The issue of registration was a burning one. On 11 September 1906, a meeting was held at the Empire Theatre (Johannesburg) to discuss a program of action. The 3000 strong crowd mooted for passive resistance to be waged. A year later, the resistance was set into motion. Resisters courted arrest by trading illegally. Gandhi, Quinn, Thambi Naidoo and others were imprisoned. A compromise solution was reached between Gandhi and General Smuts, the Colonial Secretary at the time, that Indians would register voluntarily and Act 2 of 1907 which made registration compulsory, would be repealed.

It was only then that Gandhi registered voluntarily but was severely beaten by Mir Alim, who interpreted Gandhi's act as being counter to the objective of the resistance. Even when many Indians had re-registered, Act 2 still remained on the statute books. The government had breached the compromise agreement and this revitatised the resistance movement.

 Burning of the Passes

On 16 August 1908, infuriated Indians burnt about 800 registration certificates in a large cauldron outside the Hamidia Mosque in Johannesburg as an act of defiance against the registration and immigration laws. Gandhi advocated deliberate political disobedience of the law by non-violent means. This meant trading without licences and courting arrests. Between January 1908 and June 1909 approximately one thousand Indians were deported to India. Others were fined and imprisoned for trading illegally. The State confiscated the goods of traders and sold them to defray expenses. In this respect ex-indentured Indians such as Swami Nagappan and lawyer Joseph Royappen and merchants like Cachalia, Dawood Mohamed and Parsee Rustomjee made supreme sacrifices.

 Parsee Rustomjee and others(mostly traders)

The severe immigration restrictions placed on Indians entering the Transvaal was another sore issue. Immigration laws were defied. Ram Sunder Pundit was the first to challenge this law in 1907 and was duly arrested for being in the colony without a residence permit. Sorabji Shapurji Adajania was the first Natal Indian to demand entry into the Transvaal. Thereafter hundreds followed and courted arrest. By 1909 this phase of the resistance had come to an end.

Gandhi realised that the formation of a Union of South Africa would spell disaster for South African Indians as Britain would not be in a position to intervene in the event of any disputes involving the Indian community. Consequently, he and Haji Habib journeyed to London to 'Oppose the colour bar that was likely to be entrenched in the new Constitution (Union of S.A.)'. Gandhi added that if the anti-Indian legislation was not replaced before Union it would threaten 'to defile the Constitution with racism.' The deputation failed and the Union was it indeed defiled by racism from its inception.

 Tussle between Gandhi and Smuts

 Tolstoy Farm Today

In the Transvaal, Gandhi set up the Tolstoy Farm, a counterpart to the Phoenix Settlement. The farm was named after Count Tolstoy, an advocate, of non-violent resistance. A German friend, Herman Kallenbach, purchased the farm of 1100 acres at Lawley, 35 kilometres from Johannesburg, the Golden City and placed it at the disposal of the Satyagrahis. Here victims of the Passive Resistance took refuge and undertook communal work. The inmates were comprised of Hindus, Moslems, Christians, whites as well as blacks. Non-violence or non-injury (ahimsa) was the cardinal principle by which they lived. All were to be strict vegetarians and were to live an upright moral life.

The farm is of major historical significance as it serves as a monument to peace and non-violence. Its symbolic significance, in a country that is burdened with the remnants of past injustices and ceaseless violence, is clearly understood. For these reasons the settlement should not be allowed to decay but should be revived to honour Gandhi's memory.


 Mr Gokhale Listens to grievances on 3 Pound Tax at Lords Ground, Durban

The year 1912 marked the arrival of the Hon. Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a member of the Imperial Legislative Council of India and political 'guru' of Gandhi. Gokhale played an important role in the abolishment of the obnoxious indenture system in 1911. His visit to South Africa in 1912 was to help find solutions to the Indian problem here. Gokhale was received with pomp and ceremony and was warmly welcomed by local dignitaries who admired him for his skill, diplomacy and statesmanship-like qualities. The State provided a private train for the distinguished visitor's six-week tour during which time Gandhi acted as Mr Gokhale's secretary.

One very strong critic of Gokhale pointed out that the kindness and courtesy accorded to him was merely an eye-wash. He brought to attention the stark colour prejudices existing at the time. As a member of the Viceroy's Indian Council, President of the Indian Congress and Commander of the Indian Empire, Gokhale would not be allowed to ride on the public trams or walk on the footpaths, freely - yet he had special railway coaches at his disposal.

Mr Gokhale listened sympathetically to the grievances of the local Indians. The issue of the 3 pound annual tax was a burning one. All ex-indentured Indians and their descendants, men and women, boys above 16 years and girls above 13 years who remained in the colony of Natal, were subjected to the crippling tax. Some re-indentured to avoid the tax, others returned to India while many could hardly pay the tax, some of whom committed suicide or sold their children just to avoid payment of the tax. This posed a heavy burden on the family unit.

Whatever the justification for the tax, there was no need for it to continue after the cessation of indenture in 1911. Even though Gokhale entered into negotiations regarding the tax, the South African government denied having promised its repeal.

