique and reveals the strength and valour that the women possessed at this time. Some of the women who demonstrated with Kasturba were Mrs Jayakunvar Manilal (maiden name: Mehta), Mrs. Kashi Chhaganlal Gandhi, Mrs. Santok Maganlal Gandhi, Mrs. Sheikh Mehtab (Fatima Bibi), Mrs. Hanifa Bibi (mother of Fatima Bibi). Several others joined in the demonstrations later.18 INDIAN WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION IN 1913 During this time thousands of indentured workers went on strike and many women suffered when their husbands were killed and maimed. There are no records of women strikers. But many women with children joined Gandhi in the march across the border between the former Transvaal and Natal provinces in defiance of the law. A group of women also organized to demonstrate similarly from Johannesburg. Six women in Germiston were arrested for hawking on the platform but were later released. They were Mrs. Somar, Mrs. Mandar, Mrs. Bandu, Mrs. Behari, Mrs. Doowat, and Mrs. Maharajah. It was not uncommon in reporting at the time, that selected names were reported at different times, and this did not always give the full picture of the extent of women’s participation.19 Other names that have been cited include the following: Mrs. Thambi Naidoo (Verammal) Mrs. N. Pillay (mother-in-law of Thambi Naidoo) Mrs. K. Murugasa Pillay Mrs. A. Perumal Naidoo Mrs. P.K. Naidoo Mrs. K. Chinsami Pillay Mrs. N.S. Pillay (her husband was the son Mrs. N. Pillay) Mrs. R.A. Mudalingam Mrs. Bhawani Dayal Indian Opinion, 1 October 1913; 22 October 1913. Ibid., 13 October 1913; 15 October 1913, 24 October 1913; 10 February 1914 18



Ela Gandhi

Miss Minachi Pillay Miss Baikum Murugasa Pillay20 The Indian Opinion of 5 November 1913 states that seven more Indian women came from the Transvaal with Thambi Naidoo – but does not give the names. Further, Indian Opinion of 24 December 1913 gives the following women as being sentenced on 18 December 1913: Mrs. R. Moonsamy Mudaliar (this could probably be Valliamma’s mother, Mangalam) Miss V. Moonsamy (the well-known Valliamma Moonsamy Mudaliar) Mrs. Bismith Mrs. Sivaprasad Mrs. Kabuthar Mrs. V. S. Pillay (Pretoria) Mrs. Peter Moonlight Mudaliar Mrs. Govindsamy Naidoo Mrs. M. Tommy Ramalingen21 Mrs. Mahabeer22 Mrs. Somar from Germiston23 Mrs. V. R. Naidoo24 To add to this growing list Indian Opinion of 25 February 1914 mentions that ‘three more Germiston ladies – Mrs. Nanden, Mrs. Bandu and Mrs. Thai’– came to Charlestown but could not get arrested because of the provisional settlement. In addition, a photograph in a publication by the Pretoria Tamil League,25 A Tribute to a Great Man, mentions two names which are on other lists: Mrs. Kali and Mrs. G. Valiamay Naidoo. As I compile these different lists, I realize that the number of women who participated in the Passive Resistance of 1913 was indeed impressive. One could also make inferences from records of this history. For Indian Opinion, 29 October 1913. Ibid., 21 January 1914, 25 February 1914. 22 Ibid., 25 February 1914. 23 Ibid., 25 February1914. 24 Ibid., 25 February 1914. 25 Pretoria Tamil League, A Tribute to a Great Man, Mahatma Gandhi, 1981. 20 21

The 1913 Women’s Marches – Learning from the Past


example, E.S. Reddy, writes that hundreds of indentured workers to South Africa had hailed from Tranquebar, and he found in his research that several of them had been deported back after the first Satyagraha movement Gandhi had launched while in South Africa. After Gandhi returned to India, on 9 January, 1915, one of the first places he visited on his South Indian tour was Tranquebar, because he wanted to meet those who had been sent back from South Africa.26 When he arrived in Tranquebar on 30 April, 1915, among the crowd waiting for his arrival from Mayavaram were over a hundred persons who had participated in the South African Satyagraha. But one whose face he missed there was a person who would never return; she had passed away in South Africa, worn out by the struggle, when she was just 16 years old. It is none other than Valliammai, who has since been rightly iconized in history.27 Thillaiyadi Valliammai, a Satyagrahi Gandhi had much admired in South Africa, was from one of the villages near Tranquebar, Thillaiyadi. On 1 June, Gandhi visited the village; it was the first village he had visited in South India, it was later recorded. While he was there, he was moved by the plight of its dalits and legend has it that this was what made him commit himself to the upliftment of the dalits in the country.28 The stories of these women and, in particular, the valour shown by Valliammai, once again indicates that women’s status is not ordained by birth, but is a social construct created by society in power struggles for social, political and economic dominance. Her story shows that women are not predetermined by their status, caste or class. THE WIDENING IMPACT OF WOMEN’S PARTICIPATION IN 1913 The South African women’s movement during the 20th Century can be traced to its beginnings in the 1900s, with the women’s 26 S. Muthiah, Madras miscellany: Gandhiji in Thillaiyadi. From http://www. thehindu.com/features/metroplus/madras-miscellany-gandhiji-in-thillaiyadi/ article2723556.ece. Retrieved, 5 November 2013. 27 Muthiah, Gandhiji in Thillaiyadi. 28 Muthiah, Gandhiji in Thillaiyadi.


