Educational Resources

Message To Indians In South Africa

July 15, 1914

On the eve of my departure from South Africa, I should like to leave a brief message in writing;

There has been no limit to the love I have received from the Indians in this country. I am sure those Who have given such Jove will always prosper. I hear it said that our community is ungrateful. My heart tells me that this is said in ignorance and impatience. Were the Indian people really so, I would have felt no pride in being called a son of India, nor could I recite with utter sincerity the sublime poem, India, a refuge of all those that suffer.

Though I have had more than human love from Indians, I also know that there are some of them who believe themselves, and are taken by others, to be my enemies. For me, however, they are no enemies. Those who speak ill of us sometimes prove to be our true friends. I do not consider at the moment whether this is so in my case or not. I only want to show that I am not free from responsibility for their speaking ill of me. If I had perfect love for them, they would never have bitter things to say against me. Such love, however, is hardly possible for 'men. Whilst I lack it, I shall bear their hostility; I shall not regard them as my enemies.

There are easy and effective measures which will enable Indians to live in peace in this country. An religious antagonism, as that one is a Hindu or a Muslim, a Christian or a Parsi, should be forgotten. Let there be no provincial distinctions such as Bengalis, Madrasis, Gujaratis, Punjabis, etc. All ideas of high and low which divide men into Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras should be abandoned. Indians are all subject to the same laws; if so, how can we fight them disunited?

We needs must observe truth. I know it is futile to expect, in this land, that everyone will be perfectly truthful; it should; however, be possible for us to adhere to truth, by and large. Otherwise, Indians cannot live on here as Indians, or human beings.

Whenever there are hardships, they will have to be fought courageously. Should Indians refuse to fight them, blinded by self-interest or because of weakness, they will assuredly be overwhelmed by disaster.

If the leaders are selfish, greedy, lazy, given to lying and Iicentious, the common people will make no progress. And so, should the latter remain backward, the responsibility will be that of the leaders and theirs, too, will be the guilt.

Indians from Bombay are often rude to those hailing from Calcutta and Madras and indifferent to their feelings. The term colcha has still not gone out of use in our language. Such ways are fraught with danger and, if not abandoned, will assuredly bring the community to grief. The people from Bombay know very well that their compatriots from Calcutta and Madras are far more numerous than they. Even from the point of view of self-interest, therefore, it is necessary that we show them due regard.

Even good Indians show contempt for Colonial born Indians. I have believed and still believe that they are wrong in doing so. Colonial-born Indians do have some defects; but, then, who has not? They have also many fine qualities. It is worth noting that, if the satyagraha campaign has been a glorious performance, it Was because of the sacrifices of Indians born in this country. Large numbers of such Indians, and many women too, have gone to jail. To help forward any Colonial-born Indians. either educated or uneducated, will be an act of piety on the part of the community meriting. a reward, and I am sure it will be duly rewarded, for such has been my experience.

We are very' dirty and some of us behave so abjectly, because of greed, that the whites feel disgusted, as they well might. If the leaders exert themselves, they can end all the filthiness that we notice around us. That there should be too many people sleeping in small rooms, that these should hold stores of foodgrains, fruit, etc., and never be washed, that lavatories should be kept unclean, that bedsteads should never . be aired in the sun, that the. windows should never be opened, that the place should never be dusted, that sleeping, cooking, bathing, relaxing, should all be done in one and the same room-this is pathetic indeed. This way we turn ourselves into denizens of hell in this very world. This state of affairs must change.

Gold-smuggling by members of the community is on the increase. Some Indians want to get rich quick. They will 'get into trouble and disgrace the name of the community as a whole. I wish they would rein themselves in.

As some Tamils and Calcuttamen have become slaves to the wicked habit of drink, so have some Gujaratis too. The Indian who weans them from this will be a man of noble soul indeed. Indian businessmen can exercise a good
influence, if they mean to, over these helpless brethren whose state is so pitiable.

As I understand it, the Settlement which has taken place is a charter of our freedom. We could not have accepted less than what it gives. More it is not possible to secure at present. It is my emphatic advice, therefore, that every effort should be made to preserve what has been obtained, and to resist the Government if it seeks to take away anything from it. If it places upon the terms of the Settlement a construction different from ours, or mine, or if a court does so and the Government then refuses to make any modifications, there will be cause for friction and the Government will again invite the charge of breach of promise.