Gokhale in a speech on his return to India, remarked of Gandhi ".. only those who have come into personal contact with Mr Gandhi as he is now can realize the wonderful personality of the man. He is without doubt made of the stuff which heroes and martyrs are made. Nay more. He has in him the marvellous spiritual power to turn ordinary men around him into heroes and martyrs."


By early 1913 the Passive Resistance movement had come to a halt. New conditions and circumstances were required to revive the movement. Gandhi had up to now largely concentrated on trader rights such as immigration and registration. The resistance since 1906 was conducted by a relatively few persons and had not taken the dimension of a mass movement. The inclusion of the 3 pound tax and Indian marriages secured indenture and ex-indenture participation. At the stroke of a pen, the Searle Judgement nullified marriages conducted according to Indian rites. This meant that married women no longer ranked as the wives of their husbands nor were their progeny entitled to inherit their parents property.

 Three Pound Tax Certificate

The first wave of resistance began when Satyagrahis from the Tolstoy Farm, under Kallenbach crossed the Transvaal border into Natal in defiance of the immigration laws. Many of the Satyagrahis were women. One was pregnant and six had babies in their arms. They called on the coal miners in Newcastle to come out in strike in protest against the 3-pound tax. The miners did not respond immediately. Several women were arrested as vagabonds. Angered by these police actions, the miners downed tools and went on strike. Thousands left the coal fields and marched to join Gandhi in crossing the border into the Transvaal.

 Women Passive Resisters with their Children

On 29 October 1913, hundreds of men, women and children led by Gandhi marched from Newcastle into the Transvaal to purposefully defy the Immigrants Regulation Act of 1913 (Act no. 22). He was followed by two parties led by Thambi Naidoo and Albert Christopher. Within days there were 4000 strikers heading for the Transvaal border. This marked one of the greatest epics in South African history. Gandhi was arrested the following day at Palmford. By the beginning of 1914, the resistance came to a halt.

 Crossing the Transvaal Border

The most notable aspect of this phase of the resistance was the active participation by labourers who formed the bulk of the movement. Traders who resisted were largely concerned with the immigration and trade laws. Indentured and ex-indentured Indians were concerned with the three pound tax while the marriage issue concerned all.

The success of the strike is largely attributed to its rapid spread in the coastal sugar districts where Gandhi's name had been linked to the 3 pound tax. Some of the coastal workers left the plantations and congregated in nearby townships, others made their way to the Phoenix Settlement. Many refused to work and chose to remain at the barracks on the various estates.


The success of the resistance was not without its casualties. A group of 16 women resisters from Phoenix who were arrested at the border, were tried and sentenced for three months. There, they were herded with ordinary criminals, given food unfit for human consumption, harassed and made to undertake laundry work. Many brave resisters, both men and women, courted imprisonment and suffered subsequent hardships. Some were shot, others died in prison. The resistance had taken its toll.

Valliama, a young resister gave up her life for the cause after duly serving a term of imprisonment. Harbatsingh, a Hindustani stalwart died in the Durban jail. The widow of Selvan, a free labourer, was shot dead during the strike. The late Narainsamy was deported to India as a Passive Resister and died at Delagoa Bay after being hunted from port to port by the Union Government. Gandhi writes, 'There were two women with little ones, one of whom died of exposure on the march. The other fell from the arms of its mother while she was crossing a spruit and was drowned. But the brave mothers refused to be dejected and continued their march.'

 Harbat Singh
 Late Soorzai (Strike Victim)
 Deportation to India

The treatment of Indians had reached pathetic limits. The prisons were too small to house the resisters. Mr Hult, a mine manager had flogged 300 Indian prisoners placed under his custody. By now the movement had reached a crisis point and drew attention in both the local and international press.

As a result of the strikes, the Solomon Commission was appointed to look into the cause of the disturbances. The findings of the Commission led to the passing of the Indian Relief Act (Act no. 22 of 1914) which made provision for:

- the abolishment of the 3 pound tax;
- the legalisation of marriages conducted according to Indian rites:
- the relaxation of the immigration laws; and
- All resisters were to be pardoned.

The repeal of these laws marked a major victory for Indian politics.



When Gandhi arrived in South Africa he was young and had no first hand knowledge of conditions here. However, twenty-one years later he had matured into an astute politician and a leader. He fought against racism and discrimination and upheld the principles of nonviolence as a means to solving political problems. His African experience was the forerunner of greater things to come. In South Africa, he mobilised hundreds of resisters but in India he mobilised thousands, making him the true leader of a mass movement. After an enormous struggle he helped secure the independence of India in 1947. Without the South African experience this would not have been possible.

It was here in South Africa that he experimented with and developed the technique of Satyagraha or Passive Resistance, as it is more popularly known. The technique of non-violent resistance was successfully tried out since 1906 and is today a widely accepted technique by which men and nations can resolve their differences.


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12. Souvenir of the Passive Resistance movement in South Africa 1906-1914. Durban : Indian Opinion, 1914.

13. Swan, M. Gandhi : the South African experience. Johannesburg: Ravan, 1985.

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