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march of 1956 certainly being the pinnacle, but not the beginning of women’s organization and demonstrations. This movement continued to ebb and flow over the years of the struggle for political, economic and racial rights. In the 1970s and 1980s, women continued the struggle despite the stringent repressive measures imposed by the apartheid government. Among the most significant activities were the active role played by women in the Release Mandela Committee in Durban, which met in Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge’s offices. This committee became the political voice of the people. It gave political direction and political input to the United Democratic Front [UDF] as well as to the many struggles that took place during the 1970s and 1980s. Both Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge were tragically assassinated. Women all over the country mobilized into various women’s organizations and maintained a close link with one another and with the political formations such as the UDF. During these years many civic organizations mushroomed all over South Africa. Women played a major role in mobilizing communities and in the demonstrations but did not always take up leadership positions. These women were instrumental in organizing the boycott of Tricameral elections. During this period women also played a major role in the trade union movement and worked hard to organize and mobilize the community around worker issues. There was a spirit of togetherness during those years. The workers’ struggles were supported by grassroots communities, with women making up a sizeable number. These struggles of women were indeed powerful, and should not be dismissed. It is also important to note that women as parents and educators were right there with the youth in the 1976 Soweto Riots and in subsequent struggles. Protests among women were not confined to Black women only. Many white mothers began the campaign against conscription, for example. They also participated in the Detainees Support Committees, which provided support to families of political detainees and vigilantly took to overseeing the welfare of the detainees as far as was possible, in the wake of the number of deaths in detention. Powerful women’s organizations, such as the Black Sash, continued to mobilize in spite of the harsh and repressive

The 1913 Women’s Marches – Learning from the Past


conditions of the 1980s. They clearly analysed the struggle as being a fight against race, class and gender oppression.29 The clear lesson from all these struggles is that women’s status cannot be isolated from the power struggles within the spheres of politics, economics, social and cultural realities. These realities are often described as the patriarchal nature of our society. They determine whether women will have access to jobs, to scarce resources, and to the power to be able to claim these resources. So when we focus on legislative reform and occupancy of jobs and positions we need to understand that unless there is a significant shift in the understanding of gender oppression these reforms will remain peripheral to the underlying oppressions suffered by women. CONCLUSION This broad sketch aims to draw out a few threads criss-crossing the bigger narrative of Gandhi’s Passive Resistance of 1913. The mood of the times certainly reflected a growing clamour for change, with initiatives taking place on different fronts and in separate or complementary spaces. There were leaders who may be singled out, yes, but we should not forget the groundswell of resistance that was building up, and the many unsung heroes and heroines of the struggle. Gandhi was an important catalyst, but there were also others who were also in the forefront or were involved. All this was to lay the foundation for the resistance of the rest of the century, and the long walk to freedom.

29 S. Zunes, ‘The Role of Non-Violent Action in the Downfall of Apartheid’, The Journal of Modern African Studies 37 (1), March 1999, pp. 137-69.



GANDHI’S EARTH1 – PHOENIX AT DAWN The early morning breaks over the cluster of small white homes shrouded in shadows. A larger home of wood and iron, surrounded by a flower garden. quietly commands the allotment. At the edges of the homestead are large mango trees. In the centre a coconut palm and a Christmas tree. The Printing Press with its machinery now still will whirl into motion soon. The dogs are rousing while the calves edge closer to their mothers standing erect with glazed eyes. Far from this sacred ground the city is stirring plotting machinations for the day. Here in this ashram The rhythms of work and prayer are experiments with truths . . . *** 1 This title is adapted from the title of Wole Soyinka’s poem, ‘Mandela’s Earth’.