The, main difficulty for the present will be regarding the Dealers' Licenses Act. Even in this matter, however, redress will be easier wherever things are under the jurisdiction of the Union Government. Where, on the other hand, licenses are granted by the municipalities, things will be very difficult. The remedy for this is to put up a fight whenever licenses are taken, away, apply to courts and petition the Government," hold meetings and pass resolutions. If, at the end of all this, there should be no redress, there will be nothing for it but to resort to satyagraha. This is easy to offer in the matter of licenses. If only the hawkers show courage, the struggle' for licences could be won. It is possible that traders will have to suffer for some time. I hope they will not fail to do their duty at the critical moment. We must demand complete freedom to trade, and ought to get it. Everything depends on the traders.

The Gold Law in the Transvaal is a very oppressive measure. The settlement secures to all the right to carryon business wherever they are doing so at present. People can shift their business from one place to another in the same town, but they cannot go over to another town. So much can be taken as included in the clause on "existing rights". If the Government permits less than this, that will be a breach of the terms of the Settlement. To secure more than. this, independent efforts will be necessary, and I don't think these can be made at present. Great care will have to be exercised ;to see that they do not keep us in the dark and pass complicated Jaws on these and related subjects. In regard to the Gold Law, it should be easy to offer satyagraha against it, if it is administered with excessive severity.

As' regards the Transvaal Law of 1885, I don't see any possibility of our being able to touch it at present.

On the issue of marriages, it is not possible to secure anything more for the present. To waste efforts on that will interfere with other important tasks. There is no other better law elsewhere than the one which has been enacted.

We need not fight for votes or for freedom of entry for fresh. immigrants from India. I think we shall have to rest content at present with the removal of the taint of racial discrimination from the law.

However, if the Indian community is strong and itself enterprising, if it maintains unity, truthfulness and courage, the following expectations may be realized in 15 years:

  • Complete freedom of trade.
  • Full rights of ownership of land in all Provinces and
  • Freedom of movement from one Province to another.

In order to bring all this about, it will be necessary to have the Licensing Acts, the Gold Laws, the Township Act, Law 3 of 1885 and the Immigration Act amended. for which purpose public opinion will have to be cultivated among the whites of South Africa. This is not difficult to do.

The community need not be anxious on account of the indentured labourers. There is nothing in the new law which can be interpreted to mean that the Government may send them away.

I appeal to all Indians to help Mr. Polak and seek his help. No one is as well informed about our question as he. He has regard for the community, is honest, has ability and is full of enthusiasm. It is my earnest request to Indians in all Provinces that they utilize Me. Polak's services and follow his advice. Others will not be able to draft petitions as well as he can. He will not accept money for any public work, which means that he will remain in South Africa. only if he can pay his way by his professional work; otherwise, he will leave for England. I know that he still does not earn enough to meet his need and, therefore, I earnestly appeal to the Transvaal Indians to entrust their legal affairs to Mr. Polak.

Indian Opinion is run only for the service of the community. So is Phoenix. Those who have settled there have not done so with the intention of making money. They draw only as much as they need for a simple and plain life. It will be so much of a loss to the community if it does not utilize the services of those who are working in this spirit. Mr. Omar Hajee Jhaveri and Parsee Rustomjee are now the owners of the Phoenix lands and its managing trustees in South Africa. The community can get all information about Phoenix through them or even directly. I request every Indian to understand the objects of Phoenix. I cannot help saying that it is a great field for anyone aspiring to serve India. This, some may indeed feel, is rather improper of me to say in view of my close association with Phoenix; it is, however, my sincere belief.

Though I am leaving for the motherland, I am not likely to forget South Africa. I should like friends - who may have occasion to go to India to come and see me there. I do intend, of course, to work in India in regard to the disabilities here. And I shall be able to work better if the people in South Africa ask for my service. I think the expenses to be incurred in' India on this work by. way of stationery, postage, printing, etc., should be met from here. The money I have been given I propose to use only for this purpose.

Above all, I wish to say that it is up to the community to win its freedom and that its ultimate weapon, an irresistible one, is satyagraha.

If I have harmed any Indian, knowingly or unknowingly, if I have been the cause of pain to anyone, I crave God's forgiveness and theirs.

I am, of course, a satyagrahi and I hope always t remain one, but in December last I fell more under the spell of indenture. Since the term girmitio ("indentured labourer") is already in use about me in Gujarati.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XII