Betty Govinden

SATYAGRAHA You stood tall and still, Clad in loincloth, Stripped bare of pomp And the garlands of adulation. You took command and spoke in clear and simple words Believing in the force of your ideas Rather than of a gun. Soul force – Is not the weapon of the weak But the weapon of the strong. Soul force – When will and heart, And body and mind, Work in unison. Soul force – That alone could prevail Against the gates of hell. Fired not with hate for the Other But with love For wholeness and humanity. With the strength to say, ‘Enough! We will not be trampled on like dust. We will be free!’ *** WHITE LIGHT You began at the white city and Slowly trudged across the world Covered in the cloak of Ahimsa Led by faith and not by fetish Safe on a land of love and truth You built the Shilpa of freedom For a beloved motherland


And for the world transcendent A loin cloth filtering out light From the darkness around you *** A HEART OF FLESH A heart that is the Pulse of progress Goes back to The very source Of a cosmic music To hear itself beat *** UNIVERSAL 1 From the ancient groves The spirit of ahimsa blows. You catch the offering And breathe new life into it. Through the sacrifice of love Home rule has no borders. Blessed are the meek Who will inherit the earth. *** UNIVERSAL 2 From your womb You longed for peace Among all peoples of faith. To see hatred abate And earthly kingdoms cease You implored against zealots. For truth and love You gave your body



Betty Govinden

To be burned. Out of the ashes Your spirit quickens, Refusing to die. *** SARVODAYA Unto this last I give the same As unto the first. He who worked from the first hour is equal to he who worked from the eleventh. Both meet in the dignity of work and in the dignity of pay. The gift of bread for all Is the bequest of Peace for the world. *** SONG OF THE ATMAN From blades of grass To birds tired in flight I seek eternal truths. In this great interweaving Is born freedom of the self And the bliss of being One Soul In a many-bodied universe *** SONG OF ASCENTS It is not in erudite thoughts But in the sinews Of a spinning wheel


Serving my neighbour I see truth’s cause And freedom’s gain In women’s sighs its liturgy And widows’ tears an altar For the sacrament of love *** HIND SWARAJ POEMS 1 We inherit the cosmos, sky, sea and hallowed earth to hold in sacred trust. It is not in the state machine but in self-rule that true swaraj is found. Not in the gilded wealth of hoard houses but in the scattering of grain on tilled soil. You and I are stewards of creation threaded through with love. We find our calling in the dignity of nature and the manifold of work. 2 The bonds are lifted, the pall of violence over each village dissipates. The air is suffused with reverential sighs, imbuing new destiny to the mundane. The state of livelihood


Betty Govinden


is elevated to the stature of holiness. And Truth is the force for the good of all 3 From prison houses, degraded and coarsened, the human soul arises to seek justice without faltering, refusing the sacrilege of silence. Post blood on the lintels. Mark the foreheads for peace. Stave off the anarchy Loosened on the world. And nurture a planet For bounty and bread. 4 As you ply the thread on the Spinning wheel wrapped in contemplation Hands and mind in placable unison You come to a hospitality of the heart Towards yourself and your neighbour. ***


Devarakshanam [Betty] Govinden is a Senior Research Associate in the Faculty of Education, University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. She was Dean of the Faculty of Education, at the former University of Durban-Westville. Her recent publications include: A Time of Memory: Reflections on Recent South African Writing [2008]; Sister Outsiders: Representations of Identity and Difference in Selected Writings by South African Indian Women [2008], Words on Water: Reflections on Recent Writing [forthcoming]. Karen Leigh Harris is a full professor in the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies at the University of Pretoria (UP). She is also Director of the University of Pretoria Archives. She holds a doctorate in history and specializes in the field of overseas Chinese Studies. She is the chairperson of the Historical Association of South Africa (HASA) and an executive board member of the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas (ISSCO). She was involved in the court proceedings involving the Chinese community in SA and Employment Equity. Kalpana Hiralal is an associate professor of History at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate level modules on global history, women, gender and politics and culture and tourism. Her PhD dissertation focused on the South Asian Diaspora to Africa in the context of settlement, trade and identity formation. Her current research focus is on African and South Asian Diaspora, Gender and Empowerment and women struggles in Apartheid South Africa. She has published in several local and international academic journals in the context of gender, identity and agency.


List of Contributors

Ashwin Desai is Professor of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg. His latest books include Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island (UNISA Press). Goolam Vahed is an Associate Professor in the Department of Historical Studies, University of Kwazulu-Natal. He did his undergraduate studies at the University of Durban-Westville and received his Ph.D from Indiana University, Bloomington. His research focuses mostly on Indians /Muslims and the role of sport and culture in South African society. He has co-edited such books as Blacks in Whites: A Century of Sporting Struggles in Kwazulu Natal, 1880-2002 (2002); The Making of a Political Reformer: Gandhi in South Africa (2005); and Inside Indian Indenture: A South African Story, 1860-1914. Scott Couper (BA, MDiv, PhD) is an Honorary Lecturer at the University of Kwazulu-Natal in the Department of Religion, Philosophy and Classics.  He is a minister serving the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa as a local church pastor (where Albert Luthuli served as lay-deacon and chief) and as an archivist at Inanda Seminary’s Lucy Lindley Interpretive Centre.  Scott has studied or worked in the United States, Chile, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa.  Scott is married to Rev. Susan Valiquette and has two children, Micah and Madeline.  Scott is passionate about South African history and is active in initiating efforts to foster the Woza eNanda Heritage Route that remembers the lives of Mohandas Gandhi, John Dube, Nelson Mandela, Isaiah Shembe and Mary Edwards. Pratap Kumar Penumala is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. He is author of several books and scholarly papers and has edited several books. His recent publications include Hinduism and the Diaspora: A South African Narrative, (2013); His edited volumes include Classical and Contemporary Issues in Indian Philosophy and Religion (2013); Contemporary Hinduism (2013). Namita Nimbalkar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Mumbai, India. She received her doctorate in Gandhian Philosophy and specializes in Peace Studies

List of Contributors


and Professional Ethics. She has been invited at various national and international seminars/conferences to deliver talks on Gandhian thoughts. As Director of Gandhian Studies Centre at Birla College, Kalyan, she was instrumental in organizing several programmes for percolation/ dissemination of M.K. Gandhi’s teachings. Gail M. Presbey is Professor of Philosophy at University of Detroit Mercy. Her areas of expertise are social and political philosophy, philosophy of non-violence and African philosophy. She has done research in Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, and India, having received two J. William Fulbright grants. She has three edited books and over fifty articles and book chapters published including republications and translations in German, French, Italian and Spanish. She has been Executive Director and then President of Concerned Philosophers for Peace (2002-10). Ela Gandhi has a post-graduate diploma in Adult Education, and has worked as a social worker and activist in the freedom struggle for many years. She was elected as an ANC member to S.A. Parliament, National Assembly from 1994-2003 and served as a member of a number of portfolio committees. She now serves in an honorary capacity as editor of Satyagraha, a monthly newsletter and is a Trustee of the Gandhi Development Trust. She is also the international Vice-President of World Conference on Religions for Peace.


African National Congress, 10, 16, 25, 95, 105, 146, 149, 154, 159, 171, 172, 197, 216, 265 Albert Cartwright, 52 ANC Youth League, 117, 118, 228 Anglo Boer War, 9 Apartheid 15, 17, 19, 22, 23, 25, 62, 67, 101, 109, 136, 152 ‘Black Act’, 40, 44, 139, 140, 227 Black Consciousness Movement, 16 British Indian Association (BIA), 39, 51, 58 Cantonese Club, 46, 56 Cape Times, 264 Chief Albert Luthuli, 19, 112, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 124, 141, 142, 144, 153 Chinese Association, 39, 41, 49, 61 Chinese passive resistance, 20, 27, 29, 31, 47, 49, 59, 62, Congress Alliance, 115 Congress of Democrats, 165 Congress of the People, 155, 230 Dadoo, Dr Yusuf, 22, 88, 94, 107, 111, 132, 151, 175, 176, 236 Defiance Campaign, 22, 99, 101, 102, 106, 107, 112, 115, 116, 118, 133, 135, 151, 228 Doctors’ Pact, 111 Drum, 109, 152

Freedom Charter 16, 22, 23, 155, 230 Gandhi, Kasturba, 266 Gandhi, Manilal, 15, 19, 93, 95, 98, 108, 109, 133, 135 ‘Ghetto Act’, 21, 89, 90, 92, 99 Gokhale, Gopal Krishna, 71, 75, 76 Gool, Cissy, 94 Group Areas Act of 1950, 182, 191, 228 Henry Polak, 58, 74 Indians Relief Bill, 84 John Dube, 148, 149, 150, 151, 174, 282 King, Martin Luther, 17, 19, 26, 165, 177, 178, 179, 198, 242 Marikana massacre,19, 64, 68 Meer, Fatima, 16, 21, 93, 136, 176 Naidoo, Thambi, 52, 69, 269, 270 Nana Sita, 15, 119, 135 National Party, 22, 101, 152, 183, 228, 229 Natal Indian Congress (NIC), 10, 39, 105, 137, 139, 154, 176, 226 1913 Land Act, 68, 265 1913 strike, 85, 86, 101, 102



Pan African Congres (PAC), 67, 103, 144, 221, 231, 232, 234, 236, 241 passive resistance campaign, 5, 10, 22, 27, 47, 85, 87, 89, 91, 93, 95, 96, 99, 114, 134 Peace Preservation Ordinance of 1903, 39 Phoenix Settlement, 144, 171, 199, 200 £3 tax, 63, 64, 66, 69, 75, 84, Rand Daily Mail, 45, 55

Sharpeville, 16, 23, 219, 220, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 238, 243 Smuts Jan, 52, 53, 60, 72, 73, 75, 90, 148 Suppression of Communism Act, 107, 132, 134 The Asiatic Law Amendment Act, 44 The Passive Resister, 92 Tolstoy Farm, 59, 60, 149 Umkhonto we Sizwe, 251 United Democratic Front, 16, 22, 171, 245, 246, 272

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